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What Is So Special About Ontological Coaching?
By Alan Sieler

Variously described as “the gold standard of coaching” and “profoundly transformational”, Ontological Coaching has developed an enviable reputation for being at the cutting edge of coaching practice globally. As a robust and rigorous coaching methodology Ontological Coaching is powerful framework for navigating the often uncertain, disruptive and ambiguous nature of everyday life. These are big claims and, as we know, big claims can be hollow so it is worth outlining the basis for these claims.

 “I have found Ontological Coaching extraordinarily powerful for building and sustaining quality relationships.  My relationships have improved massively in all spheres of my life and this is a huge value-add for me! I know this comes from being more legitimate in my own being and also regarding others as legitimate others who hold different (but equally valid) worldviews. I keep thinking of the central principle of care, dignity and legitimacy that characterises Ontological Coaching as being indispensable for any relationship.”

Julia Bonadei-Thorns, Executive Coach, Johannesburg, South Africa

Ontological Coaching is unique, and therefore stands as being distinctively different from other approaches to coaching. The uniqueness of Ontological Coaching can be captured in sixteen key points under a number of headings.

Holistic and integral

  1. Ontological Coaching addresses the multi-dimensional nature of humans as biological, linguistic, emotional, somatic, cultural and historical beings.
  2. Ontology is the study of being and Ontological Coaching focuses on Way of Being as the avenue to deep and sustainable behavioural change. Way of Being is the underlying driver of our behavior and communication and is where our perceptions and attitudes live, many of which can be restricting us but are deep seated and out of awareness.
  3. Ontological Coaching is an explicitly holistic approach to what is required for sustainable change, working with the integration of language, emotions and body that comprise a client’s Way of Being. Language, emotions and body are each areas of learning and change and there must be shifts in all three areas for change to “stick”.
  4. Language: Ontology has a different and deeper approach to language, working from the premise that language is a process that generates reality; humans are languaging beings that continually create what is real for them by the specific ways they use and do not use language. An ontological coach supports clients to identify different ways of using language to generate more constructive reality.
  5. Emotions: Ontological Coaching places great emphasis on the crucial importance of moods as deep longer-term emotions, which are largely invisible. The application of a unique moods framework enables clients to develop more helpful moods and therefore develop more constructive perceptions and behaviours. The power of emotions to continually shape perception and behavior is the essence of our wellbeing and the cornerstone of our relationships.
  6. Body and physicality: Another important premise is that the body (postural alignment, muscle tension and breathing) plays a crucial role in perception, learning and change. Coaching to the body typically opens up significant new insights for clients that are highly unlikely to occur through language or emotions. Long-standing moods and unhelpful beliefs are embodied, so while clients may change at an intellectual level, this will not be sustainable unless the body changes.
  7. Biology: An ontological coach honours two fundamental aspects of human biology.
    1. humans are biological beings that can only change themselves, meaning that the primary responsibility of the coach is to create a relational context that enables clients to self-generate change; and
    2. a fundamental biological law that all change revolves around what is to be conserved or maintained. Clients are more open to change when they are reassured that vital things that matter to them will not be compromised.
  8. Culture: Humans always exist in a cultural-historical context that defines the space of what is possible and not possible for them. It is essential that the coach is attentive to the “cultural fit” of desired change to ensure that the client is able to engage more constructively in their cultural-historical setting.
  9. Conversations and commitments. Humans are conversational beings that get things done and create the future together. How well people relate with each other, coordinate and cooperate and get things done is greatly influenced by how effectively they use conversations and commitments. A central part of the coaching methodology is:
    1. the appropriate uses of a wide range of different types of conversations; and
    2. how to effectively make and manage commitments.

 “My Graduate Diploma in Ontological Coaching has been a rigorous learning journey and a life-changing experience. My ability as a coach has been greatly enhanced and I believe I have something of great value to offer my clients. I am grateful to my wonderful teacher, Alan Sieler, who is an incredible source of knowledge, wisdom, humility and warm humanity. I am grateful for the intellectual rigour, and the shifts in my way of being - all three domains of it - my language, moods and emotions and my body.”

Getti Mercorio, Executive Coach, Johannesburg, South Africa

Strong theoretical and methodological foundation

  1. Ontological Coaching rests on a robust theoretical foundation that combines biology of cognition, philosophy of language, phenomenology, philosophy of emotions and philosophy of the body. Each of these academic disciplines generated breakthrough thinking in the latter part of the 20th century from which emerged a new practical understanding of how humans function, learn and change.
  2. The theoretical basis of Ontological Coaching means that it is a deeply grounded non-psychologically based approach to perceptual and behavioural change.
  3. With a strong theoretical basis Ontological Coaching has an extensive set of unique concepts and models (for example, basic linguistic acts, types of conversations, some basic moods of life, somatic patterns) that are easily applicable for any coaching client.

The Graduate Diploma program far and away exceeded my expectations. My reason for signing up was to do some work on generating a more coherent theoretical foundation to my coaching work. The course delivered this to a really high level with significant practical and life-changing applications.
The dimension I had not anticipated but that I will be forever grateful for is the personal healing, renewal and transformation that I experienced through the course of the program. I really, honestly never thought I could experience life at such a deeply peaceful and joyful level.

Ian Lees, Executive Coach and Corporate Facilitator, Sydney, Australia

Versatility

  1. Paradoxically, Ontological Coaching is much more than a coaching methodology for one-to-one interventions. The ontological approach offers five simultaneous methodologies:
    1. a uniquely powerful coaching methodology;
    2. a personal development methodology (through self-coaching);
    3. a leadership methodology (the only place leaders can lead from is their Way of Being, which is the primary means of developing constructive conversations to positively influence others and build trusting relationships that produce desired business outcomes);
    4. a high performance teams methodology (teams function and accomplish required outcomes through conversations; successful teams skillfully using language, moods and body language to effectively coordinate action);
    5. a business improvement methodology (the ontological perspective on business improvement and successful organisational interventions  has been the subject of articles in the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review).
  2. Ontological Coaching goes beyond coaching only from a script of questions or a set of techniques. Based on an extensive repertoire of applicable ideas and distinctions ontological coaches have acute observational and listening skills. This positions them to be responsibly inventive in the design of powerful questions and the sharing of relevant ontological knowledge to the client’s requirements.
  3. High quality coaching requires the coach to be a continual learner, especially a continual ontological learner, which is essential for living well and adapting to continually unpredictable and changing circumstances. Ontology has a unique approach to understanding what it is to be a learner. Learning to be a learner involves understanding how our Way of being can inadvertently block us and our clients from learning. Ontological coaches continually seek to develop a more helpful Way of Being that enhances their coaching effectiveness.
  4. Finally, what is unique about Ontological Coaching is the practical awareness of how coaching in general, and Ontological Coaching in particular, is historically situated, and why ontological learning is especially relevant in the uncertain, unpredictable and often disruptive times that seem to characterise much of contemporary life.

This is an extensive list that is unlikely to be absorbed in one reading. You are encouraged to be aware of what most stands out to you from the list and, when you are ready, return to re-read other points and allow them to “digest” to further appreciate the distinctive nature of Ontological Coaching.

“Through transformational learning the Ontological Coaching program takes coaching to a different level. I thought I knew most of what there was to know about learning until I stepped into my own transformational learning journey. This program opened me up to rich spaces for learning that I can’t even begin to measure or describe here. It is eloquently designed, with a balanced combination of theory and practical application. Alan Sieler and his highly skilled colleagues make learning sheer joy. As a different observer I am far more resourceful to coachees and other clients.”

Jeanette Mundy, Organisational Development Facilitator and Executive Coach, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

 

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