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The wrong side of the tapestry

If we can make out a picture at all when looking at the wrong side of a tapestry, it’s often pretty ambiguous and there’s usually a lot of loose ends. As in art, so in life and so, I would suggest, in coaching!

I have used the wrong side of the tapestry image in a variety of settings but it works for me in a coaching context. As the coach we can’t see the full picture, we don’t know the full story, and it is unlikely that the person we are coaching does either. And two people, looking at the same tangle behind the masterpiece might ‘see’ totally different things. What we know about their coaching issue is what they choose to reveal, assuming a level of honest reflection, and making assumptions or speculating beyond that, guessing at what the picture is on the other side of the tapestry, however tempting, is a waste of time at best. It’s not our job to create an image for ourselves from the jumble of threads and tell them what we can see; our role is to create the environment that allows them to gain their own insight, clarity and meaning from what they can see.

To borrow a well worn cliché, coaching is more often a journey, rather than a destination, so revealing and understanding the full picture may not be a realistic goal for a single coaching session, neither is it always necessary or desirable.

If that is the case, then it follows that another key role for the coach is to help the other person accommodate any ambiguity inherent in their situation, but if we haven’t learnt to cope with ambiguity ourselves, it won’t necessarily be easy helping someone else.

What I believe we can do in these situations is to help and encourage them to discover what is the very next step that they can take or that they need to take. By allowing them to follow through on that action, something obvious yet remarkable happens. By definition, one step towards that jumble of threads and fuzzy images changes their perspective, so that what was not clear before becomes clearer now and might just provide the focus for the next time you meet!

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