Coaching, Supervision and the shifting of mental models

Writing in 1992 Baxter Magolda identified four qualitatively different ‘ways of knowing’ as a basis for the development of belief both about ourselves, and our relationship with other people and the world around us. These four ways are summarised as:

  1. Absolute knowing: which leads us to a certainty that things are either right or wrong
  2. Transitional knowing: suggesting that knowledge is certain in some areas and uncertain in other areas
  3. Independent knowing: which claims that knowledge is uncertain and thus everyone has their own beliefs
  4. Contextual knowing: where knowledge is contextual requiring one to exercise judgement on the basis of evidence in context.

She goes on to say that the development of a reflective capacity requires us to move from an absolute to a contextual way of knowing.

Something that involves changes in our beliefs about knowledge as well as beliefs about our own identity and our relationships with others.

Because this requires changes to deeply held fundamental beliefs, such development is not straightforward or easy. Not for our coachees, and not for us coaches either.

Which is why the first of the Association for Coaching’s Supervision Principles is to keep at the core of their supervision the purpose of developing capacity for reflective practice in their supervisee.

Because we executive coaches have our mental models too.  The way that we see the world has been shaped across decades of living. And like it or not, heck, know it or not, our mental models operate as absolutes, governing the way in which we perceive…

  • Ourselves
  • Our clients
  • Our clients’ clients
  • The systems in which we all live work and have our being
  • How we should act, react and evaluate results

And so through supervision we can challenge ourselves to contextualise. We can, in collaboration with a trusted colleague, reflectively challenge ourselves to unpick what Peter Senge calls the conceptual frameworks consisting of generalizations and assumptions that affect how we view the world and act in it.

And sometimes when that happens, light bulbs begin to appear.

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