By Martin Vogel
This is the second of a two-part series on the orientation of unknowing. Part 1 explored what is meant by unknowing. This second part discusses how it might be applied to coaching.
Unknowing can be viewed as a discipline. It is the practice of letting go of what we think we know, opening to freshness and holding ideas lightly. It is hard, because our identities, even our sense of moral worth, are wrapped up in our knowing. As with all disciplines, the more we practice, the more fluent we become.
Most of us have deep knowledge about a few small areas of life. You might call this erudition. Erudition is to be valued – though, even here, it is prudent to hold one’s knowledge open to challenge and revision. But beyond our areas of erudition, our knowledge about everything else tends to be very shallow. So shallow, it is hard to distinguish from ignorance. If we make decisions informed by ignorance, masquerading as knowledge, they can have unfortunate consequences. We might vote in a referendum on an issue we scarcely understand or espouse ways of responding to a novel virus about which (by definition) even scientific experts know very little.
Unknowing is about loosening our attachments to ignorant certainties – bringing, instead, humility and curiosity to the world as we find it. Applied to coaching, it entails relaxing the idea of coaching as solution-focussed and goal-oriented – leaning more towards a view of coaching as a reflective practice, in which coach and coachee explore and make sense together. It can help clients to encounter the world in fresh ways. Paradoxically, by entering a space where the pressure to have an answer is alleviated, the client is more likely to gain clarity about what to do next. What to do next might be to do nothing: to wait to see what emerges, and to be ready to respond.