Right to speak the truth – Coaching is about love, not knowledge.

This blog is a re-write of something I knocked together in 2012.  I thought I’d rework it for the context of coaching and UX.  To me, it seems like there are layers to becoming an effective coach, and that isn’t just about the abilities of the coach.  I’ve worked with many many teachers over the years and what makes the best stand out it the level of respect they have for the people they are helping to develop.

There is a massive difference between simply knowing things and gaining the trust of those you want to develop so that they  are able to absorb it and act on that knowledge.

Helping people to grow is about speaking with Authority and Love in equal measure.


I read a journal article by Tweed comparing Socratic with Confucian learning several years ago.  I found it a challenging read and was struck by the concepts within it.

Socrates: Provoked learning by prodding his students, by using questions to expose flaws in knowledge, it is the basis of Western Civilisation, the basis of the academic,  political and legal system in the UK.  It is adversarial by nature and may or may not be serving the country well at this point.

Confucius: Was a relentless instructor and was anxious that his pupils were not merely able to parrot the words of authorities, but to truly understand and be reformed by the knowledge contained in those words.

What a coach knows will not of itself enable the learner to develop, the learner needs to respect that knowledge and the skills of the coach and want some of it for themselves

The long and short of this is that in a coaching relationship, both parties should style of the other. A Socratic thinker will welcome any debate, but may not be merciful in the corrections of misconceptions they encounter.  The quest for the rightness will overwhelm any concerns about each other’s well being.  A Confucian thinker will expect equal understanding and dedication to a subject before being challenged, a premature challenge may well shatter the coaching relationship before it begins.

Many people who do not truly ‘love’ their subject present what is a point of view as a fact, everything is a field of views, opinions and theories, very few things are absolutes. Nothing is ‘right’, it is only the most sensible opinion given the context and culture of the situation.  Absolutist language is the enemy of the effective coach, as is lazy thinking.

Are you a clanging bell?

I’m heading into scripture now;

1 Corinthians 13 v 1-7:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

My analogy is this:

Confucius effectively said that before you can earn the authority to question any knowledge base, then you must have devoted yourself to understanding it fully first…..in other words, and stretching the analogy; ‘fallen in love with what exists’.

A coach with real authority loves his discipline enough to see all the flaws as well as all the strengths and therefore does not sound like a clanging hollow bell(v1), which can be jarring on the ear of the people they are helping to grow.


It isn’t enough to just love your discipline, you must also love those you are coaching.  Corinthians has advice for how that should be:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6…………………7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

An effective coach “loves” those they work with.  They speak softly and tread gently, they spend more time listening and watching their people than they do speaking until they have understood the right way to say the right thing and to know when it will be the right time.  They will know enough to know if its a bad day, or if the cat died yesterday.  They will know when to speak and when to keep their counsel.

Above all, they will seek the permission of their people before providing the challenge so that the challenge is received with love.

3 thoughts on “Right to speak the truth – Coaching is about love, not knowledge.

  1. A really interesting post. Too often discussions of education are confined within their own sphere, so I find your use of theology to discuss this refreshing and thought provoking.

    I have two ‘respectfully challenging questions’ here:

    Firstly I wonder if initial teacher education is slightly different than some areas of education in that as the students are learning to be teachers they need to engage both with the subject matter of the learning, and the delivery methods. I get your point about this in some cases distracting from the learning that is planned for a session, but I think the learning about pedagogy from engaging with the methods of their teachers is actually an important part of this particular area of study. What are your thoughts on this?

    I find the equation of love with understanding quite difficult. It seems a useful analogy in terms of Confucian learning (and I now need to read more on this), but I am not sure how far you are pushing the analogy? Do you have to understand something to love it? I can think of some things I have loved without having the faintest understanding of…

    I am left with questions about my own thinking, an experience of two areas I know very little about, and an impetus to follow up and learn more. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: ResearchED: What works? Where do you start? or Good Practice, the enemy of Research | The Grinch Manifesto

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