Coaching Report

2017 March Coaching Report

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2017 March Coaching Report

“We know that coaching is effective in creating space for change and now through neuroscience research we can develop tools that align with how our brains function — such that we can make quantum leaps in coaching outcomes,” says Carlos Davidovich, MD, executive coach and expert on the relationship of neuroscience to coaching.  Dr. Davidovich led one of the most popular tracks at our annual conference last fall.

Our theme this month is the connection between neuroscience and coaching, one of the ‘hot topics’ for practitioners, with recent studies providing deeper insights into:

  • how emotions are processed
  • how neural networks facilitate decision-making
  • how habits form and can change
  • how visions and ideas are generated
  • how brain plasticity enables change to facilitate growth

The efficacy of coaching -- already understood to a certain extent from cognitive-behavioral research -- is being strengthened with neuro-biological research on an almost daily basis.  As an example, Richard  Boyatzis and Angela Passarelli at Case Western University have demonstrated through fMRI studies that coaching with positive affect (exploring what works and what’s possible) versus a negative affect (working on what needs to be fixed) has a significant impact on a coachee's ability to create a future vision and make the changes needed to manifest it. 

Our webinar this month explores the Alchemy of Trust with one of the most respected translators of today’s neuroscience research into practical applications for coaches. Based on her direct collaborations with neuroscientists, best-selling author Judith Glaser will share case studies where understanding how the brain functions in creating psychological safety -- and trust -- makes the difference in successful coaching.

All of the above notwithstanding, a ‘reality-check’ is in order, for despite developments in neurobiology and neuroendocrinology, scientists are quick to remind us that our knowledge of the brain -- and its role in behavior change -- is just beginning to take shape.  

Our research article -- and commentary -- this month tell a cautionary tale, reminding us of the promise and limitations of the holy grail of brain science.  A lead article in Coaching Psychologist from June 2015 by Dias, Palmer et al., Perspectives and Challenges for the Study of Brain Responses to Coaching describes the ‘state of the union’ between evidence-based coaching and studies of brain functioning.

This broad-based review of the literature is a must read for coaches. It reviews the landscape of fMRI imaging studies of brain functioning in the face of deficits, such as depression, fear and anxiety. The authors also point to the challenges still to be overcome. For example, we have yet to study how coaching works in ‘real time’ by imaging brain activity during coaching, and most neuroimaging studies still focus on abnormal brain functioning. We also include here the important commentary from University of Sydney coaching psychologist Anthony Grant. He cautions coaches not to get caught up in ‘neuromyths’ or pseudo-insights from neuroscience.  

Finally, in keeping with our enthusiasm about the evolving field of neuroscience we recommend a book that accomplishes a rare feat:  a highly readable series of essays written by real scientists.  In Scientists Making a Difference: One Hundred Eminent Behavioral and Brain Scientists Talk about Their Most Important Contributions, each chapter is an essay by a pre-eminent psychologist or brain scientist -- not in translation but in their own words -- on topics as wide-ranging as childhood brain development, how memory works, epigenetics, the development of language, and many more. This book is unique as it provides coaches a glimpse into the minds of the brilliant explorers who work in the trenches to expand our knowledge of our brains, our bodies -- of our very selves as humans.  

We hope you will enjoy these resources and be inspired to dive deeper into your own journey to connect the dots between neuroscience and practice. 

Jeffery Hull, PhD
IOC Director of Education and Business Development

Perspectives and Challenges for the Study of Brain Responses to Coaching: Enhancing the Dialogue between the Fields of Neuroscience and Coaching Psychology By Gisele Pereira Dias, Stephen Palmer, Siobhain O’Riordan, Sabrina Bastos de Freitas, Leonardo Rosa Habib, Mário Cesar do Nascimento Bevilaqua & Antonio Egidio Nardi in The Coaching Psychologist, Vol. 11, No. 1, June 2015 11; The British Psychological Society – ISSN: 1748–1104

Abstract from the authors:

The interest in coaching psychology and neuroscience has been steadily increasing over the past 15 years. However, the two fields have not yet established consistent dialogues underpinned by experimental research. This paper highlights the importance of such dialogue for the growth of evidence-based coaching and how coaching psychology could benefit from previous neuroimaging and electroencephalographic studies in the field of psychotherapy and task-specific brain functioning to design research protocols that could significantly contribute to our understanding of how coaching works at the brain level and how coachees could best achieve results.

Response to Dias et al.:  Coaching the brain: Neuro-science or neuro nonsense? Anthony M. Grant in The Coaching Psychologist, Vol. 11, No. 1, June 2015

Abstract from the author:

This paper discusses some myths and misconceptions that have emerged in relation to neuroscience and coaching, and explores the notion that neuroscience provides a foundational evidence-base for coaching, and that neurocoaching is a unique or original coaching methodology. It is found that much of the insights into coaching purported to be delivered by neuroscience are long-established within the behavioral sciences. Furthermore, the empirical and conceptual links between neuroscientific findings and actual coaching practice are tenuous at best. Although at present there is no convincing empirical support for a neuroscientific foundation to coaching, there are important ways in which coaching and neuroscience can interact…. It may well be that coaching can be of greater use to the field of neuroscience than the field of neuroscience can be to coaching. In this way, we can address many neuromyths and misconceptions about brain-based coaching, and begin to author a more accurate and productive narrative about the relationship between coaching and neuroscience.

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