A butterfly goes to a coach

Full credit to Sandro da Silva for this article. The blog address also gives access to other useful materials created by Sandro.
By Sandro da Silva, Oct 2011
Telling someone exactly what the difference is between coaching and the other four helping professions (consulting, mentoring, counseling and therapy) is one of the many challenges I face as a coach.  Doing that in a clear and accessible way has been one of my constant pursuits.
While reading page 11 of Coaching with Colleagues (de Haan & Burger, 2011) today, I felt inspired to write about butterflies that go to the five helping professionals in order to tackle four questions they face.
The four questions are (Witherspoon & White, 1997):

  • the desire to learn new skills,
  • the desire to perform better,
  • the desire to develop itself,
  • the desire to reflect on itself or on what it does.

My attempt to clarify the differences in the approaches of each of these valuable professionals has resulted in a chart with 20 different stereotyped reactions which, in my opinion, exemplify how each professional works and what one could possibly expect from them.
Here they are:
To a butterfly who wants to learn new flying skills, for example hovering in mid-air like a hummingbird,

  1. the consultant saysHere’s the program I have designed so that you can learn how to hover in mid-air like a hummingbird. And here’s the bill.
  2. the mentor saysPay close attention to me, and to what I do with my wings so I can hover in mid-air like a hummingbird. Now it’s your turn to give it a try. No, no, no. Not that way. This way. See it? Now you.
  3. the counselor says: So, what you’re saying is that you want to learn how to hover in mid-air, just like a hummingbird. Is that what you mean?
  4. the coach saysAnd how soon would you like to be flying like a hummingbird? In what ways could you acquire the necessary skills to do it? Who could help you with it? What’s your action plan? When are you going to start?
  5. the therapist saysWe’ve concluded that this is a much more efficient way of doing what you want to learn. By following this guideline, you won’t experience those many difficulties. You’ll learn faster and won’t forget it.

To a butterfly who wants to fly higher, better and more efficiently,

  1. the consultant saysYou can’t fly high enough because you’ve been keeping the angle of your wings at a constant 37,9 degrees. Once you keep it at 42,57 degrees and vary it according to the wind speed, you’ll use less energy and thus fly better, more efficiently and higher. And here’s the bill.
  2. the mentor saysI see you’re trying to fly higher but it does not seem to be working. You’re keeping your lower body too straight, and that does not allow you to react quickly enough to the changing wind. Relax and do not put excessive effort to it. Very good! You see how much easier it gets?
  3. the counselor says:  I can see you’re not fully satisfied with the height you’re flying, and that you’d like to fly higher….
  4. the coach saysHow high exactly would you like to be flying? What techniques are you using at the moment to achieve that height? What other techniques are there, which you haven’t tried yet? And what else could you do to achieve that height even faster? OK. Now show me what your action plan is, how you’re going to measure your progress and what you’ll do when things get tough.
  5. the therapist saysYou can’t fly any higher because of your are afraid of heights. That’s what we call acrophobia. We’ll work on that now and once we’ve treated it, you’ll be able to fly higher.

To a butterfly who wants to take the next step,

  1. the consultant saysOur research shows that the next recommendable step for you should be to create a strategic alliance with bees. That’ll reduce the operational costs of your pollination activities and therefore allow you to survive in this ever changing market. By the way, here’s the bill.
  2. the mentor saysSo. I see you’re ready to take the next step here. I will now introduce you to some guys at the top of our community. Try to be yourself and don’t ask many questions now. Just observe how these guys interact with each other. I’ll tell you more about it while you drive me home tonight.
  3. the counselor saysSo what you’re saying is that you’re ready to take the next step in butterfly-ing. You have reached a plateau and you feel it’s time to take the next step…
  4. the coach saysSo, you want to be a humming bird? Cool! What can you do now to make that happen? And what else? And how are you going to get those things you say you need? How else? When I look at a hummingbird I see feathers, and when I look at you I don’t see any feathers….. (silence)……To which extent are feathers necessary? And how are you going to solve that?
  5. the therapist saysWhat exactly feels uncomfortable in being what you are? How come you’re having difficulties in accepting who you are? Why doing what butterflies do doesn’t satisfy your needs anymore? Can you tell me a little about your relationship with your mother? What kind of person was she?

To a butterfly who wonders whether “butterfly-ing” is all there is, and whether it functions as it should,

  1. the consultant says: Why don’t you buy me a beer so we can talk about it?
  2. the mentor says: Well well….I’ve experienced it myself. But look at how far you have come, how much you have achieved. Look at all those people who depend on you, who look at you for inspiration. There’s no need to be insecure about it. You’re doing great!
  3. the counselor saysIt must be very uncomfortable to be feeling the way you’re feeling, having done all you’ve done, having achieved all you have archived and not knowing whether you’ve done what you should have, or whether this is all there is…
  4. the coach says“Whether this is all there is” and “Do I function as I should?” are two different questions. Which question would you like to focus on today? Suppose you have the answer to that question: how does that feel? What is the effect of having answered it? What has changed?
  5. the therapist saysSince when have you been experiencing those feelings of uncertainty? What has happened to your self-confidence? How come you’re so dissatisfied with yourself?

If, based on my stereotyped account,  I were to list the characteristics of each helping profession, I would say that:

  • Consulting = downloading information, selling expertise, selling solutions;
  • Mentoring = downloading information, correcting, protecting. It has a lot to do with parenting and teaching;
  • Counseling = accepting and empathizing, recognizing, reflecting;
  • Coaching = uploading information, action-orientation. It seems to foster autonomy, learning and taking responsibility.
  • Therapy = downloading information, digging, diagnosing, inferring , healing. It seems to be problem-focused.

Here I have borrowed one the best definitions of coaching I have ever seen:
“Coaching is uploading.” (Scoular, Anne 2011)