Why should coaches be interested in neuroscience?
9th August 2017 | Amy Brann
The theory and application that will benefit your clients
Be curious. Brilliance often stems from curiosity. As a coach, you are in a hugely privileged position working with people helping them fulfil even more of their potential. You may be drawn to understanding more about people. Tackling neuroscience won’t always be easy and won’t always be obvious. However, if you dig deep and persevere then you can emerge better equipped.
Why are coaches interested in neuroscience?
Neuroscience teaches us about the brain. Coaches work with the brain (whether they realise it or not). Neuroscience is focused on the mechanism. So, it can explain how things work. Neuroscience can help to explain why and how coaching tools and techniques work. This can give more flexibility for coaches to help clients get results. It can enlighten coaches as to things to pay attention to. It can warn against other practices. My favourite thing it can do is to prime coaches to ask better questions.
It is worth reiterating that neuroscience is not in any danger of taking over the skills, training and discipline that is coaching itself. It can certainly add to what is already there, but does not replace the great foundations that a coach has.
Recently, I delivered a webinar for WBECS that I started by addressing 'neurobabble'. Excitingly, there has been a bit of controversy around turning to neuroscience at all. Unfortunately, most of that seems to have arisen as a result of many people seizing a commercial opportunity. People have been keen to say their new method or tool or conversation is based on neuroscience. More often than not, it just doesn’t work like that. We have had many people ask us ‘what is the neuroscience that proves our approach works?’. We approach things from exactly the opposite perspective. First, what does the neuroscientific research tell us? Second, how can this be shared to enhance what and how people work. The media and people generally want sound bites and it tempting to reduce ideas down to them.
What is the best way to really use neuroscience in your coaching?
Start with the basics. Learn some of what we know about the different areas of the brain. Get familiar with different brain chemicals. Then move onto networks (which is where a lot of research has been focused for the last few years). If you’re serious then it makes no sense to jump straight to, ‘what is a neurocoaching tool I can use?’. Sure, that is great marketing, but it's not great science.
A lot has moved forward in the last 3 years. We’re at an interesting time because there is currently a dichotomy. There is certainly an infestation of people using terms and images to try to afford their offering more credibility than it perhaps deserves. But there are also a wide range of high profile people accessing and underpinning their input with great science.
Has anything changed over the last 3 years in neuroscience? Absolutely! In our neuroscience for coaches LinkedIn group we try to keep people up to date with the most critical advances. Out of the blue major research papers are published that can change fundamental insights we have.
Great specialised thinkers have also evolved, which enables us to also. The field of emotions has advanced quite dramatically – leaving many with outdated approaches. Coaches are saying things that are not current thinking. We would love everyone to access the updated information because it is so in line with other coaching attitudes.
The application of science has become more sophisticated in some circles. Many companies are more knowledgeable and subsequently more keen to use neuroscience. However still the majority of people are misguided and ask for ‘a neuro-tool’. I’ve been asked to speak at a regular meeting of coaches in a few weeks and they’ve asked for ‘lots of time to practice some neurocoaching tools’. I think this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what neuroscience offers.
How coaches are engaging with the science has moved on. More are equipping themselves with a deep understanding and trying to push the field forward. There are eminent researchers in the field starting to do interesting research combining neuroscience and coaching. It is becoming better understood that to just skim the top off neuroscience, by only reading a tweet or blog, isn’t a wise investment.
I sat in a coffee shop today with a lovely neuroscientist who we’re fortunate to have as part of the Synaptic Potential team. We discussed the role neuroscience plays in organizations. We agreed that we just can’t see it going away. While some people are disparaging about the science thinking it ‘just shows what’s going on inside the brain,' what is the alternative? Is it psychology that tests people’s theories about what is happening from the outside?
We have always maintained that neuroscience isn’t the whole story. We’re not sure which discipline claims to be. But, neuroscience does paint an important part of the picture. Often it confirms experience, ancient wisdom, psychology and insights from elsewhere. Sometimes it challenges though. The new questions it raises are helping to shape a stronger future. Knowledge used with good intention and wisdom is wonderfully powerful.