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Extinction Rebellion and Coaching – bias and extremism. Is it OK to be biased if it saves the planet?

At a recent coaching conference, the keynote speaker gave an address about the climate crisis and stated that she was an Extinction Rebellion activist. In the latest edition of Coaching Perspectives, the Association for Coaching’s global magazine, there was an article “Climate Crisis: how can the coaching profession respond.” But can we coach if we have an agenda and hold passionate views that could influence the coachee?

Extinction Rebellion

The climate crisis is clearly the most significant issue we face, but can we be an effective coach if we hold such a passionate agenda? After the coaching conference, there was a lot of discussion by delegates about the appropriateness of this keynote session, particularly given the coaching profession’s drive over the years for a non-directive approach.

For as long as I’ve been coaching (20 years) the rhetoric has been around non-directive coaching, ‘clean language’ and creating a thinking environment. One writer talks about being an ‘invisible coach’. The focus has been to not influence the coachee, creating the conditions for clients to consider things for themselves. So how do these dominant non-directive mantras now stack up against the climate change crisis agenda, which some prominent coaches are championing?

I’m not questioning the validity of the climate crises, I am not a denier, but what I am asking is if the coach has an agenda, any agenda, how can they ensure this does not influence the coachee? The coach decides which questions to ask, guides the conversation, this can be subtle, in a more non-directive way, or more explicit in a directive way. But if the coach has a bias, this can have a significant influence on the coaching process.

For many years I’ve argued that a non-directive approach is an impossible dream. It may be an aspiration for some coaches, but there must be a recognition that there are two people in the coaching relationship. Our ‘presence’ will influence the process, no matter how ‘clean’ we attempt to make it.

But, if the coach has a passionate belief, the potential for bias increases significantly. For example, would an Extinction Rebellion activist be able to coach a capitalist, or are their beliefs too polarised?

In Challenging Coaching, we talk about Systems Thinking, and the importance of raising awareness of the whole system. Who are the absent stakeholders, what are the implications both short and long term? But, this is about raising awareness within the coachee, so they can make a more informed choice. If a coach has an agenda, a bias, how can this awareness be raised objectively?

But is the climate crisis so significant that it’s ok to be biased? If it was another subject, would we openly label this as prejudice and encourage the coach to discuss this with their supervisor?

How do we balance this out? How do we raise awareness without bias? Can a passionate belief (any passionate belief) sit alongside a non-directive coaching approach? Or should we just accept ourselves for who we are, with beliefs and passions, and if explicit upfront, it’s for the coachee to decide if they want to work with us? By doing this we accept that we are real people and coaches, we’re not invisible, we are present and whole, and we need to be explicit so the coachee has an informed choice of who they work with.

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