Illuminating a Pathway for Coaches to Access & Apply Their Intuition
Written By: Peter Schibli 76th Cohort – Auckland
This paper was born out of a desire by the author to access and apply his intuition reliably, instantly, and with a positive impact for clients. The intention is to also provide this pathway to other coaches who might find it useful.
We look at what intuition is, different ways to access the information it provides, and ideas on how to apply that intuition when coaching.
Part 1. What is intuition?
The average human brain is 1350 grams of water, fat, and 86 billion neurons providing an astounding 38 thousand trillion operations per second1 of processing power. The myth that we only use 10% of our brain power has been long debunked2. The whole brain is working all the time, even when we sleep; however only 5-15% of that activity is conscious. The remaining 85-95% of that vast amount of processing runs deep and silent beneath the surface.
This understanding offers us a provisional definition: Intuition is communications received from those deeper running parts of our intelligence. That includes the 85-95% of subconscious brain processing. Potentially it also includes the distributed neural network in the gut (100 million neurons) and heart (around 40 thousand neurons). It likely also includes the encoded intelligence of our social networks and physical environment.
That subconscious intelligence is incredibly powerful. People achieve astonishing leaps of understanding in very thin slices of time with no conscious understanding of how they achieved them.
However, for all its power, intuition is hard in 3 ways:
- i) It’s mysterious: By definition we’re not conscious of the source of the idea or understanding; Intuitions can come to us and we don’t know ‘how’ we know;
- ii) It’s unreliable: We can never be sure it’s correct. Our biology and culture came preloaded with whole suites of decision-making bias’ which can steer us horribly wrong;
iii) It can be hard to discern: Not only can intuition present an elusive and weak signal, it can also be hard to distinguish what is intuition and what mere ego or insight. Luckily we can solve all of these challenges as we’ll illustrate in parts 2 and 3 below…
Part 2. Opening the channel
It’s useful to think of three keys to opening the communications channel: feeding it, receiving it, and holding it.
Let’s look at each in turn.
A. Observe, Observe, Observe: It’s useful to think of the communications channel in the coaching environment as a two-way channel. We feed data and intention into our subconscious by observing deeply. The degree to which our cognitive resources are deployed in the present, not distracted or conflicted, will determine the quality and quantity of data the intuition gets to process.
B. Find the signal: The second key is to be able to receive it. Interviews and a literature scan indicate that each person receives their intuitive signals in different ways. It can show up kinaesthetically as different sensations in different parts of the body; as different emotional states; or even purely cognitively.
Here are two approaches to finding this signal:
i) Cut and paste: The first approach was recommended to me by an MCC3, “Look at domains where you already access your intuition reliably …and leverage the (expletive) out of them”.
ii) Bootstrap: The second approach is to practice observing your observations and notice how they present themselves. Journaling reflections on your intuition after each coaching session will help accelerate that. Doing this requires having your attention not just on the client, but yourself, and the relationship between you and the client.Keep your head: The third key is to receive the message without being swamped by it. Metaphorically speaking it’s like you’re trying to tune into a radio station and you can find that the volume is on full. Rather than being seized by the intuition, you want to just lightly notice the message as an interesting and potentially useful offering.
Part 3. Using the information
The last key to the puzzle is gaining some mastery in how we apply it. Here we’ll look at: where to stand, how often to use it, and how to use it.
A. Stand in service: One place to stand is to use it purely in service to the client. There are two dimensions at play here: usefulness and rightness. Consider that it’s not important if our intuition is wrong, or if the client disagrees. What is important is that by expressing or applying our intuition we create the possibility for the client to gain insight. This stance gives us the freedom to be wrong. Our intuition can allow their insight. It can provide the scaffolding for them to see something new. This seems to be the primary application of intuition in coaching. Usefulness trumps rightness.
B. Just say it: Now we need to know how much of it to express or apply. We can start with knowing that if the information just stays in our head then we rob the client of the opportunity of seeing something new. We may also need to, initially at least, deliberately overcompensate to overcome a habit of not expressing our intuition. A good rule of thumb is to express it. Your responsibility is to express or apply the intuition. Your client’s responsibility is to decide what is useful about it.
C. A light touch: A nice metaphorically image offered to me by the MCC mentioned before was two people walking along a beach and the offered intuition being something that is evoked between and in front of them – something they could both look at. Offering an intuition with soft open language keeps it safe and balanced for both of you.
Summary and invitation.
Each coach has to go through the process of developing and freeing their intuition. It’s mysterious and elusive nature can be resolved with the right relationship to it, and with deliberate and supported practice. Contributions to any of this thinking are warmly welcomed.
- Synchronicity, the inner art of leadership by Joseph Jaworski
- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
- Presence by Peter Senge