Obtaining and Using Physical Responses, for “Embodied” Leadership Outcome

by Peter Zoeftig (UK)

Continuation …

What role does the coach have? Facilitator? Master? Model? Challenger? Critical observer?

One of the problems with TPR (and with much training) was that it is very coach-centred, placing clients in a very passive role in which they are unlikely to make their own choices or develop much ability to construct new styles or utterances for themselves. It might be a fun and relatively stress-free type of exercise, but where does the intellectual challenge lie, and how does the “client” start to access the formatting of visualised or heard ideas into real action? How does the coach go beyond the “Simon Says” type of game?

For a coach wanting to produce deeper-level change using language and physical movement also, it will be important to connect the two parts /hemispheres and to anchor new understanding and processing in the real.

To answer these objections, and show the workings of the use of attentive listening, self-listening, and the real embodiment of new inner dialogue and take the client beyond mere mimicry and behaviourist repetition in the hope that the habits formed will magically turn into real understanding and deep processing of syntax, we need to see how the precept can work practically. What does the coach have to do in using a “conversational leading method” like this? A well-known strategy is to work with questions and other pacing and leading techniques. The use of questions is universal, as Noam Chomsky argued, and that these are universals in grammar, leads us towards a clear method. From this we can build on the other “aspects” when the client is ready to try.

Time is of the essence

As Susan Scott(11) has said, we should take time to really listen to the fierceness of the conversation.

The mind needs time to listen and integrate, digest and clearly visualise the transformations that are being made. The goal is to unravel knotty questions, at the client’s own pace, bringing them to a healthier state or one of better performance. A physical response can be elicited using situational and functional language, and whole sessions can be built on whatever has emerged from the last one, since it is possible to extend the scope of the physical responses and use more aspects at the same time. Taking an NLP analogy here, however, it is actually crucial to “disassociate” the client momentarily from the experience, by letting their minds wander, before bringing them back to it. This is in order to allow for the so-called “kineasthetic anchor” to fix itself.

Any situation that has been experienced or could be experienced by the client, can be used, where their story involves exploring what they did or would do, using images, timelines and whatever language they have already expressed in order to access their “map”. Moving forwards, when we have developed this into a variety of contexts – separated by moments of reflection and processing the experience, we may be ready to begin a performance and thus engage the physical. This can at first take the form of mimicry to anchor the experience in a physical way. In the same way we can put emphasis on body language, positioning relative to themselves and others and the situational context of the problem (proxemics) and how they gesture, etc. At certain points this can be given a cultural/environmental aspect.


clients need time to prepare, so the performance should not at first be one they are thrown into without any consideration being given to how they want to “come over”, and the way in which they see themselves needing to look and sound and feel, for a given context. I feel this is so important. So often coaching is done by throwing clients into performance right from the moment they arrive, as if following a script or rule-book. “Right, we are going to do (such and such)”, now, I want you to find some questions and then you are going to tell the group what the problem is.” (Followed by massive stress, mistakes galore, embarrassment which can jeopardise the entire programme, even deeper entrenching of mistakes and of bad listening, and “forced” speaking, which is horrible and embarrassing.)

Richard Strozzi-Heckler’s(12) training organization in embodied leadership, uses “somatic” coaching, and cultivation of the self to further the human capacity for vision, empathy. He uses conflict as a generative force, growing the “ability to hold contradictions and stay in life-affirming action.”

George Leonard(13) a co-founder of the Aikido of Tamalpais dojo in Corte Madera, California, developed the Leonard Energy Training (LET) practice for centring the mind, body, and spirit.  Paul Linden(14) has developed this idea also with an emphasis on movement. And “co-active” coaches, Laura Whitworth and Carl Rogers(15) have made similar points about the need to listen to the “deep structure” of thought and to then frame this in meaningful ways, ever since the 1970s with their reminder that the story being told belongs to the speaker, and not the listener.


The time spent on attentive listening is so vital.  Coaching takes account of the clients’ ongoing processing of new information in choice of vocabulary, structure, sound and context. These processes are translated in their heads into an ‘inner dialogue’, which the coach can access by means of acute observation of gestures, eye movements, vocal pacing and breathing patterns, thus gaining an awareness of the learners’ emotional state, stage of comprehension or preference for certain forms of language and their changing physical state, eg if they are searching for meaning, sweating or stressed.

How we- as coaches – listen, and also, how we can help our clients to listen to themselves and others – I believe, is central. All too often, coaches talk far too much, imparting information and skills simply by telling the clients what to do and how to do it.

From process to performance

Getting to the actual performance is not a matter of rearranging the room and telling managers to “get creative”. Leaders of today are expected to cultivate excellence for themselves and within their organisation. Wendy Palmer(16) mentions the tools and practices to be a skilful listener, a powerful advocator and an inspirational leader. As a sixth degree black belt in Aikido she uses principles from the non-violent Japanese martial art of Aikido to offer “simple tools and practices to increase leadership presence and respond to stress and pressure with greater confidence and integrity.” This approach may not be for everyone, so Nancy Kline’s notion(17) that listening is an authentic act  that interrupting, advising and adding rules, destabilises and damages, may suit others more.

Dylan Newcomb(18) advocates “a new kind of language”—one that speaks to and engages your whole mind and body as one dynamic, integrated process. “It’s an embodied practice for self and life mastery”; Dr Peter Lovatt(19) argues that “dancing can change how you think” and Amy Cuddy(20) in her TED talk explains how our body language shapes who we are.

The famous thinker, Alan Watts(21), said (talking of modern Man’s insecurity over the future) If we are to continue to live for the future, and to make the chief work of the mind prediction and calculation, man must eventually become a parasitic appendage to a mass of clockwork. Working rightly, the brain is the highest form of  ‘instinctual wisdom’ Thus it should work like the homing instinct of pigeons and the formation of the fetus in the womb — without verbalizing the process or knowing “how” it does it. The self-conscious brain, like the self-conscious heart, is a disorder, and manifests itself in the acute feeling of separation between “I” and my experience. The brain can only assume its proper behaviour when consciousness is doing what it is designed for: not writhing and whirling to get out of present experience, but being effortlessly aware of it.

In our context, we are referring to states of mind that do not necessarily reach the heights of meditative inspiration (Gamma waves) – which could lead to hypertension and mental and physical overload if experienced for too long – or the zoned-out state of deep relaxation (Theta waves) that comes from total burn out, but a balanced and impactive state between Alpha and Beta waves.

Time to express ourselves

So, as mentioned, the key is to provide time for important self-expression, and in different contexts, rather than moving on to new and unconnected ones and piling on masses of new tasks. The more time given to one point, promoting a widening awareness of that point through the careful selection of associated models, the better: just as a laptop works better when it has had all the extraneous programs running in parallel temporarily switched off, allowing energy and space to be given to the one program that needs this. Conscious “planning” or rapid shifts may not leave time and space to the processing needs of the client.

“I”ll do it My Way”

By spending more time listening to our clients (and not rushing them through the next hoop), we will lead them better to where they need to be. Clients in turn should be encouraged, using this attentive and appreciative approach, to listen to themselves and to pay attention to their personal inner dialogue to learn how the processing of new inner dialogue is being integrated into active use, in letting them do it their way first. My way as a coach is to develop this kind of impactful sensitivity, and I do that by managing my language and skills of reading the other person’s inner dialogue.

What we do, makes ALL the difference.

I use these techniques with success in leadership and management skills where the degree of use of different processing channels is very different according to the person. Managers tend to focus down and inwardly onto a constructed problem; leaders tend to focus up and externally onto a visualised solution. Listening to how this is done in each case and experimenting with switching channels can lead to interesting new perspectives for both.

People with different kinds of phobias, such as fear of speaking to assembled groups in closed spaces, for example, can show the same physical symptoms (sweating, broken voice, short-term memory loss, allergic response etc.) simply by thinking about the situation or talking about it, as when they are actually in it. I work successfully with people in overcoming this. One way is to elicit (typical Ericksonian method!) what other situations they enjoy and feel resourceful in and then anchor these images, sounds and feelings in indirect ways. I did this with an otherwise highly successful business leader, who I discovered was very happy when fishing at weekends with his friends, and had very powerful associations to the images of the fish being barbecued and the gentle swaying of the boat on the lake. By obtaining a reaction of gentle swaying, the smell of the barbecue on the camp fire, and the idea that his listeners were fish-headed, he completely forgot his problem; it was the time taken to access this deeply and listen to him telling me about it, that was the key.

By attentive listening, we may uncover that a lack of meaningfulness in our dealings with others – and associated feelings of fear or reactive behaviour – is associated with an inner dialogue and anchored feelings.. Reflecting what Robert Dilts(22) has done in treating allergies and employing the NLP protocols of Reimprinting, Reframing, Belief-framing, Change Personal History, and the Allergy Process, may produce good results. A client may often discover that their sabotaging ailment or pattern of behaviour has been a protective force and a psychological reversal, that, once freed, can change his/her feelings and reactions in terms of real physical improvements.


Making a real difference as coaches, not just for the day of the conference but for life, has to do with changing our experience. Companies can continue the same bad practice over and over or act once to change it and use language itself differently, in conversations that lead to better outcomes.  This, too, is a physical experience.

Working with managers and leaders who need to overcome linguistic problems of miscommunication – frequent where English is the lingua franca for business dealings between people of many different language backgrounds but also with the native speaker who has no grounding in the insights of language correction by which to judge his/her performance objectively – .enables the skilled language coach to exploit correction techniques and teach strategies that are anchoring real behavioural change. We also have the tools to combine bookwork with real physical and performance-based practice.

Whatever the trainee executive may learn on a good theoretical course – no matter how uplifting – can be lost the following day if it is not anchored in a deep and physical way. Good coaches engage the digital auditory channel to make this happen.

Listening is physical

Listening to what the other person’s “sacred ground” is, without judgment, finding ground for exploration and working up from stable common ground agreements, is a practicable skill that – however – can be lost in the emotional “heat of the moment”. Being able not only to step back from a problem in one’s mind, but having the firmly-anchored physical resources for doing so, are actually very different indeed.

In all cases, I advocate attentive listening and the transferring of positive emerging feelings and thoughts into a physical response. Getting up, moving round, going for walks, lying down, shifting energies that are stuck. EFT (Tapping) can in some cases be appropriate with the trained therapist. From this, a “bridging” technique that allows a re-framing of the situation through different perspectives and to re-evaluate the options from having a multi-awareness of the meaning of the potential outcomes, leads to questioning techniques that allow the new understanding and reality to emerge. NLP uses “perceptual positioning” to do this – which is a physical act as well as visual.

Our disrupted and destabilised world.

Any kind of disruption – destabilisation – causes difficulty.  As Paul Linden has remarked, today, leaders are expected to “cultivate excellence for themselves”. So much today is premised on the idea of “positive change” and this conceals a number of secret agendas, some within the mind or body of the client, manifesting as “inner terrorists” and others in the outside world as camouflaged attempts to gain the upper hand or derail another person, either consciously or unconsciously in the at times rather sociopathic organisations that are set up to create our current “reality”. Understanding – by attentive listening – what this has created mentally and physically for the client, allows us to look for physical answers.

Here, I am reminded of Ilya Prigogine’s ideas on Chaos theory, Dissipative structures, and the flow of energy though what he called the “arrow of time”, on the foundations of which J Defrenne built an interesting theory of how to manage uncertainty in a constantly destabilised and chaotic world where the other person is seen nearly always as an agent of potential antagonism and disruption.(23)

As has been said, dancing, painting, walking, playing music, other physical skills – or growing African Violets to give to others (famously illustrated by M Erickson) – can resolve the lack of meaning and fearfulness of so many experience. Which activity is “right” will depend on how closely you have been listening. What we do (not only what we say or think), makes ALL the difference.

Neurological levels

To return to answer the question that we asked at the beginning: namely, the methodology for how to make a total physical response method apply to complex situation, whilst retaining the elements of good fun, veracity, and intellectual challenge, ensuring that good usage is anchored within the client’s deep process. How do we do this and overcome some of his/her conscious and unconscious objections?  Since the ability to ask questions enables communication, and, since this is in itself satisfying, and also, given that there are different levels of questioning, it’s important to know what these levels are so that we can approach each client by listening attentively to where they are going in their own processing of the new language and experience then connect in in a deeper physical response that engages sight, sound, smell, and movement. The benefit and sense of wellbeing comes from doing it.

As Robert Dilts has explained (24) people begin by accessing the questions or time and space relating to when we do things and where we do them. Most people have a common perception of this, although it is coloured by cultural distinctions and expectations. At a higher neurological level, we talk and think about what we’re doing, and explain how we’re doing that. In all these cases, we have the use of basic syntax, involving, verbs, subjects, predicates, objects and complements. However, the key area where people and peoples differ is in how they do something, according to their own belief system, and this refers to language in particular, since how we use language depends entirely on which language we are using! The question of “how?” is therefore a more complex question; and, by extension, the question of why we do that is more complex still and depends entirely on who we are, our identity, our sense of self, our cultural persona.

In my work and in this article I have laid out the answers to the twin pitfalls that accompany too much theory and disconnected physical actions and reactions. Understanding this in a sensitive way and listening to the gradually changing processes of language in each of our clients (as they access the experience), we get to know who we are dealing with, and why they make the mistakes that they do. If we wish to anchor a new belief – with all its personal feelings and cultural overtones, and specific notions – it’s important that every client get the chance to experience that in a physical way and get a real feel for it on every level. We do this by combining all the channels of experience, including the emotional, and walking alongside one another towards mutually-beneficial goals. The more enjoyable and deep this experience, the better the outcome.

Source: iCN Issue 20  (Executive Coaching); 1st part can be found on pages 55-58


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