I have been recently exploring the use of the Gestalt approach to coaching. The Gestalt therapy has been practiced since the 1950s, growing in its popularity in the 1960s when Edwin Nevis and Richard Wallen began using it in the management development programmes.
The aim of the approach is to help an individual to discover, explore and experience his/her own shape, pattern and wholeness. Analysis may be part of the process, but the aim of Gestalt is the integration of all disparate parts. In this way people can let themselves become totally what they are already, and what they potentially can become (Clarkson, 2004).
Here is how I use Gestalt to help my clients to break through the metaphoric glass ceiling:
- Explore with your client what is their goal and where is that they want to be. Encourage them to be as precise and specific as feasible.
- Invite your client to create a time line (ideally by physically moving around the room), which can be anything from six months to few years, this will depend on their goal.
- Next, invite your client to talk about the feelings and sensations they are experiencing standing on the other side of the glass ceiling (this can also include the effects on their lifestyle, family life, social life and wellbeing). I find asking the ‘what success looks/feels/tastes like’ very helpful during this process. Make sure your client talks in the present tense, as he/she were living in that life right now. Use appropriate summaries picking up on all verbal and non-verbal communication. Don’t be afraid to challenge client’s thinking, which would help them to keep sight of their end goal.
- Invite your client to move back along the time line repeating the above process. Make sure they control the speed and choose all the stops of the journey.
- Once they are back at the starting point (current situation), invite them to continue with the journey right back to the start of their career. The aim of this activity is to remind them of their past successes, overcome obstacles and learnings, which subsequently should reignite their ambitions and help them to review their current toolboxes.
- Next, invite your client to talk about the most immediate actions they could take right away. By now, they should also be able to talk about the blockers they need to overcome to move forward. Help them to stay positive and balanced, as it is common to over-focus here on the blockers. Encourage them to identify their sponsors or/and cheerleaders, anyone and everyone who could play an important role in getting them through the ceiling.
I use ‘realistic’ positive psychology to guide the client through the above process, which helps me to keep them energised, encouraged and connected to the reality. Some of the glass ceilings are extremely thick and will require hard and persisting drilling when getting through it. It is important to stay close to your client along the way to keep them focused on their end goal, especially through the hard times. Their efforts will payoff and the glass will eventually give up.