“You can’t get close to a porcupine”

by | Mar 19, 2019 | Change | 0 comments

Last weekend I was in Kuwait for the Middle East Psychological Association annual conference and attended sessions led by play therapists, marriage counselors, organizations that head into conflict zones and an expert in passion. It left me with a notebook full of notes, a to do list of things to look up and people to make contact with, and an injection of renewed enthusiasm for my own area of research.

One session that particularly resonated with me was the one by a marriage counselor, who talked about Family Systems Theory. This theory suggests that individuals cannot be fully understood in isolation (the way most therapistand coaches see people) as the family is a system, each individual within it is interconnected and interdependent. He used the analogy of a baby’s mobile above a cot – if you move one of the hanging items, the others sway and move as well. This got me thinking that this also applies within work environments. If one person leaves, or doesn’t pull their weight, or behaves in an antagonistic way, there are ripples that affect the others in the team.


So what does that mean for coaching people? Do I need to see all the members of a team to coach one who is struggling?

That would, of course, be wonderful! To get a full picture of the situation someone faces. However, it is not really feasible unless working for the organization that employs the team. All I can do as a coach is to see the action and reaction from the point of view of my client and lead him or her to the conclusion that by changing their actions within this interconnected and interdependent system, the ripples can affect the others they work with and that this is not a sign of weakness, but as a strategy to get their individual needs met.

Five ways you can make this happen:

  1. Learn to become less reactive – take that breath and look for alternative explanations for someone else’s negative behaviour. It may not be about you. Recognise that passiveness in the face of bad behaviour suggests to the other that this is ok.
  2. Don’t confuse becoming more assertive with becoming aggressive. Calmness can be far more effective than losing it when putting your point across, especially if you are female.
  3. Celebrate each small step you take in the right direction with a problem or situation. You won’t solve a big problem in just one step, but these small steps do add up.
  4. Explore ways of de-escalating yourself before you try to de-escalate conflicts. This may be taking a 5 minute breather in the fresh air or doing some mindful breathing before you enter that meeting room.
  5. Finally, model what you would like to experience: create an atmosphere of goodwill and collaboration by looking for the positives in the other person, focusing on some of the good things they do and let them know that you have seen that. This can bring them positive emotions at being seen, which may in turn allow them to see the positives in you.

Sometimes these steps are hard to make in isolation, which is where a coach comes in: supporting you in your journey and keeping you accountable, while moving you away from blame and recrimination towards positive steps forward.

Latest Posts

What Happens in an Explore Coaching Session?

Some of the questions I was asked recently at a networking meeting were: What happens when I book an exploratory call with a coach?   Will I be sold to?  Is there a minimum number of sessions I need to book? Is it like therapy where once you start,...

I do not do New Year’s Resolutions. 

I do not do New Year’s Resolutions. 

It’s not because I am lazy, but as a Coaching Psychologist, I know that they are statistically likely to fail within a few weeks. Statistics on this vary from 8% success to around 50% success, however the data collection is varied in its accuracy and...

A Focus on Strengths

A Focus on Strengths

Working with your strengths and encouraging clients to identify and utilise their strengths well lies at the heart of positive psychology coaching. The last two years have been tough years for most people, and I have felt my personal resilience slip a little as...

Overcoming a Mental Block

Overcoming a Mental Block

Looking through the blog posts on my website and you may be forgiven for thinking i took time out. In a way that was true. The website i had created several years ago had been allowed to go to seed... a lack of updates and a complete focus on firstly completing my...



Humility: How much does it feature in your leadership practice? If I was to ask you what you thought the key leadership strengths are for our current and post-pandemic world are, I don’t suppose humility would feature very highly. If I was to say that it was a key...

Related Posts



Humility: How much does...