The Penrose Triangle – It’s About Perspective …
If you have never heard of it, the Penrose Triangle is an impossible object that can exist only in perspective drawings, but not in a solid three-dimensional form.
What does this have to do with coaching? you may ask. One of the primary objectives in coaching is to help the coachee see a problem from a different perspective in order to help them unstick themselves (read more about “getting unstuck” here). This is particularly poignant at this time of year as the days shorten with the onset of winter and the thought of making changes seems impossible, whether that be at work, running a business or getting fit.
It is always a difficult trying to explain the power of coaching to someone who has no experience of it. After all, why should a conversation with a coach be able to make a difference when conversations with friends and family may not?
First … we listen
As coaches we are trained to listen – actively and attentively. If you are in the habit of checking your messages whilst holding a conversation, then I can assure you that you are not actively listening to the person in front of you. Active listening requires 100% of your attention on the person speaking. And it is the power of that attention – someone totally focused on listening to you – that is the first important factor in a coaching conversation.
Then … we question
Coaches have a full repertoire of powerful questions that are used to open your mind and enable you to see things from a different perspective. Those questions will help the coachee change perspective and see a situation differently in order to find a way to move forward. Hence our starter powerful questions (and there are many more) are:
Where are you now? Where do you want to get to? What’s stopping you?
What do you need to do (differently) to get there?
Surprisingly, even the first of these questions is powerful since its often hard to give a truly honest, in-depth and realistic assessment of where we are; it is often an emotive question.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” (Albert Einstein)
When we think we are in an impossible situation or cannot find a solution, it’s often because we always look at it from the same angle, reacting in the same way. This inevitably gives rise to the same results or conclusion every time.
Sir Roger Penrose, a recent Nobel Physics prize-winner, created this second illustration depicting the three-dimensional shape which, when seen from a certain perspective, is the Penrose Triangle.
I think this is a great illustration of how coaching works. Seen from one perspective (The Penrose Triangle perspective) you have an impossibility – perhaps this is a problem or situation that you cannot see how to resolve. It’s a vicious circle (or in this case a triangle) that keeps repeating itself.
Coaching changes perspectives
So, going back to the illustration above, we clearly see that moving to a different perspective changes not only how we see the problem, but also that it is no longer even the same problem. It’s no longer an impossible triangle, but a problem that has a clear start and end point and therefore can be resolved.
Hopefully, this article given some insight into coaching. And if you already knew about it, I hope you enjoyed reading about the Penrose Triangle. I am a fan of these optical impossibilities, so if you are not familiar with them, you may also want to check out some of Escher’s drawings.