The article is a courtesy of Jaap Hollander who is Psychologist, NLP Trainer. Co-owner of Holland’s oldest NLP institute (12.000+ people trained). Authored 11 books, mostly about NLP and Provocative Coaching.  Jaap Hollander eas on the Dutch Quote top 500 business advisors list for as long as it existed. Founder and major developer of MindSonar.

The case of the fallen flute

Coach (touching client’s shoulder): So, tell me, what’s the problem?

Client: I have become a total monomaniac…. I do one thing only. Well maybe a few other little things, but mostly I do only one thing.

Coach: And we all know what that is, don’t we?
Client (chuckling): You do?
Coach: Yes, but I don’t want to embarrass you with sexual disclosures.

Client (laughing): But the thing is, that I have become so good at being a monomaniac, that I can’t do anything else anymore. Let me give you an example. I used to be involved in playing classical flute music a lot. But that has totally fallen out of my life…

Coach: Your flute has fallen off! (Laughter from the audience, client slaps coaches’ knee).

Client: Yeah, you could say that! What you are suggesting, that might be quite true!

Coach: Okay, so you are focusing on one thing only, and all the other things disappear. And what is that one single thing?

Client: Yeah, well, that’s my work…. my working life…. a lot of different kinds of work, that’s true, so there is some variation…

Coach: Sure, within this monomania (with his hand gestures Coach is indicating a small space of about one cubic decimeter), within this tiny space there is some variation… Okay, but why is that a problem? Isn’t it just a matter of enjoying your work? Doing what you like doing most? What’s wrong with that? Forget about all these stupid little things like art, or personal development, or sex, or relationships, or the future of mankind and what have you… Work, that’s what counts! I understand. So why is that a problem? You are focusing on what you are most suited for… work.

Client: No, no, no, you’ve got to see, no…. that is one of the things with being a monomaniac, you’re focused so much on one thing…. that is the reason why you enjoy that most, and that is precisely the problem! And then…

Coach (interrupting him): But doesn’t that make life a lot simpler?

Client: Yes, no, no, sure, (sarcastically) that’s true, it’s very simple. When people come to me with plans that do not relate to my work, you know, I just say no, no, no, I don’t have time for that!

Coach: Right! Good for you! So when people say they want to visit you, you go no, no, no, no! (Coach is making broad defensive movements with his arms). Don’t visit me! I have work to do! Go away. Don’t waste my time!

Client: Yeah…. just about.
Coach: But I still don’t see what the problem is. You are doing what you enjoy doing. You’re doing what feels good to you. Your life is simple. So what’s the problem?

Client: Yeah, no, no…. well…. yeah, I’m doing my thing…
Coach: And isn’t that what everybody wants? To do their thing?

Client (shading his eyes with his hand, turning inside): No…. dammit, the problem is… Okay, so I am sitting behind my desk, and I am thinking: I’m going to post a note at the musical conservatory to find a flute student as a musical partner… And then I do write the note, but I never put it up on the board. Because I know, the only way to play the flute well is to do it in a monomaniac way and spend lots and lots of time on it.

Coach: So in a moment of acute insanity you let go of this wonderful state of total work obsession. But lucky for you, you returned to your senses just in time! Common sense won, and you forgot these crazy plans like having a hobby and everything. And isn’t that beautiful? That you have a healthy common sense that protects you from crazy actions like that?

Client (staring into space): You know, the strange thing is, when you say it, it sounds crazy (making a lunatic gesture with his hand). But that’s exactly the kind of reasoning that I do myself, these days!

Coach: And think about the money!

Client: What??

Coach: What kind of work do you do?

Client: I do therapy and I write books.

Coach: Okay, so all these hours you could be writing books or could be seeing clients… You could be making money!

Client: Yeah exactly, that’s what I am thinking too… I’m not crazy! It’s a total waste of time!

Coach: You have to be really careful with this, you know. You start with one hobby, but then one thing leads to another. And another hobby is added, and another one and another one. And before you know it, you are doing hobbies all the time and you can hardly get any work done anymore.

At first, it is only playing the flute, but then you go: “I want to take up sailing because that’s what I used to do too. And I should go to the pub more often, and play cards because that’s what I used to do. And going out to see movies, and going to the theatre, and to restaurants, and theatre festivals, and cross-country trips.” Before you know it, you are totally absorbed with all these stupid hobbies, and even if you would like to do some work, it is impossible. Your hobbies have taken over your life like a virus or a fungus or whatever and they have completely destroyed your productivity! You can’t work anymore because you have to play the flute, you have to go to the club, you have to go sail your boat… And what is that going to do for your wife and for your children?

Client: What do you mean?

Coach: Your children are depending on you. They are thinking: Dad is going to work his ass o for at least another 30 years. And then we will get a great inheritance. He will leave us lots of money! And when you do these hobbies, your children will think: our inheritance is going down the drain! Dammit, there goes another thousand euro! Your children are crying when you are playing the flute! (with horror in his voice) “My God, he is playing the flute with my money!”

(Client is collapsing with laughter, he can’t speak).

Coach (accusingly, pointing with his finger, still enacting the children): “And there he is, my own father, throwing away my money with that stupid flute if his! Pissing away my money!” They see their apartments shrinking, their vacation houses going up in smoke… And how are they going to respond?

“Hi, son, are you coming home this weekend?” “Well, dad, have you been playing the flute a lot, lately? You know what I mean. You children need you to work more, not less. They are counting on you. So I absolutely advise against any hobbies!

Client: But I will find a way!

Challenging people in order to help them

What is going on here? Has this coach gone crazy? Where is his professional distance? Doesn’t he understand that he should never impose his personal opinions on a client? And why doesn’t he accept the problem the client expresses? Who is he, to decide whether something is a problem or not? That is up to the client, isn’t it? And what about the golden rule that the client should speak at least twice as much as the coach? There were even a few moments where he actually interrupted the client!

This is an example of provocative coaching. Challenging people in order to help them… Provocative coaching o ers some new possibilities that you won’t find in ‘traditional’ coaching or therapy. And yet it harnesses forces that most people will recognise intuitively.

To understand one of its basic principles, think back to a moment in your life when you really wanted to do something and someone said: “That’s too di cult for you”. Or maybe they said “You are too old for that” or “You’re too young”. It doesn’t matter what their reasoning was. They might have just said: “It isn’t you!” Can you remember a moment like that? You really wanted to do something and someone important told you that you couldn’t. What was your response? Most likely, it was something like: “You think I can’t do that? We’ll see about that!”. “I’ll show you what I can do!”

And so you ended up even more determined. Provocative therapy utilises this kind of energy. It differs radically from ‘classical’ types of therapy like psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, client-centered therapy, or even from the newer approaches such as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) or solution-focused therapy. It challenges people in order to help them grow, rather than trying to help them directly.

Provocative coaching is a distant relative of ‘paradoxical intention’ and ‘reverse psychology’. The coach encourages the client to do their problem more: do some more of that, think some more of that, feel some more of that!

Where the other major approaches are mostly supportive (“I believe in you, you can do it”), the provocative coach discourages the client’s goals (You can’t be a good father, you have an ego like the Graf Zeppelin!”). And yet provocative coaching is not only the confrontation. The challenges are presented with humour and warmth. This is what makes it quite different from simple confrontation. And this is also why people need the training to learn how to do it.

The three good things about provocative work

Three things make provocative coaching attractive for helping professionals. First of all, provocative work can be surprisingly fast and effective. And it can work quite elegantly with clients who don’t do well with conventional change work. That’s the second reason. And number three: it’s fun! Preliminary research shows that coaches and therapists become happier people when they start doing provocative work. So should we all throw our conventional methods out the window and start working exclusively with this Great New Method? Of course not! Provocative coaching is one more possibility. It is a nice new option, not a mandatory replacement.

Want to know more?

Go to Amazon and order: “Provocative Coaching, Making Things Better by Making Them Worse” by Jaap Hollander or listed to Jaap Hollander’s podcast here.