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Episode 14

Cultivating Awe and Wonder in Our Coaching Conversations

“You can’t know what you don’t know”. This is one truism we attempt to circumnavigate when we coach in the quest to help our clients open to new possibilities. But how do we facilitate a shift in someone’s lifelong identity?

In this truth-talking conversation, ontological coach Julio Olalla outlines the intersection where philosophy, psychology and wisdom create fertile ground for transformation in our clients, and what is required of us as coaches in that process.

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What is ontological coaching?

We all know that David Foster Wallace story about the two fish, right?

“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

Our “reality” is the water we swim in every day. We create problems by saying “That’s the way things are” when what is actually happening is that that’s the way we see.

Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being. In ontological coaching, one explores the understanding that the client has of themselves, asking, What do you mean when you say “I”?, An ontological coach will explore how the client makes sense of his or her life, and how that influences the possibilities they are open to.

We tend to have a fairly rigid view of ourselves, meaning that we’re essentially trapped within a box (and therefore have limited possibilities). Ontological coaching takes that trap away so we’re free to choose other perspectives and see other possibilities.

I can’t observe the way I observe

The context in which we’re relating to our environment or another person, dictates to a large extent what is possible in that experience. Respect, acceptance and reflection are foundational postures for creating what Julio calls, a “sacred place of encounter” in the coaching session.

Coaching is about recalling the power of questions, inviting wonder and awe, falling in love with not knowing. “We live with a lot of answers for questions we never ask,” Julio’s says. If we hold fast to our knowledge, we are condemned to live there eternally, and any tradition or habit brings blindness with it.

The highest level of thinking is the capacity to be aware of that awareness in which you have lived so far, as this frees you from any attachment to things being a certain way and opens you to infinite possibilities.

Knowledge versus wisdom

If learning is understood as the reception of information, change is going to be very difficult. You can have a lot of information without your emotional world being impacted, or your attachment to perceptions examined.

In recent decades, the world has become obsessed with knowledge and is no longer interested in wisdom, and in fact they are fundamentally different. 

Knowledge changes (e.g., physics), wisdom is timeless. Knowledge is a possession (you can sell it), wisdom is concerned with the art of living and is an internal quality. Knowledge is what we learn about the world, wisdom is concerned with what is revealed by the world. Knowledge separates, wisdom brings things together.

Ontological coaching is concerned with wisdom and seeks to unite coach and client in a “sacred place of encounter” where perceived knowledge can be transcended and insightful change becomes possible.

Resources mentioned:

About Julio

Photo of Julio Olalla
Julio Ollala

Julio Olalla is a motivational speaker addressing audiences worldwide on the topics of leadership, coaching, transformational learning, education, and emotion. As the founder of Newfield Network, a boutique consulting company and coaching school in the United States and Latin America, Julio Olalla is regarded as a pioneer of the executive coaching and transformational learning fields. For over 30 years, Julio has trained thousands of individuals and worked with hundreds of organizations, CEOs, and government figureheads to challenge traditional thinking and create stronger leaders navigating the anxiety and turbulence facing our global community.

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