A Basic Ontological Premise

By Chris Chittenden

“The trouble with learning from experience is that you never graduate.”

… Doug Larson in “The Speaker's Electronic Reference Collection”

I have been writing a newsletter on the world of ontological coaching since 1995. For the past decade, these newsletters have been produced every month. That is a lot of topics to explore! One of the challenges of writing that many newsletters is the need to create coherence about them despite a wide variation in the subjects. My approach to doing this initially lies in an underlying philosophy on which I see ontological coaching is based and secondly drawing links between what I observe in the world and that philosophy. As this is a time of year when we are more prone to reflect on our lives, I thought I would share that philosophy with you.

Our ontological philosophy is based on the premise that the human condition is a continuous yet momentary experience of living. In other words, life is an uninterrupted process. One of the great human capacities is to create a sense of life that is much bigger than the momentary experience. We do that through our rich use of language to produce our stories about ourselves in relation to the past and the future. Yet we all live in the moment and it is that single idea that forms the basis of our ontological coaching approach. So what does that mean?


Well, initially we can look at what this means about us. How do we deal with the moment? From an ontological perspective, we can say that we are constantly interacting with our environment – our physical and relational environment - and the way we interact is a manifestation of our way of being at that time. Our way of being at any point of time can be distinguished as a coherence of our physical state, our emotional state and our linguistic (thinking) state. At a point in time, our energy levels, what we observe (hear, see etc), how we feel, what we believe and so on, all form the structure that will create our response in the moment to a given circumstance. When we observe what people do, we can use our ontological distinctions to interpret a person’s way of being at the time. Ultimately, as an ontological coach, we are working with people to shift their way of being to respond more effectively to the circumstances in which they are likely to find themselves.

If we look at what this means at a practical level in terms of say leadership, it means that effective leaders are seeking to engage people to take certain actions at a certain point of time in the future. Ideally this means that leaders understand the human condition and what has people do what they do in certain situations. This potentially leads to different approach to leading others that considers what will have things show up for people in the moment they are doing something. This approach lends itself to simplicity rather than too much complexity, to creating clear frameworks of meaning and direction that are born of clarity and consistency of message and action. It lends itself to influencing the emotional states of those who are being led and to creating a physical environment that is conducive to that. Above all, it involves being able to explore a variety of perspectives in order to create the greatest influence in a way that is beneficial for all.

So there you have it. When you see someone do something that you do not understand, rather than thinking “what the ?@!# are they doing?”, why not ask yourself “what is it about them that would have them do that now?”. It may well broaden your perspective.

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© 2009 & 2103 Chris Chittenden