Time travel

It's nothing to do with a nuclear deterrent!

I was really pleased by the response to an earlier post in which I described my own Zones model. People seem to have found it helpful in framing what is going on with a client during a discussion. Buoyed by this success, I thought I would present another model that I tend to use in my practice. Because of the shape of the diagram, I call it the Trident model. As usual, it has been inspired by a number of different sources (see the Further Reading list at the end), but it was mainly triggered by the debate over the differences between the Counselling and Coaching approaches to guidance and the relative merits of action and reflection.

Personally, I find it useful to keep track of the balance and focus of a discussion with a client.

The Trident model has three elements:

  • Attending to the Present — What is going on now? — IMMEDIACY
    This is partly about making sure you understand the the current situation and immediate needs of the client. However, it is also about being aware of what is happening as it happens in the discussion. Being completely present in the here-and-now rather than worrying about what you are going to do next. Paying attention to the client’s responses and your own reactions — listening for tone and mood. (See The three levels of listening.)
  • Attending to the Past — How did I  get here? — REFLECTION
    This is about hearing, understanding and possibly re-interpreting the story so far. What has led them into their current situation? What has been the basis for the actions and choices in the past? What from the past might be holding them back from moving forward? What can you learn from what has gone before? What needs to be transformed and what needs to be maintained when moving into the future?
  • Attending to the Future — Where could I go from here? — ACTION
    This is about plotting possible futures. Identifying alternative ways to move forward from the present and evaluating them. Imagining potential scenarios and thinking about how to bring them into being. But it is about more than just action planning. It is also about imagining and exploring how the client wants to be different in the future and making it more real for them. Crystallising future dreams and identifying the crucial questions that need to be answered?

Ideally, a career consultation should include all three, but the amount of time you spend attending to each of the present, past and future will depend on the needs of the client. Some clients need most help articulating their current needs, some need help in making sense of their past experiences before they can move on, some need to focus on formulating visions for the future.

By default, I deal with the three element in the order presented above: Present, Past, then Future. However, this is not obligatory and I try to take my lead from what the client wants to talk about. However, I will usually try to be alert to the benefits of switching time frames. For example, in one discussion with a client, we spent quite a while trying to make decisions about the future but were not making much progress. Just to try something new, I got her to talk more about decisions she had made in the past. It turned out that a previous career decision had gone really badly. As we explored this it became clear that this past event had seriously knocked her confidence in her decision making ability. Looking at the past decision in more detail revealed that the past disaster had nothing to do with the quality of her decision making – it was just bad luck. Getting this out of the way made it easier to switch attention back to the future decisions.

It is in the interplay between the different time-frames that the model comes alive. How has the past influenced the present and how is it likely to influence the future? How can the past be reconstructed to reveal new understandings that better meet the needs of the future? What can be done in the present to change the impact of past events? How can different future paths be opened by action in the present? These are all crucial questions in any career coaching or counselling session.

For me, the Trident model and the Zones model complement each other to give a selection of areas that can be explored with a client in order to pinpoint where the most important issue resides.

  • Where do you spend most of your time with a client: the past, the present or the future?
  • Are you naturally action-focused or reflection-focused?
  • How can we help clients to develop plans that will suit how they might be in the future rather than just dealing with them as they are now?

Further reading

Related post: Can you be positive about uncertainty?


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  1. Decision makers want information…or do they? « Careers – in Theory
  2. Story crafting « Careers – in Theory

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