The ontology approach in coaching believes that Body, Moods and Language are three
separate but strongly intertwined aspects. Our physical body, our language and our moods ,
or emotional states, are the coherency of our being. Language is generative and creative as
we make it possible to take new actions based on how we listen and speak. Language is a
terminology we use, not for its meaning in structure or grammar, but more for its meaning
on how humans connect and communicate with each other. It defines how each person
expresses his feelings, radiates his emotions and delivers his words, be it as a request, an
assessment, an assertion, an offer, a promise or a declaration. The mood is something that
lives in our background and has presupposition to our very actions. When we cannot accept
certain facts in our life we tend to be in disagreement or in resentment. A disagreement
which stems from perceiving others’ actions as a violation of our rules or values can be
interpreted as a sign of dishonour, disrespect, or threat for us. From a mood of resentment
it is very unlikely that we can take an action that will produce the results that we want. In
corporate life, many managers have performance evaluation sessions with good intentions
of delivering feedback to improve their subordinates’performance. What most managers
miss in the conversation is that the mood which cradles this exchange is often in
misalignment with the very purpose of the conversation itself. When the mood of dislike is
already existing in such conversations, even the light manipulation of humour will not
improve the situation. Nor will it stimulate effective response from the subordinate. The
ontology approach has its strong point in this regard as it teaches us to become an astute
observer of how we assess others or events. A manager that has recurrently practiced
centering and grounding himself will better align his or her mood to the conversation so as
to be more inquisitive and open, therefore ready to engage a productive conversation. The
creation of a supportive mood will allow the manager to have a better rapport from his
subordinate as his language expression during the conversation signals care rather than
apprehension. By being more open, the manager will be more receptive. His body language
will also change to generate a welcoming feel to his subordinate, thus creating a stronger
sense of trust from his team member.
However, keep in mind that we cannot change things that we do not notice. The OAR or
Observer-Actions-Results model is a powerful tool that positions the ontology coaching to
produce more fundamental changes at an individual’s level of being. The notion of
“when you are doing the same thing again and again you will likely to get the same result”
is not necessarily true. When our actions change, but its underlying presupposition, or the
way we think and how we interpret the event, does not change, it is not likely that we will
get betterresults. How many times have we tried to solve or avoid a problem we have in our
career, daily life or maybe in our health?
How many different actions and approaches have led to the same ending, or worse, create
new problems? I once coached an executive that had a record of high turnover among his
team. He had tried many different approaches to improve his team member retention, but to
no avail. To the surprise of the human resource department, the feedback from his
subordinates indicated that he was a good manager as he maintained communication
with his team; he was well known for willing to lend a hand to his team members and often
spent time after office hours. Only after a few coaching sessions did it become apparent that
this manager had a persistent mood of anxiety and worry affecting his every decision and action.
His past history of living in poverty and his hard struggle on his way up had somewhat
negatively influenced his way of looking the future. His constant worry that things would go
wrong had been the predominant factor shadowing his response to every situation he had.
After a few practices in observing his own breathing, body posture as well as gesture and
voice tonality, he was able to notice that he had unconsciously radiated a sense of distrust
to his team member. Despite many hours of team meeting and his willingness to help, his team
members intuitively sensed his underlying mood of worry and anxiety lurked in every conversation.
He realized that the ‘why’ in his questions were usually stressed in a tone of doubtfulness.
With some somatic works in his breathing and a new declaration of his inability to be always
in control of the future outcome, he had started to a give a refreshing vibe and a sense of trust
among his team member.
There are few challenges I come across in practicing ontology coaching. For example, I met
a corporate client that demanded a “linear oriented coaching” approach. Typically a coaching
request like this comes from local or government company as their understanding on the coaching
method is at a very early stage. The initiative to have a coach is mostly taken by the top
management or human resources with a pervasive belief: “fix these people using coaching
as changing them ensures the overall improvement of company performance”.
Once, I received a request for an executive coaching work from a government company.
After a preliminary meeting with some constituents I found that there was a strong belief
among its executives about the power of being at the top. “The higher a person’s corporate
position, the more untouchable he is”. This company board members were mostly politicians
assigned temporarily to corporate seat. The coaching request was targeted for a selected
middle layer. I did not go for the work as I doubted that the effort will be able to produce
real value for the organization. Without the support of systemic alignments from the top leaders,
a coaching program aiming at the middle layer to drive a cultural change in the company is
Another example was when I met a human resource from a local company requesting a
coaching program where I had to produce periodical reports of the coachee’s progress to
the human resource. The thing I disagree with was that the report’s contents would not be
disclosed to the coachee. It was a tool from the human resource to “control” what is going
on with the coachee and the program. I sensed a somatic discomfort signalling a rejection to
this kind of request after three party discussions failed to come to an agreement regarding
how the coaching relationship should be governed by certain confidential and ethical
standards. In another instance, I came across some potential clients who would limit my
works in somatic or body movements as their religion practice disallows this kind of intervention.
Ontology coaching model has opened the door to my journey as a “beginner”in coaching.
Looking back at the last two years I feel blessed and grateful for having this wonderful
opportunity to learn from many best coaches through the teleclasses, group works and
coaching interactions. I experienced the biggest leap in my professional growth during a
two year period when I am truly practicing the integration of mybody-moods and language
as a new pattern in my being. Within my own family, I have a deeper connection with my
wife and my four children. They gave feedback on how I am more‘present’ and that Iam
there for them more. I am now also able to adopt more engaging audience during my
training deliveries. I respond to participants’ questions by inquiring them to relook at how
they come up with their questions and I no longer put myself as a subject expert or use my
knowledge to give them an answer.
Perhaps the limitations of the ontology model is not laid in the model itself but in how well I
could apply the model in practice. Some clients may need a different kind of interventions
that goes beyond my capability as an ontology coach. In other circumstances, the ontology
approach may not work for those who have predominant religious believes which disagree
to the connection with our inner being through body works. The ontology coaching may
also be ineffective for those who have ill or harmful intentions towards others.
Whether the ontology approach has its strengths or weaknesses really depends on how the
coach uses the approach for others by being connected with his inner wisdom, being ‘grounded
and rooted’, as well as being comfortable with ‘Not Knowing’.