Given that coaching is a relatively new idea it isn't surprising that it is not well understood. Many people see it as something similar to talk therapy and in the sense that it is the interaction between someone trained in a methodology and someone seeking change, it is. However there are two distinct differences I've experienced as an ontological coach.
Ontological coaching is based on the premise that as human beings we learn and know not just through mental processes but also through our emotions and bodies. We claim that each of these three domains, which we refer to as language, body and emotion, makes up part of a coherence that gives us our identity. In terms of importance in learning and understanding we consider them to be of equal importance. We live in a time where we have given preference to thinking, language and mental processes (as evidenced in our school curriculums) and for the most part have overlooked or neglected the possibilities of explicit learning in emotions and the body. So, when we are engaged in ontological coaching we listen for and explore not just the linguistic story of the coachee but also their knowledge or ignorance in the domains of emotions and body. And even in the area of language there are fundamental principles most of us never learned. So there is a large playing field in any ontological coaching intervention.
The second thing that distinguishes a coaching conversation is the focus. We all learned and were often directly taught how to have a social conversation. The rules of a social conversation are to follow the story of the other person and to build on it. For instance if Aunt Jane is visiting for dinner and telling about her recent trip to Venice you learned that it isn't appropriate to jump in and begin talking about video games or your dog's latest trick. In a social conversation that is considered rude and out of bounds and generally you'll be told as much.
In a coaching conversation the understanding is that the coachee is living a story of life as if it is true. His/her experiences look real and it is difficult for most of us to remember that when we talk about our lives we are generally sharing our story of the experience and not the experience itself. (For more context read the blog entry "How We See", Sept 22nd). Thus the goal of the coach is precisely to help them see this and to "get out of" their story. The methodology of this is to interrupt and to not follow the story, which is the reverse of a social conversation.
This interruption of the coachee's story is why coaching always requires permission and why the emotions of respect and compassion are so important in a coach. Without those effective coaching will not occur.
And in ontological coaching the story lives in the emotions and body of the coachee as much as the words. In other words we are addressing the whole, entire human being in their completeness and holding them as legitimate observers who have asked us to help them see the world differently. That is how coaching works.