Ontological Coaching

At Human Coach, all of our Coaches are trained in the concepts and practice of ontological coaching.

We build teams, help leaders to lead, managers to manage and transform organizations by focusing on the individual, either in a  workshop setting or on a one-on-one basis. We provide people within organizations with some of the distinctions we use to coach others and assist them to use them in their own lives and within their organizations.

Benefits of Ontological Coaching

Organizations and individuals who engage in a coaching relationship can expect to experience fresh perspectives on personal challenges and opportunities, enhanced thinking and decision-making skills, improved interpersonal effectiveness, and increased confidence in carrying out their chosen work or life roles.

What is Ontological Coaching?

“Ontology” is the study of being and Ontological Coaching is about coaching a way of being, as a means of producing major shifts in perception and behavior through all aspects of communication.

Our way of being can be thought of as the internal reality we live in, which especially includes the relationship we have with ourselves. It is from this internal reality that we form our reality about the external world and how we participate in it.

Way of being is a dynamic interplay between three spheres of human existence – language, emotions and physiology (body posture).



The methodology is based on a new understanding of language and communication developed in the latter part of the twentieth century. The essence of this new understanding is that language consists of listening and speaking and that language is fundamental in creating reality.

Language is used to produce outcomes and generate realities. People act from what comprises reality for them.

Effective leadership, management, coaching, and team behavior depends heavily on how people use language. What is done, and how well it is done, is shaped by how people do and do not use language.

Included in the methodology is a new interpretation and detailed model of the process of listening. Listening is an ever-present part of human interaction in the workplace. The model provides a deeper and more effective way of listening that enhances communication and relationships. Listening is regarded as the crucial factor in communication and essential for establishing trust and rapport. Listening is a core business process.

Research has shown that senior organizational personnel spend much of their time engaged in listening. One important question to be considered is: “Does the listening of organizational personnel facilitate new ideas and change, as well as enhance performance and productivity?”

Of course, speaking is also a key business process. The methodology contains six precise linguistic tools (called basic linguistic acts) that humans use in everyday conversations to create reality and get things done. Typically, people are not aware of how they use, and misuse, these linguistic tools. Awareness of how to intentionally use them produces more effective ways of conversing, relating and performing in workplace settings.

Stories and narratives are often silent, invisible and in background of everyday conversations. They reflect the deep culture of organizations and can be major barriers to change. They provide powerful contexts of meaning, shaping what people see as possible and not possible for individual, team and organizational improvement. A key part of using this tool is how to uncover destructive narratives and develop powerful and empowering narratives.


“Traditional corporations have ignored human emotion. They have tried to pretend it didn’t exist or, worse, tried to suppress it. The renewed focus on humanity in organizations requires an understanding of human emotions. To energies employees is to harness emotion. Bad emotions have a bad effect on profit; good emotions are fuel that drives productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction.” (James Martin, Cybercorp)

People are always in some mood or emotion. Moods and emotions permeate everything people do, and constitute a core business process.

The methodology contains tools for recognizing, managing and shifting moods and emotions. The power of moods and emotions is that they always predispose people towards certain behaviors and not others. Speaking and listening, and engaging in conversations, are indispensable forms of human behavior. How effectively people speak and listen cannot be separated from moods and emotions.

Unfortunately, moods and emotions have not been seen as a crucial area of learning for performance improvement. They are an integral part of the effective use of language for effective communication in leadership, management, coaching and team building. In short, they form a crucial dimension of morale and organizational performance. Precise distinctions and tools in the methodology include:

· How to distinguish between moods and emotions.

· Recognizing and utilizing SIX basic moods of life as a deeper level of emotional intelligence, and how they impact on
morale and performance.

· How to shift from negative moods to positive moods.

· How to use moods and emotions to have more effective and influential communication that builds relationships and
long-term collaboration.

· How to engage in constructive emotional leadership.


This would seem to be an unlikely area of attention in the context of organizational performance and improvement. Like moods and emotions, the body has largely been ignored as a key area of learning that impacts on individual and organizational performance. The importance of the body can be expressed in the following way: our way of being is embodied.

The body is always present in how people listen to each other and speak with each other. Speaking is not limited to the vocal chords – it occurs from the body. (This is well known for actors and singers.) An individual’s posture consists of the subtle configurations of muscles and skeleton that has been learned throughout life. In many subtle and powerful ways, posture can keep people trapped in negative moods, and negatively impact on listening and speaking.
Specific tools that are part of this aspect of the methodology are:

· How to use the body to get into more constructive and productive moods.

· How small shifts in body posture can generate a more positive outlook and produce more effective communication.

“Ontology” is the study of being and Ontological Coaching is about coaching a way of being, as a means of producing major shifts in perception and behavior through all aspects of communication.

Our way of being can be thought of as the internal reality we live in, which especially includes the relationship we have with ourselves. It is from this internal reality that we form our reality about the external world and how we participate in it.

Way of being is a dynamic interplay between three spheres of human existence – language, emotions and physiology
(body posture).

Performance and effectiveness is shaped by our way of being.

A History of Ontological Coaching

Coaches have been particularly prominent in the sports performance domain for a long time. Coaches intervene in the way people act so they can take full advantage of their personal skills, competencies and what they already know. In the last decade, we have seen the profession of coach translated into many other fields – business, education, performing arts and
so on.

An ontological coach is a particular kind of coach who embodies the powerful distinctions of the “Ontology of Language” and who is able to support people in achieving their goals. Even though people often know what they want in life, quite often they do not know how to get there. Similarly, they do not always know how to avoid what they do not want. Often people do not even know what is missing for them. Dealing with this blindness is the job of an ontological coach. They help people address what is missing for them in the different domains of their lives, relationships, work, family, career and so on.

The role of an ontological coach is not to tell people how to be or behave, rather to allow them to achieve what they desire. Ontological coaching is not a process based on a script known by the coach. It is about enabling others to better serve themselves, expand their possibilities, increase their capacity to learn, act more effectively and better design their future. It is more an art than a science. How Did Ontological Coaching Develop?

Ontological coaching stems from the work of a number of Chileans – Humberto Maturana, Fernando Flores and Rafael Echeverria. Maturana is a biologist who specializes in the area of cognition. His life’s work has been the development of a new interpretation of what it is to be cognitive. This interpretation has been the key to seeing human beings as human observers. Observers, who rather than just seeing what exists independent of themselves, constantly change their own structure in a dance with their environment. Being social creatures, this environment includes other human beings. Flores was the Finance Minister in the Allende government and was imprisoned during the coup in the early 1970s. During his imprisonment, he spent a lot of time with Maturana and developed the work of John Searle and other linguists who had proposed the idea of speech act theory – how we use language to act in the world. Following his release, Flores moved to the USA where he went into business and wrote a book with Terry Winograd entitled “Understanding Computers and Cognition”. This book pulled together the ideas of Maturana and Searle and developed the concept of an organization as a “network of commitments”. Published in 1986, this book also proposed the use of computers for work group computing – one of the major uses of information technology today.

Echeverria worked with Flores until he and Julio Olalla decided to go their own way and formed The Newfield Group. Echeverria developed the “Ontology of Language” as a basis for ontological coaching and The Newfield Group ran a number of programs known as Mastering the Art of Professional Coaching (MAPC) during the middle 1990s. This program has been further developed by Newfield Australia, who has expanded the notion to be the “Ontology of the Human Observer”. Newfield Australia is currently running ontological coaching courses in Australia.

Previously at Gaia Consulting Group and now through Talking About, we have further developed the ontological approach by focusing on simplifying the approach to make it more readily accessible and provide very clear models for coaching and developing greater effectiveness.

Ontological Coaching focuses on two key requirements of effective coaching – conversational competence and the ability to develop effective interpretations of the human condition and use them to intervene in the way in which a client takes action in life.

Built around these interpretations is an understanding of the basic conversational pattern employed with varying success by all human beings. This conversational pattern defines three types of conversations:

· Descriptive Conversations

· Speculative Conversations

· Action or Generative Conversations

Each of these types of conversations play a vital role in how we design and achieve what we want in life. Part of the role of the Ontological Coach lies in being able to pass this conversational competence to their clients and also to see what conversations might not be occurring that are creating the blocks for the client.


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