Appreciative Coach-Based Consulting: The Clearness Process

In the Quaker tradition, an assumption is made that consensus exists in any group when it convenes and that the process of finding consensus is one of uncovering this underlying agreement rather than somehow creating a consensus among constituencies who are inherently in a state of disagreement.  Similarly, the Quaker tradition suggests that individuals hold the answers to the problems that they face and need only uncover these answers. They don’t need assistance because of an absence of a solution to the problems they face; rather they need assistance in gaining greater clarity regarding the nature of this problem and the solution(s) they already possess that will solve this problem. Ralph Waldo Emerson—the great American essayist—asked when greeting an old friend or acquaintance he had not seen for a while: “What’s become clear for you since we last met?” In the deeply-embedded American tradition of blending optimism, pragmatism and individualism, Emerson believed strongly that each individual possesses the capacity to solve his or her own problem, provided there is clarity.

The clearness process, like the consensus process, engages a community of people who are committed to a specific set of norms about how they will relate to one another. Specifically, in the case of the clearness process, a person who faces a problem convenes a group of people to do nothing more than (and nothing less than) asking probing questions regarding the problem over a two to three hour period. Members of this clearness committee are not to give advice nor are they to ask leading questions that subtly (or not so subtly) imply a specific definition of the problem or a specific solution.

Though the clearness process has most often been used in small groups, it is equally appropriate when used in an appreciative, coach-based consulting (CBC) process. First, the clearness process begins with an appreciative assumption that the person with the problem also holds the solution to this problem is in keeping with the CBC focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. Second, the clearness process is a wonderful way in which to encourage reflection on the part of the coach-based consulting client. The problem remains with the client, rather than being transferred to either a consultant or counselor who begins with the assumption that their client or patient cannot herself come up with an appropriate solution.

Third, the clearness process offers a gentle way in which a CBC can encourage increasingly deeper reflection on the part of their client, without violating the basic premise of this peer-based approach that one need not be an expert or authority to be helpful to another person in an organization. All one has to do is be an active listener and provide a balance between challenge and support. The clearness process encourages active listening and provides both challenge (the questionnaire process) and support (offering help to a client who faces a difficult problem). 

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