Horoscopes work because they’re true!
That’s right, it’s a paradox - let me explain. The psychologist Ross Stagnar famously gave a group of 68 HR professionals a personality test, then gave them all an identical response, with phrases culled from that day’s newspaper horoscope. When asked if the test had ‘nailed’ them, many were very positive about its diagnostic ability. In other words, horoscopes are true because they are so general they apply to almost everyone who reads them. Unfortunately they are also trite.
Graphology also works!
Another psychologist, Kreuger did a similar test with graphology. He asked students to assess a personality diagnosis based on their own handwriting. They were amazed at its accuracy despite the fact that he had given them all the same report. The content that seems to appear to be most personal, but in fact is the most general, is the idea that the person is, deep down, fragile and insecure, yet they put on a front to appear strong and robust.
Coaching as placebo
Could it be that coaching and other aspects of training simply do the same. Placebos work, not because they actually have a causal effect, but simply because the patient believes they work. Does coaching simply state and confirm trivial truths and APPEAR to work?
Non-directive coaching has a similar appeal. But are we simply seeing people as patients to be counselled into healthier states of mind. Managers are portrayed as dysfunctional beings, who, if only they saw the way, would become caring masters, loved by all they manage. As Frank Furedi claims, we seem to be ‘redefining personal difficulty as a pathology’. Do we really think that we can short-circuit the human condition by simply asking ‘open questions’? Or are we just suckers for a little attention and a personal, challenging, but ultimately empty, chat? Discuss (without, of course, asking any closed or leading questions).