Miriam Landor (Educational psychologist, National VIG supervisor, developer of VIG Orkney) Miriam.firstname.lastname@example.org & Fiona Smith (Leadership coach and consultant, Director of Niteo Development) email@example.com
“One of my children was in crisis, failing crucial end of year exams in her chosen uni course and, in her despair, wanting me to take over and make the decisions for her. Should she ask to delay a year and retake exams? Drop out and try to find work? Give up and come home to rest until she felt stronger? Despite her distress I felt instinctively that to take over would be the wrong thing to do and that this was going to be the most important conversation we had ever had. In that moment I consciously thought about my VIG training – what would empower her to decide how to move forward for herself, so she could own and commit to her plan, and regain some self-respect? I realised I needed to do ‘VIG without a camera’ in that conversation. In other words, I needed to pay close attention, encourage her to make initiatives, show I’d really ‘received’ what she said before I responded….” In their accreditation Reflective Statement many VIG (Video Interaction Guidance) trainees describe how the skills they’ve learnt in their VIG training have spilled over into other areas of their lives, both personal and professional – in other words, they can now use ‘VIG without a camera’.
– I (Miriam) was fortunate to be included in a women entrepreneurs’ coaching group, organised by Fiona. The coaching group aimed to create a safe space for women entrepreneurs to share the challenges they were facing in their businesses and to receive coaching and encouragement from peers. The agenda for sessions was in part co-created at the start of the programme and in part emergent based on the issues the participants shared. In particular, the session on ‘change-making conversations’ rang many bells for me, both as an educational psychologist and as a VIG guider / supervisor.
– I (Fiona) valued the VIG perspective that Miriam bought to the session and noticed that the VIG values and approaches resonated with my business coaching and consultancy practice.
The two of us decided to co-author an article exploring the overlap between our influences and practice in the area of facilitating change, with a view to discovering fresh possibilities in each of our fields.
Key aspects of VIG
Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is a therapeutic intervention for bringing about change in a client’s important relationships, by focusing on strengths. It is an empowering, respectful and optimistic way of working with others. The guiding hierarchical framework is called the ‘Principles of Attuned Interactions and Guidance’ (PAIG) (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2011). These Principles can be summarised as: giving attention; encouraging initiatives; receiving and responding; developing attuned interactions; guiding; and deepening reflective discussion. There is also an adaptation of VIG for supporting professional development, Video Enhanced Reflective Practice (VERP) (Kennedy, Landor & Todd 2015). In VIG and VERP clients create a ‘helping question’ (HQ) that helps to focus their inquiry around their goal for change. In VIG, the guider takes a short video of the client and their interaction partner in an everyday situation. The video is then edited into short ‘micro-clips’, which relate to the client’s HQ, which show an exception to the usual pattern (‘better than usual’), and which exemplify elements of the PAIG. These clips form the basis for a ‘change-making conversation’ (‘shared review’ SR), reflecting on the skills the client already demonstrates, even if fleetingly, and from there co-constructing new meanings and pathways for action. VERP shares the same principles and values, but here the professional, with the guidance and support of a VIG-trained guider, videos themselves in a typical workplace activity and finds moments where their attuned interaction moved them towards their desired outcome, or HQ. They then take these clips to a Shared Review Meeting with a VIG-trained guider for a reflective strengths-based discussion, or SR, where together they micro-analyse ‘what works well’. The background and development of VIG was laid out in a special edition, Video Interaction Guidance, of the journal Educational Psychology in Scotland (The British Psychological Society, Scottish Division of Educational Psychology, 2014).More examples of how VERP works can be found in Doria (2015) and Strathie, Strathie and Kennedy (2011).
How VIG works
In order to develop a more attuned relationship – which is the foundation of learning and development, and of motivation and behaviour – we need to unpick the building blocks of attuned interactions. This is expressed through intersubjectivity theory (Trevarthen & Aitken 2001; Trevarthen 2011), where ‘subjects’ (i.e. people) attune themselves to their interaction partner. This has been shown to happen from birth onwards, by using non-verbal, affective and verbal means of expression and reception. The behaviours contributing towards intersubjectivity are described in the Principles of Attuned Interactions and Guidance (Biemans 1990) – see above. The VIG guider micro-analyses video to discover these elements in their client’s natural style, in order to support them to make changes towards their goals (HQ).
According to Vygotsy’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD; Vygotsky 1962 ) and Bruner’s scaffolding theory (Bruner 1996), learning takes place with the sensitively adjudged support from a more expert other. The ZPD can be visualised as a continuum, from the point at which a learner can achieve a goal only with maximum support from a more experienced other, to the point at which the learner can achieve the goal entirely independently; therefore all teaching and learning takes place within the ZPD. ‘Scaffolding’ refers to the way in which this support is delivered to the learner, like the scaffolding that supports a building until it can stand alone. Bruner describes this scaffolding for learning as being sensitively adjudged and delivered – responding appropriately to the need in the moment, rather than pre-formulated. For example, an adult helping a child learn to ride a two-wheeler bicycle will first run alongside holding the handlebars and the back of the saddle; once the learner seems steady they begin to withdraw support, letting go of the handlebars first, but they remain alongside to take hold again if the learner wobbles. A VIG SR follows this kind of learning model; the client is supported to be active in their own change, by the VIG guider’s position of curious exploration and receiving (i.e. ‘activating’ the client’s own resources) whilst sensitively judging whether they need to support more strongly by giving information (‘compensating’ for a lack of knowledge). An example of ‘compensation’ follows: a mother who is frustrated by the clinginess of her toddler when she’s trying to foster independence by pushing the child away may be helped by having attachment theory explained to her – that a securely attached child will explore independently only from a safe base, when they feel supported and protected. The video is like a third person in the VIG SR, being given equal ‘turns’ in the discussion and providing objective ‘evidence’ of the skills the client already has in their behavioural repertoire, and of the subsequent impact on the client’s interaction partner.
Another of the learning theories on which VIG is based is Bandura’s social learning theory (Bandura 1977). Stated simply, we learn from observing others who are more experienced than ourselves. Figueira (2007) demonstrated that learning is enhanced when the model more closely resembles the learner, which leads us to ‘video self-modelling’, where the model is the learner themself, captured on video in moments where they are achieving their goal more successfully than usual. Fullan (2011) suggested that in order for change to take place, there must be a balance between support and challenge – if a person is wholly supported there is no need for them to change, and if a person is too strongly challenged, they become self-defensive and can’t open themselves to change.
In this article, we suggest that the skills the experienced VIG guider becomes adept in using can support ‘change-making conversations’ even without their camera.
Why we used the term ‘change-making conversations,’ not ‘difficult’ conversations?
The participants in the women entrepreneurs’ coaching group co-created the programme’s agenda by identifying areas of their practice they wanted to grow and strengthen. Many wanted to improve their ability to skilfully engage in ‘conflict,’ ‘difficult conversations,’ and ‘challenging conversations’.
We intentionally chose to call these ‘change-making conversations’ rather than challenging or difficult conversations. When we mentally label a conversation as ‘challenging’ or ‘difficult’ it can generate a set of thoughts and assumptions about how the conversation will be. This in turn can trigger emotions such as anger, fear and defensiveness (Joseph Grenny, HBR, 2019). These emotions can generate a powerful ‘away’ state in the brain – which interferes with our ability to have an attuned, attentive conversation in which we co-create outcomes (Rock, 2009).
These ‘change-making conversations’ bear a strong resemblance to the ‘VIG without a camera’ discussions, which skilled VIG guiders find themselves using so effectively.
So, what’s going on in the brain when we have a conversation that feels ‘challenging’?
Basic human survival mechanisms mean that the brain is constantly scanning the environment for threats and rewards. The brain will attempt to influence us to move away from threats. The existence of threats is believed to put people into what Rock terms an ‘away’ state (Rock, 2006) and what others call an ’avoid’ state (Chaskalon, 2011). Equally, the brain will attempt to influence us to move towards rewards.
In evolutionary terms this basic threat and reward response was designed to enable rapid, focused reaction to physical threats such as risk to life. The general responses to a physical threat are ‘fight’ or ‘flight’. When we experience threat, the emotional centre of the brain (particularly the amygdala) is activated, which in turn releases transmitters that trigger a stress response in the body. This stress response takes blood, oxygen and glucose away from other body functions in order to prepare the body for action. This includes taking resources away from the part of the brain which is responsible for logic and processing new information, which creates distortions in thinking and perceiving.
Our understanding of the brain and body’s response to physical threats is not new – what is new is research indicating that the brain and body responds in the same way to social threats (Lieberman & Eisenberger, 2008; Arnsten, 1998; Rock, 2009). Social Cognitive Neuroscience has established that the brain uses similar circuits to handle social pain as it does to handle physical pain. Social pain – such as a conversation which feels threatening or risky – activates the brain threat circuitry far more than might be expected (Leiberman, 2007). This means that the more people feel socially threatened, the less they are able to think analytically, tune into the emotional needs of others and solve problems creatively – all the things that we need to have ‘change-making conversations’ (Arnsten, 1998; Rock, 2008).
How can we create the conditions for a ‘towards’ state in a change-making conversation?
David Rock created a framework termed ‘SCARF’ to help create the conditions for remaining in a ‘towards’ state in ‘change-making conversations’. SCARF is an acronym for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. The elements of SCARF share many attributes with the values and methodology which underpin VIG. In the table below we explore the underlying principles that lead to the core practices in coaching and in VIG, which in turn create ‘towards’ states in change-making conversations.
Table: Exploring SCARF principles and practices from coaching and VIG perspectives.
|SCARF (Rock 2008)||Business coaching descriptors||Links with elements of VIG|
|Status||Status refers to one’s sense of importance relative to others (e.g. others in the conversation). If we feel less important than others around us, we are more likely to move towards a threat state. Giving others the chance to express their perspective, listening attentively to others, letting others know we’ve heard them by summarising and recapping all help to create a ‘towards’ state in conversations.||The underpinning values of VIG are: Respect, Trust, Hope, Compassion, Appreciation, Connection, Empathy. The VIG guider aims to embody these in all their dealings, thereby helping to create a ‘towards’ state in ‘change-making conversations’.|
|Certainty||Certainty refers to one’s need for clarity and the ability to make accurate predictions about the future. How we invite people into conversations and how we structure conversations creates or removes certainty. The invitation of, “I think we have different perceptions about x and I’d like to hear your thinking” has a different impact to “I’m not happy with the way you’re doing x and we need to talk about it.”||Preparing for the SR involves: – the physical setting (ensuring equality of access); – non-verbal activity (warm, inviting, listening stance) – verbal initiatives and responses (introducing or recapping the HQ, the parameters of the SR, etc); – mindful state (ensuring own readiness to be present for the client).|
|Autonomy||Autonomy is tied to a sense of control over events in one’s life and the perception that one’s behaviour has an effect on the outcome of a situation. Hosting conversations in a way which assumes we don’t have the answers but can co-create solutions together creates autonomy.||Co-creating through ‘7 steps of SR’ – that is, showing video clip; giving space; offering client first turn; receiving client’s response verbally, nonverbally, affectively; tentative offering of own thoughts and checking for understanding; attuned interactions; co-creating new deeper understanding.|
|Relatedness||Relatedness concerns one’s sense of connection to and security with another person. Deep listening, acknowledging and appreciation build relatedness.||VIG is a relational and strengths-based intervention: through attending and receiving, VIG guider models attuned interactions and builds rapport with client.|
|Fairness||Fairness refers to just and non-biased exchange between people. Giving people the opportunity to speak first, listening, playing back what has been heard, acknowledging and appreciation all contribute to creating a sense of fairness.||PAIG cover these elements too: giving attention, encouraging initiatives, receiving and responding, developing attuned interactions, guiding, and deepening reflective discussion.|
Back to the group and their ‘change-making conversations’
Going back to the women entrepreneurs’ coaching group, and their ‘change-making conversations’, Kirsty (not her real name) came to the session to discuss a challenging conversation that she knew she needed to have. Kirsty runs her own business, dislikes conflict and actively avoids ‘difficult’ conversations. She knew it was an area of her leadership practice that she needed to explore.
She had recruited a new member of staff called Richard (not his real name), and after a year it was not working out. She had hoped Richard would become her deputy and ‘hold the reins’ when she was out of the business. This had not happened – and Kirsty could now only see what he was not doing, what he was weak at and how he had not lived up to her expectations. In her mind the best option was for Richard to go – and she just needed to get it over with and tell him this. She noticed that whenever she thought about the conversation, she felt anxious and fearful. She had labelled it as a ‘difficult’ conversation and didn’t know where to start.
During the session we introduced Kirsty to a 9 Step Framework for having a ‘change-making conversation’ in a way that created the conditions for both people to stay in a ‘towards’ state’. The 9 Step Framework provides a structure for two or more people to engage in dialogue about something that needs to change. The Framework is informed by Fred Kofman’s work (see references). We invited Kirsty to work through the Steps and think about how it might reshape the conversation that she wanted to have with Richard. Here is the 9 Step Framework and how it played out for Kirsty:
Step 1: Invite the other person to give their point of view. Listen carefully and attentively, with the intention of understanding their perspective.
Kirsty’s belief about the intent of the meeting shifted. She moved from seeing it as a pre-scripted ‘tell’ to a two-way exploration of how both parties perceived the situation. She ‘dialled’ down the volume of her story and what she wanted to say, and acknowledged and got curious about Richard’s perspective. This shifted her sense of what the ‘truth’ of the situation was and helped her take a more open-minded stance.
Step 2: Ask questions to deepen your understanding of the other person’s perspective.
As Kirsty opened to the idea that there were multiple perspectives, she got curious about Richard’s perspective and what assumptions she was making. She noticed that asking Richard to speak first made the conversation feel more equitable.
Step 3: Play back what you’ve heard in a clean, objective way to check your understanding and reassure the other person that they’ve been heard.
Kirsty noticed how in previous conversations she had moved on without checking whether what she thought she had heard was what was said. This had led to misunderstanding which made the conversation less open and more defensive.
Step 4: Validate and appreciate the other person. Challenging conversation triggers the brain’s alert system which makes us more likely to fight, flight or freeze. Appreciation (even if it’s just for small things) tells a person that it’s safe and this helps people to think resourcefully and creatively.
Kirsty started to pay deliberate attention to what she appreciated about Richard and what strengths he brought to her business. She got curious about what it would look like to create space for him to play to these strengths more often. She noticed she was increasingly able to see what she valued about Richard instead of simply zooming in on his weaknesses.
Step 5: Share the issue from your perspective, speaking in the first person using “I”. Phrase things in ways that allow for a different point of view, e.g. ‘I perceive…’, ‘my view is…’
- Name the issue – be clear, simple and precise.
- Offer evidence of the issue that the other person will recognise, so they understand what you’re seeing and responding to.
- Describe the perceived impact on you/the business/your customers/the person.
- Share your emotions – “ I feel…”
- Identify your role in the issue and/or how you might have contributed.
- State your ideas for resolving the issue (with no blaming).
As Kirsty viewed the situation through Richard’s eyes and appreciated Richard’s contribution, she began to reframe the issue and change her ideas on how to move forward.
Step 6: Invite the other person to ask questions to deepen their understanding of what they have heard.
Step 7: Ask the other person to play back what they have heard to check their understanding and give you reassurance that you have been heard.
Step 8: Work together to create solutions that meet both person’s needs.
By this stage Kirsty realised that there were far more options available to her than she had previously considered. Her stance changed from the outcome being ‘firing’ Richard to being open to creative options that would emerge during the meeting.
Step 9: Agree actions, ownership and timescales.
Throughout the conversation: Monitor and manage your own emotional state. If you notice yourself getting triggered, breath and mentally name what triggered you.
These frameworks (SCARF and 9 Steps), which led to the positive outcome for Kirsty, have much in common with ‘VIG without a camera’. Their key features mirror the PAIG – paying attention and feeling curious, inviting initiatives, receiving initiatives by summarising and checking understanding, giving own view and checking for understanding, developing an attuned interaction and co-constructing a deeper meaning. And what was the outcome for the daughter in the opening paragraph? Due to the VIG trainee’s careful use of ‘VIG without a camera’ (wondering, encouraging, receiving, supporting and tentatively challenging) she decided for herself to get a pub job near uni, study and retake the exams the following year. By the way, she now has a PhD!
I (Fiona) am curious about how ‘VIG without a camera’ can be used to build people’s capacity in the workplace. Most business-related strengths-based approaches assume that people have areas of strengths and areas of non-strength – and that there is little to be gained from trying to develop areas of non-strength. VIG’s perspective that strengths are exceptions to the usual pattern (‘better than usual’) creates greater possibility for change.
More broadly, I am struck by the absence of attuned conversations in many organisational settings and the possibility that Principles of Attuned Interactions and Guidance could form the basis for building better (and more human) dialogue.
I am also curious about how VIG and VERP (with a camera) can be used to enhance business coaching and leadership interventions. The presence of video could provide a powerful third perspective in 1:1 coaching work, providing objective ‘evidence’ of the skills the client already has in their behavioural repertoire. This may be particularly powerful for clients who do not have models in the organisation to learn from (e.g. most groups who are underrepresented in organisational leadership such as women and Black and Asian leaders). The absence of models who look like them within the organisation means self-modelling becomes a potentially important form of learning.
(Miriam) I was struck by the overlap between the VIG elements and the coaching stance – and the extent to which some business coaching practices contain elements of ‘VIG without a camera.’ I too can see opportunities to blend both approaches. At the simplest level, leadership coaches can engage VIG guiders to deliver VERP sessions to their coaching clients, 1-1 or in small groups. The Association of VIG UK website (www.videointeractionguidance.net) has a register of accredited VIG guiders. When the leadership coaches fully appreciate the synchrony between coaching and VIG / VERP they may subsequently undertake VIG training themselves, so they can incorporate VERP, and VIG for professionals, in their ‘toolkit’ of practice. Once they have internalised the VIG way of thinking and interacting, through initial training followed by a period of supervised practice, they too may find themselves employing ‘VIG without a camera’ as they help leaders develop more attuned interactions in their organisations.
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