> > > > Dialogue with Self – Sync Coaching

Sync coaching

photo of Sarah Pickthall

Sarah Pickthall, along with Jo Verrent, founded Sync and currently works on development and programme delivery, with Sarah focusing on the coaching development side.

Sarah is also Cusp inc, a consultancy specialising in bringing people a new sense of themselves in their work and life environments.

Sarah recently spoke about Sync's approach to coaching at the Sync Thinking event held on the 9th March, 2011 at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The following is an edited transcript of her presentation on the day.


Syncopation: placing an emphasis on a beat that is not usually emphasised.

a picture of Sarah dancing

Sync was the call to ourselves and others like and unlike us, to consider ourselves in a new light, with different emphasis. Syncopation as we know means an emphasis on a usually unemphasised beat. For Jo Verrent and myself, this meant a real shift, moving away from the deficit model of ‘let us in', away from ‘the barriers are in society and not within ourselves’ to a ‘what inside ourselves is stopping us getting what we want?’ or ‘how might we harness what comes naturally to us to break through?’

This feeling for those who touched upon our Sync thinking at the start were intrigued and engaged by these ideas and we were delighted that CLP invested in our very different pathway to realise Sync Leadership.

Back at the beginning

a picture of Sarah training

For me personally, at that time, the opportunity was fortuitous. I had just trained and become accredited as a coach with The Institute of Human Development. This was partly in a bid to get out of the rut I found myself in, in my own professional life, not just about the job I was doing but how I was feeling in that job. Developing Sync wasn’t just done in response to a hunch or itch, but more, a deep wound in myself and in others around me – a malaise around not being able to move forward: breaking through the glass ceiling, squeezing through the gap in the wall - however i then described this feeling, I’d had enough and I suspected that others had too.

And that for me was really important because it was challenging something that politically I had held onto for so long - the social model of disability, where the barriers outside of ourselves are the things to be shifted and reckoned with. It was almost unheard of for us to take some of the responsibility for the difficulty we had in breaking through. Were we in some way being complicit in where we still found ourselves thinking and feeling in our professional lives? The social model is still paramount, but for Sync and its diverse membership, it’s not the whole picture, far from it.


a wood block that sees fish turn into geese in flight

For me, as someone with very limited energy and extreme pain levels, coaching was key to taking responsibility. I had to do something different around the knowns and unknowns of my impairment experience and others. The first being energy and this is where Sync coaching proved to be so fortuitous. Coaching by its very nature is not about colluding with the other, it’s an equal relationship and if done well, can be extraordinarily energising for both parties. Coaching also challenges very deep seated beliefs: those beliefs that are buried deep about what we can and cannot do.

The me who had trained and worked as a dancer and puppeteer was lost. I was grieving for my former identity, linked to how my body used to move. I realised this was all about an inner dialogue I was having with myself about what I couldn’t do anymore and how destructive this was. Through Sync, I was able to flex this thinking and work with others to do the same. I still can’t do what I used to but I now feel very differently about that. It was an absolute privilege and delight for myself and colleague Hannah Reynolds to be in a coaching relationship with people and show them what could happen for them through the power of a really insightful question that didn’t collude or empathise with their conundrum or quandary.

There was, I may add, nothing therapeutic about the coaching process, though certainly for many, it has proved to be transformational. So too, having a coach in itself was of real significance: coaching had been seen as something ‘other people’ had the resources for, or access to, but here we all were, part of CLP, being coaches and having a coach.

Sync Coaching emphasised the importance of having a dialogue with ourselves about how we respond to and with others, and our programme continues to develop resources for us to work with. As Tony Heaton has mentioned often, one of the very few people who has inspired him in his journey has been Max Schupbach and the work of Arnie Mindell called Process Work. Process Work explores our conflict and where this conflict occurs, throwing light on the hot spots and the heard and unheard critical voices at play as we develop our professional lives and the art of living.

Seven elements

A beach in the sunlight with jellyfish

Having an ongoing dialogue with self is essential so we can measure and adjust our responses to what is happening around us to stop us sabotaging ourselves. We also felt that the 7 elements within the IHD approach to coaching were particularly useful in and around the diversity of the disabled experience – choice, talent, passion, values and beliefs, identity, vision and purpose.

Choice - the choices we make about how we feel about things that happen to us. For example, what Caroline Cardus spoke about this morning. Choosing to feel a certain way around rejection, ‘being ready for a no’ has been such a shift for her. We are all rejected along the way and sometimes rightly so, but there is for many of us, a tendency to park it in the ‘poor disabled’ bit of ourselves. Choosing how to feel is a discipline and takes inner dialogue to measure whether we are or are not going to buy into feeling something that shuts us down.

Talent – As people we are constantly having to manage ourselves in the moment, inside and outside our bodies, orienteering ourselves through our day. We are supremely talented in this respect, but some of our talents are negative. We can be enormously talented in our propensity for procrastination and collusion about our lot and become smaller than we really are in the process. Sync coaching prides itself on intuition and that intuition comes from our inherent skill as disabled coaches in reading what is happening for them in terms of people’s access, their mood, their energy.

Passion - It’s a palpable thing, where you can tell when someone is in their passion in that they change physiologically. It’s grabbing that moment, when someone is on a roll, saying ‘ah that’s interesting’, reflecting back when you see that happening, so they also realise when they are most energetic and engaged.

Values or beliefs – some of which that we don't perhaps even realise we are buying into - constantly challenging commonly held beliefs about disabled people, that we often share.

Identity - more often than not foisted upon us and one we do have choice over. We have multiple identities, of course we do. It’s what Hilary was talking about earlier. We're not just one thing you put in a box and tick, our multiplicity is ours for defining.

Vision - Visioning our way out of our current reality to something more desirable and akin to our potential is often made easier by talking ourselves through the desired reality of that. Because of our flexible and adaptable nature, we have found that developing ways of seeing things up close and then stepping back for more perspective or looking down on our current situation from above in order to see what's really going on is something, as disabled people, we are really very good at in the coaching process.

Purpose - Whilst crass in one sense to talk about why we are here and what we were born to do, it can be incredibly empowering to do so and it has been a really important way of fuelling our vision so it becomes clearer and more worth realising.

Good tippers

a picture of a glass with the sing good tipeers on it

As I was having my very early breakfast about quarter to 6 this morning, in a cafe that opens in Shepherd Bush I looked at the tip box it said "good tippers make good lovers". Apart from it being a rather bizarre thing to read so early in the morning, it re-iterated the need to syncopate and invest in yourself.

Sync has always been about making the time, creating the beat, moulding the moment, not only for yourself and of course with others. We are part of a flock.We have all got different wing spans and different beaks and we're all going different places, and together we're stronger.