From conflicted roles to joined-up whole

Let me start by saying that I didn’t initially think life roles would be an interesting topic for the conference. In fact, I didn’t think it would be an interesting topic for anything. I successfully put off even exploring the notion for almost 2 years. Paul generally has good ideas, but this one I thought, was definitely not one of them.

So how come we have a life roles topic for our session, when we weren’t short of other interesting and useful topics? And when deciding on our topic, why was it me who acted as though no other topic was worthy of consideration?

It all began with us discussing how to handle the curveballs sometimes thrown by the NLP ‘Parts Integration’ process and similar ways of working. For example, what to do when…

  • The client’s problem concerns more than two parts, yet the client has only two hands on which to metaphorically place them.

  • Parts want to destroy each other and it’s difficult for the coach to find their positive intent.

  • Parts may pay lip service to what the client is working on, with no investment in making any changes.

  • Parts are scared and vulnerable; they don’t feel safe under the spotlight of questioning but they may not be able to say ‘no’ if it is not right for them.

  • Parts don’t want to integrate or the client doesn’t want integrated parts brought inside them. It can be difficult for a client to be assertive enough to tell their coach, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ and that raises serious ethical concerns.

We starting musing about how else one could work with parts and Paul suggested testing our ideas with a life roles activity. But there were lots of other activities available to us and I sidestepped the apparently dull, roles-based activities quite easily.

We spent two fascinating years of exploring, modelling, getting feedback, U-turning and doing still more modelling of how best to work with a client who has the experience of having two or more parts.

Somewhere along the line we concluded ‘parts’ wasn’t a helpful label, and after several hours with dictionaries and thesauruses, and after trying out 30 or more alternatives, we decided to call parts ‘personas’, because they behave like people, and treating them in the same respectful ways that one treats people is an effective way of working with them.

And finally, after two years, we have our Persona Modelling process in place: it addresses all the issues we’d seen with other parts processes, and provides a deep and powerful framework for addressing a wide range of client work.

However, it takes a while to master the full depth of Persona Modelling, so we turned our attention to developing smaller, specialised applications, which people could use as a starter and still get great results.

And of course, that gave Paul an opportunity to suggest working with life roles… yet again. He is persistent. I didn’t want to say ‘It sounds boring’ and, although I tried hard, I could think of no reason to put it off and so, with muted enthusiasm on my side, we set about crafting a process that borrowed from learnings gained by working with Personas.

We road-tested the roles process with volunteers and the results surprised everyone in the room. The potential for clients gaining valuable new insights that they could put into action in their day-to-day lives was clear. And we found that the process can be applied successfully to both problematic situations and to strengths-based work, where resources can be imported from one role to another. What more could one want? It seemed clear to me that we now had not only our first easy-to-try starter application for Persona Modelling but also a great session to offer at the Conference.

Do come along to our session and experience it for yourself. And, you might also see me being more attentive to Paul’s suggestions.

By Wendy Sullivan and Dr Paul Fields