I was interested by a lot of the responses I got from my recent post on approaches to one-to-ones and careers theory. I found a very common view both on the blog comments and from colleagues I talked to about the blog. The basic idea is that theory is useful but should be flexible and what matters is a person-centred approach to interaction. If you get the relationship right then the rest will follow.
I want to respond to this a bit to try and explore how important your theoretical perspective can actually be. I feel you need to make a decision on how you see your client and so what you focus your discussion on with your client. This choice is actually entirely separate from the form of the relationship you develop with your client in the interaction.
This is where the idea of the x & y of a one-to-one interaction comes into play, they are two separate by related axis. The x refers to where a client is in their career and where they may want to go to, it is the learning outcomes you have, what you hope to achieve (which is what I discussed before in my previous post. The y refers to the nature and quality of the relationship, it classical involves establishing communication, openness, trust, empathy and so on. The x refers to how you have a discussion and the y what you discuss.
That just having x is not sufficient should be obvious. It is possible to have a Rogerian conversation about all sort of matters not only careers. Discussing the challenges of being a car mechanic can be done in a Rogerian manner but does not necessarily inform on anyone’s career development. If you consider this in terms of a scientific experiment there is a division between a method of investigation and the subject of investigation (though their is an obvious connection). It should be apparent that no matter what methodological approach you take to investigation should not negate the need to decide on the subject of investigation.
Now I feel effective guidance will have both in place, a robust understanding of how to view the client and a positive relationship with the client. If your view is that the client’s own understanding of themselves should dominate the conversation then I would merely respond that this is your theory of how to view the client.
Why this is important is that any view of the client will focus on some subjects and move away from others, because we ask questions we will ask about some things and avoid others no matter how careful or client centred we are. To give an example I was given a model of careers guidance when I trained that focuses on an individuals self-awareness, opportunity awareness and how they viewed the place of work in their overall self-concept. This gives three main topics of inquiry. I find that as good as these questions are they often avoid more social aspects of the individual, where they are located in a social/ geographic/ national/ ethnic/ political environment. This means that there is a danger of not investigating the effect these realities have on the client.
As uncomfortable as it may make us I feel it is vital to recognise our interactions are limited by perceptions we have, most of which have a degree of theoretical underpinning. I would put forward three fundamental counterpoints that we tend to position ourselves on in how we work with clients.
Individual vs. Social
This is to say do we focus on the essence of the individual in and off themselves or on the social world which they inhabit? Do we just try to understand how someone views themselves or do we also discuss their habitat, their social world? Some may believe in a purity of seeing the individual unobstructed by external factors while others may seek to understand how the individual is embedded into a social context.
Positivist vs. Constructivist
Do we focus in on an individual’s own perception of reality and view that as something they construct entirely by themselves or do we consider their to be a reality that is positively (i.e. definitely) there? Do we just view someone’s perception or do we have a standard we are rating people against? Do we discuss how realistic a decision is or how accurate someone’s view of themselves or the workplace is?
Predictable vs. Emergent
Do we view the future as something we together with our clients can predict or does the future merely emerge out of the chaos of time? Do we give clients that setting goals is worthwhile of not fundamental or do we encourage them to prepare for the unexpected and respond to reality as it emerges over time.
I feel these are fundamental contrasts and that if we are honest we favour one side of each of these axis over the other in our investigation. Guidance historically has focused on individual, positivist and predictable elements. We may need to recognise this at least to uncover new forms of praxis.
I guess you could respond that your aim is to set these contrasts before a client and ask how they seem themselves, but then you are probably a constructivist and not a positivist anyway…