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Pointing: “The Metaphor We Have Been looking For”


Practice Group Report

James Lawley ran a practice group on the topic of ‘Pointing’. What had piqued his interest was a book called Michelangelo’s Finger, by Raymond Tallis. James said that at last he had a way of explaining the perspective we take during a Symbolic Modelling session

As I’d been in Sydney and able to attend the Practice Group there, I thought I would ‘borrow’ the ideas and bring them back to England with me. James Lawley was running the group there, and the topic was ‘Pointing’. He had already blogged about it, and this had piqued my interest. And what had piqued Jame’s interest was a book called Michelangelo’s Finger, by Raymond Tallis. James told us that at last he had a way of explaining the perspective that we take during a Symbolic Modelling session: “It is the metaphor we have been looking for.”

In Tallis’s book, the person who points is known as the ‘Producer’, the person they are pointing something out to is the ‘Consumer’, and the thing that is being pointed at is the ‘Pointee’. (Tallis also talks about the whole language of ‘Pointish’.)

In Hampshire, as in Sydney, we started out with this exercise…

Working in pairs (A & B), find out what B has to do with their attention as the Consumer, when A points something out to B that…

1. They can both see without moving.

2. A can see but B would need to move to see.

3. Could be seen by both A & B if it wasn’t hidden, or obscured.

4. Is outside the visual horizon of A.

5. Is located within A’s imagination.

This was a fun exercise and really got everyone thinking. Pointing is such an everyday thing, and yet it is quite complex when you think about it. Most answers revolved around leaning towards the Producer (literally or metaphorically) and then following the line of their pointing finger and their eyes, in order to locate the Pointee. Or at least, that’s what happened in the first two or three examples. As the exercise went on, it became more difficult to follow just eyes and finger, and questions and guesses came into play too.

What this has to do with Symbolic Modelling, is that when the client is talking about or gesturing towards a symbol in the landscape, it is as though they are pointing to it. The client is the ‘producer’ of the point and as facilitators we are the consumers, and as such we have to follow their attention and attempt to look at things from their perspective. This is not the same as NLP second-positioning, where a practitioner attempts to ‘walk in the other person’s shoes’. Taking the perspective of consumer means staying in your own shoes AND working from the client’s perspective at the same time, just as we do when someone points out something real to us in a landscape. We have to ask ourselves, “What are they pointing to?”

Once we have established this, we then become the ‘Producer’ of a point, pointing at some aspect of the unfolding landscape, and directing the client’s attention back to this. We are saying, “Have a look at this bit…”

An interesting aspect of pointing is that we only point (in real life) when we think the other person can’t see. Perhaps we are driving along and see an unusual car go by. “Look,” we say… “Did you see that car?” Similarly in a session, a client is pointing out things they assume we don’t know. And in turn, we are pointing out things that they don’t know until we ask them about it. The difference between our pointing and theirs is that we don’t want them to have to move (the metaphorical lean-in) in order to look at what we are pointing at. We are preserving their perspective. It is we who have to have the mental agility to hold both perspectives and to adapt to what is happening for the client - and to ask questions that make sense from their perspective.

Thinking of Symbolic Modelling in this way – as pointing back at what the client has pointed out to us – makes it easy to see why there’s no need to make eye contact with the client (since we are both looking at the Pointee) and also why it is essential to gesture to the Pointee, rather than try to recreate their gesture in relation to our own body.

The second activity we borrowed from the Sydney group was to do a regular piece of facilitation, but to ‘ham it up’ a bit, exaggerating our gestures and our pointing.

We started with “And what would you like to have happen?” and took it from there…

Here’s what happened:

  • One facilitator said: “It was a good reminder to make eye contact with the client’s stuff rather than the client’s eyes. I know I have a ‘rescuer’ in me and I think that although I stay clean my eyes may be saying, ‘It’s alright darling!’” This facilitator made a deliberate effort not to make eye contact with her client. And she was working with someone who has a pattern of looking for approval from the facilitator! The exaggerated not looking brought up the client’s ‘stuff’ and forced her to rely on her own rescources.
  • Another facilitator said that she was so busy watching the gestures that she lost track of the client’s words and wished she had written down a few phrases. Her client said that the facilitator’s exaggerated hand gestures made her realise that there were three (of something) in front of her.
  • One facilitator said that the client’s initial statement was quite lengthy and a bit confusing. She noticed that the client had given two metaphors which may have been for the same thing. So she ‘pointed’ to each one (verbally) and asked “And is x the same or different to y?”
  • Another (less experienced) facilitator said she was uncomfortable pointing into the client’s space. “It feels obtrusive.” We talked about this and she realised that it was because she has been told that pointing is rude. So we spoke again about the fact that we are pointing at the client’s stuff not at them. Her client also gave feedback that the pointing she had done seemed entirely appropriate, which helped.

Those who attended said they found the ideas interesting and useful. I think that ‘pointing’ is a great way of getting across the perspective we need to take as Symbolic Modellers, and I’m looking forward to more development of the idea. Please do let us know what you think, via the comments box below.

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay 

About Marian Way

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A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.

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