I wrote a Master’s thesis on Positive Psychology Interventions, and this is one which can have a profound effect on your relationships at work, at home and with yourself.

First of all, it is a pro-social intervention – one which makes other people feel good, and therefore one which makes you feel good, too. Secondly, it’s a fascinating possibility for getting in touch with a part of your internal narrative – the story you tell yourself about why you do and don’t do things. Finally, it’s easy to do, but it invites you to do something unusual, which is one reason why it’s worth investing time and making it into a habit.

The idea is that you give someone a gift of your time. Thinking of the workplace, this could mean that you hesitate as you walk past one of your team, and unusually for you, just have a quick chat. Be interested in more than work topics, ask about weekends, hobbies, families and football. Give the person (rather than the team member) some time and attention. You could also invite someone to join you for coffee (which you normally wouldn’t do). Again, think of also talking about them personally, rather than talking shop as usual. An even larger gift of your time, if circumstances allow, would be to have lunch with someone you normally don’t have lunch with.

Two words of warning here: people notice when we change our habits, so your team will notice that you are spending time in an unusual way; make sure that they don’t think you are creating favourites. The other warning is don’t force yourself to do more of this than is comfy for you. You’re meant to be investing time, not doing time (‘Oh God, may this pass soon!’).

At home you could show your kids a bit more interest than usual, or spoil your partner by taking them out for dinner – no agenda, just wanting to spend time with them. Or you could really up the stakes and tell them that you’d like to spend a chink of time with them (an afternoon, an evening, a weekend day), and what would they like to do?

And then there’s yourself. We live pretty busy lives, and you’ve probably muttered to yourself about wishing you had more time. So, rather than buy yourself a present, give yourself a gift of time. Take yourself (perhaps with a good book or a friend, or perhaps just you and you) out for coffee, to somewhere nice. How would you invest one whole long afternoon in yourself (and your well-being)? How about planning an away-day for yourself (what would you actually do if you had a whole day for yourself? Seriously, think about it: what’s your perfect day?)

This is where a gift of time can teach us something about the way we think about people, ourselves and the world. As you read the above, what were the ‘yes, but’s…’ in your mind? These justifications for not getting what we want stand in the way of us being more fully functioning versions of ourselves. Coaching invites us to dis-cover and rethink these beliefs, and to change them slightly. The next two paragraphs have some ideas about what these beliefs might be.

With regard to learning something about our attitude to others, what do you say to yourself when you think of giving someone some of your time as a gift? That they haven’t earned it (do you believe that simple things really have to be earned or can they be freely given?), that they don’t deserve it (under what circumstances do you make people less valuable than you?), perhaps that they’ll take advantage of you (this might mean that in your mind you tend to give people power over you, and that you do not have the right to say ‘no’). What’s your un-thought ‘reason’ for not giving someone some of your time? And – what if you did?

With regard to learning something about yourself, what do you say to yourself inside when you think of giving yourself a gift of time? What would be your reasons for not doing it? Some common themes are that we have to earn things before we can have them (and clearly haven’t earned this!), that something will go wrong if we indulge ourselves (as if we can have a good time now, but something bad will follow), that we have to look after others before we look after ourselves (noble sacrifice) or that we can never get what we really want (and who is it that makes sure that that is the case?!). What we are actually saying is that we aren’t worth our own time – and the coach in me wants to challenge that belief. Especially if you read the above and thought ‘yeah, yeah’.

I was working with Steve, who led his whole life as if he was a full-time executive. His family life was somehow incidental. Steve told me that he wasn’t feeling fulfilled and wanted more meaning in his life. I introduced him to the Gift of Time – he winced. Some days after our conversation he got home, and his four-year-old son ran up to him and wanted to show him his drawings. Steve caught himself about to say ‘Daddy’s busy, not now’, but he didn’t. Rather than take out his iPad and continue with work, Steve gave himself a gift of time with his son, and gave his son a gift of time with his Dad. 15 long minutes. ‘How was that for you?’ I asked. There was a short, moving silence. ‘Lovely,’ he said quietly, ‘Just lovely.’

So what is there in this idea for you?

I’m reading Reinhard Stelter’s book about the different generations of coaching. It’s made me think about why coaching has continued to grow in scope and effectiveness, particularly in organisations. It’s also sparked my curiosity about where coaching is going – what is the next generation?

When coaching started it was mainly about goal setting. Sport was a major influence at this stage, and the developing coaching profession borrowed the concept of setting goals and moving purposefully forward to achieving them, with someone at your side cheering and pushing you on. This translated nicely into an organizational context, and coaching became useful as a way of focusing attention and effort on specifying and achieving goals. Coaching became the methodology for putting outcomes thinking into action. ‘What do we want to achieve and how can we do that?’ was the main piece of work in the coaching conversation.

As coaching began to establish itself in organisations, managers, leaders and executives recognized its value as a developmental process, rather than seeing it as a deficit-based intervention. Coaching took its place at the boardroom table and invited those present to clarify their thinking about the future: executives began to think more clearly about ‘where to – and how?’ This type of thinking demanded a protected time and space, and so second generation coaching was born, in which time to think was to the fore. Coaches learnt to hold silence and not to interrupt executives as they discovered the value of taking time and reflecting deeper and differently than they had done before. This luxury, time to think in the workplace, enabled decision makers to think more systemically and to give a finer consideration to the reasons for and the impact of their decisions. The question developed into ‘What’s all this really about, and what if …?’

Then, as executives took the time to think, and to reflect on their thinking, they also began to wonder about themselves, and how come they thought this way (while others clearly didn’t!). That question led on to other questions, such as what their roles were, how they fit in to their own system, and how all this did or did not bring fulfilment.  Their coaching conversations began to include questions about why they did things, why they saw things in a certain way, and why other people seemed to see the organization significantly differently. This shift to wanting to understand oneself became the third generation of coaching, in which meaning making was the theme. Our perceptual framework became the focus and gave rise to the core questions of ‘How do I see the world (my organization)?’ and ‘What’s typical of me in the way I perceive?’

I think we are now heading into a new generation. With the loss of familiar organizational roles and structures, an awkward acceptance of a VUCA future, a fundamental shift in traditional values and with new ways of relating, people in positions of influence are faced with questions about how they cope to the best of their ability with the unprecedented demands that the universe is presenting them. Added to questions about their identity and purpose (‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’), they are beginning to ask the vital above and beyond questions, such as ‘If my organization were a person, what would it ask for from me?’, ‘How can I serve?’ and ‘How is my future calling me to be in the world?’

 Reference: Stelter R. (2012). A guide to third generation coaching: narrative-collaborative theory and practice. Springer Verlag.