The Silent Whistle

What is the silent whistle?

​I was invited this morning to write a short reflective piece on anonymous whistle-blowing and the dangers of telling the truth, and particularly in relation to its implications for coaching relationships and practice. Whilst much has been written on the whistleblowing theme in the public domain, particularly in vis a vis the highly publicized Julian Assange/Edward Snowdon cases and subsequent exposés in all kinds of political, commercial, and social arenas since significantly less attention has been paid to the personal and cultural dynamics of truth-telling at a profoundly intrapersonal level.

Here is a client, Claire, who presents a narrative, an account of a situation she is facing in life or at work, and she invites you to engage with her in it. The narrative may appear to Claire genuinely as self-evidently true, rather than as one way of construing the situation and herself in relation to it. If you, as a coach, engage with the narrative and the issue on the same terms as Claire, you risk reinforcement or collusion. To hold up a mirror to Claire to enable her to grow in critical reflexivity is one way of eliciting truth-saying that can prove transformational – yet risks provoking a hard push-back.

Here are some of the potential reasons why. Claire may have a conscious or subconscious vested interest in presenting the narrative in this way to herself and to you. It may, for instance, portray Claire implicitly as a heroine or as a helpless victim in that context; thereby reassuring her that her stance is the right one or, conversely, providing a justification for her inaction. It may also paint a picture of the situation and herself in relation to it that she feels is most congruent with her values, or that she believes is personally culturally acceptable, appropriate, or advantageous. A challenge can feel threatening.

A question this poses for coaches is how to enable a client to grow in radical awareness without evoking anxiety and associated defensive routines such as repression, denial, or projection. It’s about how to surface and support the client’s own self truth-telling; for the client’s own internal, silent whistle-blower (whether God, intuition, or conscience) to be heard if self-deception is at play. Careful, prayerful, and compassionate contracting will help create trust and a safe enough space for the client to explore with curiosity and criticality, humility, and courage; to reflect, review, revise-reframe, and move on.

Nick Wright is a psychological coach, trainer and organization development (OD) consultant (