Keri Phillips -Dynamics of Anger

                                                         Dynamics of Anger

Keri Phillips

People have different ways of noticing and handling their anger, with many varying degrees of awareness. I start by considering what can happen when somebody is engaged in what I crudely call ‘unhelpful’ habits which may themselves become a vicious circle. I build on this by describing a downward spiral which may then be the consequence and the subsequent potential for learning.

Vicious Circle of Anger
This captures what might broadly be called the negative consequences of pushing one’s anger to one side. I offer a model, then an explanation:

Feeling Angry. This could be anywhere on a spectrum ranging from irritation to fury.

Refraining. Not expressing the anger to the right person, in the right place, in the right way.

Intensifying. There is unfinished business; an important need is unmet.

Suppressing. The sense of frustration is blocked. There may then also be anger about the suppression itself.

– As always this may take place with degrees of awareness.

– The process may lead to a vicious circle, where energy blocks energy and options become increasingly less evident.

– The daily, even minute-by-minute habits within the cycle may be part of a wider, perhaps even life pattern of habits, as illustrated here, adapted from Mavis Klein. (Klein 1980):

For example, an in-the-moment habit of putting one’s hand to one’s mouth may be part of a wider inclination to be reticent in expressing the need for support in advance of team meetings which itself might be part of a wider life habit of always putting the needs of others first. Hence the potential value sometimes of the in-the-moment intervention of the ‘helper’ – coach, counsellor, therapist – inviting the client to focus on one apparently small, superficially insignificant act. This would be a very different intervention from “How might you choose to feel differently……”. The former is based more on the helper and helped walking, metaphorically speaking, hand-in-hand seeing where they might go, with either taking the initiative. The latter is where the helper is one-step ahead, leading and with an idea of the route ahead. (Phillips 2006). In no way am I suggesting that one intervention is better than the other. They are simply different; it is obviously important for the helper to pay attention to such distinctions and their appropriateness in the context of the contract. Without such attention a lower risk negative outcome is that the helper drifts unwittingly from exploration to explanation and from explanation to justification; that is, pressurising the client to agree with her. A higher risk negative outcome is that the helper opens up some deeply rooted unfinished business within the client; he is left in turmoil, possible without awareness. He may then be expected to take a short walk down the corridor and seamlessly recommence his management of the customer service team.

There are many mechanisms which can support the pushing away of one’s anger, occurring anywhere in the cycle. I offer a brief outline of a number of them, knowing that many are extensively described in the literature of the ‘helping professions’:

– Procrastination; giving oneself multiple reasons why ‘now is not a good time’

– Minimisation; making it less important than it really is.

– Catastrophising; imagining the hugely disastrous consequences which would                                inevitably be the consequence of any action.

– Redefinition; this comes from transactional analysis and refers to answering a question different from the one which was posed. “What do you want to do about this?” “Well of course there are so many wants in my life at the moment, for example…….”. In being elusive with another there is the risk of being elusive with oneself.

– Projection; attributing to others unacknowledged aspects of self. “They always seem so angry in that department!”.

– Being busy; an obsession with the ‘to-do list’ can block intimacy with self and others.

– Retroflection; turning the anger on oneself, perhaps leading to guilt or shame; this may also be fuelled by a ‘fear of being found out’; that is, impostor syndrome. (Clarkson 1994).

– De-skilling self; for example, as a therapist she handles the client’s moodiness and mood swings with great competence; she is also a skilled specialist supervisor under these circumstances. However when formally in her team leader role she somehow loses her rich repertoire of conflict handling skills. It is almost as if she drops them at the door just as she enters the team room.

Sometimes there is a cloudiness which is generated by the circle; there seem to be so many angles, potential points of view and the process of engagement, withdrawal and back again can generate a massive urge for certainty. This may manifest itself in seeking or creating circumstances where ‘I know I am absolutely in the right and am totally correct in being angry’.

For example, on an occasion when I reached this point I found myself being pushy as a pedestrian when arriving at zebra crossings. One Friday evening I stepped purposefully out onto the crossing, not waiting for the driver, who was a few metres away, in any way to acknowledge that he had seen me, but I certainly was not going to hang about waiting for him; after all, I was in the right! Perhaps inevitably he did not stop. So I was delighted to be able to scream at him what an idiot he was. Luckily although looking a bit surprised, he was in no way belligerent. I was also amused, intrigued and irritated with myself a few minutes later when I started making excuses for the driver – well, it was a bit gloomy, perhaps he had had a tiring week, etc, etc. I later realised that my amusement was an internal gallows transaction where I was making funny that which had been potentially self-destructive. (Steiner 1975).

I now consider a particular feature of the vicious circle where it strengthens to the extent of becoming a downward spiral.

Downward Spiral of Anger

In the downward spiral of anger the person has a sense of being increasingly trapped. The sharper the experience then the more the person feels unable to do anything about it, whilst feeling she must do something about it. She has a sense of becoming smaller, whilst yearning to take up more space. She may feel strongly ambivalent, such as ‘stick with’ and ‘move on’ whilst the various other opposites may intensify: hope and despair, life and death, light and dark. This can change minute-by-minute. Broadly it can have some similarities with experiencing unrequited love; wanting, perhaps even longing to see the other person, whilst almost immediately hating her because the prospect conjures up the prospect of so much pain and anger. ‘Hate does not have as its purpose to destroy the object, but rather to preserve and maintain it’. (Barfort 2010). Arguably all feelings, particularly if intense carry within them their antithesis; the dialectic.

There can also be a Catch 22 where the person feels angry when faced with the choice of whether to be angry or not. More particularly perhaps when forgiveness is being portrayed as the better, indeed ultimately necessary alternative.

Another strand in this sharpening of contrasts can be that the anger intensifies just as its desperately sought-after origins become increasingly intangible and transient; the reasons for the anger seem to be everywhere, yet nowhere.

The experience of profound contrasts can ultimately be a source of valuable insights. At a practical level it may prompt a shift from questions about ‘doing’ to those around ‘being’. For example, rather than ‘What can I do to be more successful in my job?’, it is ‘I now know I have changed and I do not want to do this type of work anymore’. Similarly in personal life, rather than, ‘How can I make this relationship work?’, it is ‘I do not want to be in this relationship anymore’; that is, ‘double-loop’ learning. (Argyris and Schon 1978). At a visceral or psychodynamic level a person may realise that an important step is about loving self, indeed loving self for being rather than always looking for love and approval from others. Such unconditional love may have been missing in childhood from Mum. Mum may now anyway be unwilling or unable to say sorry.

These moments of learning can sometimes be experienced as an ‘epistemological break’; that is, a completely different basis for understanding the world. (Morris 1991).

Seeing self and the world from a totally different perspective

I illustrate it thus:








Fig 3. Epistemological Break

In making this point I run the risk of suggesting, or being seen to suggest that somehow the best sort of learning has to be transformational. If transformation is set as the gold standard then it risks nurturing a multiplicity of ways in which, paradoxically, learning may be stifled:

  • Grandiosity; ‘I bet my means of transformation is bigger and lasts longer than yours’. (Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar).
  • Self- contempt; ‘I now know that my gold is merely gilt and that my gilt is merely guilt’.
  • Silo construction and consolidation. (Phillips 2007).

I would stress therefore that invaluable learning can be achieved without necessarily experiencing the depths of the spiral. Equally key can be, for example, gifts from the universe which offer helpful insights without a sense of total collapse and the need for total reconstruction. Such gifts could be an overheard conversation which resonates, a long lost friend getting in touch, elderly Auntie Jane talking about her family life as a teenager and offering some very different views on those stories which over the years had become the accepted truths about Mum and Dad. The artist, Nicola White also has an interesting story on this theme of gifts from the universe; her words offering both a conclusion and a starting point in relation to this paper.

‘Then one day in 2014, I had an epiphany. I went out for a walk one lunchtime, close to tears about an office related matter. I walked a different route to the one I normally took and suddenly found myself looking at a huge blackboard that said, ‘Before I die I want to…..’. People had filled in lots of answers: move to Spain, play the cello, see the Northern Lights. I picked up the chalk next to the board and wrote, ‘I am going to be an artist and quit the bank’. (White 2016). She currently has an exhibition, Words from the Water.


Argyris, C and Schon, D. (1978). Organizational Learning. A Theory of Action Perspective. Reading, Mass. Addison-Wesley.

Barfort, M.K. (2010). The Power of Hate in Therapy. Play and Power. Mortensen, KV. and Grunbaum, L. (eds) London. Karnac.

Clarkson, P. (1994). The Achilles Syndrome. Overcoming the Secret Fear of Failure. Element.

Klein, M. (1980). Lives People Live. A textbook of transactional analysis. Chichester. Wiley.

Morris, B. (1991). Western Conceptions of the Individual. New York. Berg.

Phillips, K. (2006). Intuition in Coaching. Manchester. KPA. (downloadable at

Phillips, K. (2007). Creative Coaching; Doing and Being. Manchester. KPA. (downloadable at

Steiner, C. (1975). Scripts People Live. Grove Press.

White, N (2016). A Message in a Bottle Changed My Life. The Daily Telegraph. 24 September. 2016.

©Keri Phillips 2016.

Keri Phillips is a coach, coaching supervisor and transactional analyst with experience of individual, team and organisation development in the private and public sectors, local and global. for downloadable books and papers on a variety of topics, including: betrayal, intuition, creative coaching, transition, transactional analysis, exploring culture, reparenting self, envy, vulnerability, MBTI and the Shadow.

for short blogs on coaching theory and practice, including: creating your own coaching supervision models, the power of play in coaching, corridor, coffee and calendar coaching and codes of ethics, some perspectives on ending, integrated and introjected values.




‘Enhancing Performance and Wellbeing- Coaching and Mentoring in the Workplace’

Enhancing Performance and Wellbeing- Coaching and Mentoring in the Workplace

Swansea Wednesday, November 28, 2018 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (GMT)

The Village Hotel
SA1 8QY Swansea
United Kingdom



Specifically we are looking forward to welcome the internationally renowned coaches Professor Stephen Palmer and Dr Peggy Marshall. Author of over 57 books Prof Palmer is  a real thought leader in the area of Wellbeing at Work and Dr Marshall is an expert practitioner/coach educator and designer of the largest in-house coaching culture in America.


Other speakers are drawn from Education Prof Kay Livingston (University of Glasgow), third sector Wynford Ellis Owen (Living Room Cardiff) , professional bodies Stuart Haden (CIPD Wales), and significant practitioner/researchers in the fieldDr Siobhain O’Riordan (Centre for Coaching UK), Dr Daniel Doherty  (Critical Coaching Research Group),Deni Lyall (Doctoral Candidate) and Dr Peter Jackson (Oxford Brookes).


Click here to book at the early bird price of £98


Exhibitions from Professional Bodies including EMCC, AC and WABC

Participants are eligible for free associate membership of the WIWBL Society for Coaching




Annette Fillery-Travis BSc, MA, PhD, CChem, FRSC

Pennaeth Athrofa Cymru ar gyfer Dysgu Seiliedig ar Waith

Head of the Wales Institute for Work-based Learning



Ffôn / Telephone: 01267 676750/07884256765

E-bost / Email:

Trydar / Twitter: @WIWBL_UWTSD


CCRG member biographies

Dr Daniel Doherty PhD FRSA CIPD  

Dr Daniel Doherty has 30 years experience in strategy consulting and executive coaching to blue-chip corporations across a wide diversity of countries and cultures. He has a powerful track record in innovating strategy and people development processes designed to ensure the human side of organisation is aligned with business purpose. He has travelled widely across Asia- Pacific for a variety of major strategy assignments; and lived and worked in South Africa between 1993-1998, working at executive team level with a variety of corporates as well as with the transitional government. He has worked in Higher Education settings for the past twelve years, both as an educator, module leader and as programme director. At the University of Bristol he was Programme Director for the MSc in Strategic Management 2008 – 2011, and also taught at Exeter Business School, where he won student-based awards for innovative teaching practice; while at Middlesex University in 2017 he was awarded the student-led prize for ‘outstanding feedback’ across the whole university. An EMCC qualified Master level coach, he is also a Fellow of the CIPD.  For the past twelve years he has founded and then led the acclaimed Critical Coaching Research Group (CCRG), and until December 2012 was Research and Ethics Director for the European Mentoring and Coaching Council UK.

Over the past thirty-five years his coaching practice has been wide and various, often aligned run support of major strategic interventions at high levels in the organisation.  Most recently he has worked with clients in financial services; in building design practice in Dubai; In Higher Education at the highest level in UK; in central government at executive level, and in sports coaching and management.

 Qualifications and Fellowships   

  • PhD in Management, University of Bristol 2008
  • M Ed University of Bristol 2009
  • BSc Economics University of Bristol 1972
  • Diploma Post Grad HE Bristol 2008
  • Diploma Industrial Administration, University of Bath, 1973
  • Masters in Management Education, Manchester University 1979
  • Chartered Fellow Charted Institute of Personnel and Development 1978
  • Fellow Royal Society of Arts
  • Fellow Higher Education Academy
  • Master Practitioner in Coaching and Mentoring, European Mentoring and Coaching Council 2010

contact on

Jen Gash BSc Hons OT, HCPC, FRSA

Coach, Occupational Therapist & Artist

I am a highly qualified, experienced coach and therapist, who has worked for over twenty years with individuals and teams. I work with a wide range of clients including those in large statutory organisations, through to individuals starting new businesses, ventures and personal projects.

As a coach, I work with a variety of tools, developmental frameworks and theoretical models. I am a visiting lecturer at Worcester University and regularly teach coaching skills to various groups. I am also a practicing visual artist.

My varied and extensive background leads me to work powerfully with individuals, who may have hidden challenges that are impacting on relationships and performance at work, including:


–              Highly creative people who struggle to harness and integrate their strengths at work

–              People with hidden problems e.g. neurodiversity, sensory integration issues & mental health challenges.

–              People with a complex mix of physical and psycho-social health problems. These may result in frequent, unexplained absences, long term sickness or a mixture of pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue.

–              Individuals who need to make a radical shift

–              teams and at an organisational level, especially where radical creativity and systemic change is required.

Recent publications include:

J Gash (2017) “Coaching Creativity: transforming your practice” Routledge

W Pentland, J Gash, J Isaacs-Young, A Heinz (2017) “Enabling Positive Change: coaching conversations in occupational therapy” CAOT

Contact details


Sarah Gilbert 

Sarah Gilbert brings broad expertise in people development to help her clients tackle the complexities of individual and organisational change. Her career roles span HR consulting, executive assessment, career transition, coaching, mentoring, and counselling. Highly trained and experienced, Sarah has been supervising since 2003. Based in the UK, she works globally in corporate, professional services, academic and voluntary settings, supporting leaders, supervisors, coaches and mentors. She encourages collaborative learning, creativity, fresh insight and personal growth.


Professor Bob Garvey


.Geoff Pye


The majority of Geoff’s career has been in human resources in large corporates operating across the full range of H.R. disciplines. He developed a deep interest in people development and on leaving corporate life worked as an independent consultant specialising in coaching and counselling. He has now retired but maintains his interest in coaching through the CCRG and the occasional pro bono coaching session mainly in the field of career counselling

Keri Philips 


Professor Monika Kostera 


Monika Kostera is Professor Ordinaria and Chair of Management at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland and Linnaeus University, Sweden. She holds two titular professorships awarded by the republic of Poland: in economics and the humanities. She has also been professor and chair at Durham University, UK. She has authored and edited over 40 books in Polish and English, including her last book, Management in a Liquid Modern World with Zygmunt Bauman, Irena Bauman and Jerzy Kociatkiewicz (Polity), as well as and a number of articles published in journals including Organization Studies, Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and British Journal of Management. Her current research interests include organizational imagination, disalienated work, ethnography and critical organization studies. She has published two collections of poems in English with Erbacce Press and her Polish poetry collection is currently in press with Oficynka.


Peter Mayes 

Peter has worked with managers and leaders over the last 30 years in various capacities where change is imperative to survive and thrive. Peter’s experience includes extensive international experience with organisations at a board level, both individually and with executive teams to create environments, cultures and working practices that enable successful employee engagement to thrive alongside other change strategies. He has been head of learning and development with a vast multinational, an internal facilitator, and an external resource as a coach, mentor and trainer. Previous operational roles include designer and work study / continuous improvement engineer, experience which has given him additional perspectives into how employees at the coal face feel and think. His qualifications are in Strategic Human Resource Development (MSc), industrial management, coaching (ILM level7) and leadership. A Master NLP practitioner and Accredited Executive Coach (AC) Peter works with humour and challenges assumptions to create breakthroughs in thinking and is often referred to as a turnaround coach.

Publications and articles

Employee engagement: Getting the best from everyone not just another survey 2017

Coaching creatively by Jen Gash (chapter on provocative coaching) 2015

5 business articles for Swindon Business News on good Management Practice,

Article for Wiltshire business news on how teams get along 2012

One of the four authors of the Tomorrow’s Company RSA publication “Leading and Managing in the E-Economy”2001

Featured in the Human Resource Development publication “Reflective Practice for Organisational Development and HR specialists 2000

Featured in the Industrial Society best practice guide on Change Management including the introduction of action learning for top 100 managers 1998

Contributed to the Engineering Employers Federation Training and Development guide 1996

Dr Christine Eastman




Dr Christine Eastman is currently a senior lecturer at Middlesex University’s School of Business. Prior to this, she worked as the Director of Applied Professional Practice and as a literature lecturer with a special interest in nineteenth-century American literature at the University of Kent, both on the Canterbury and Medway campuses. She has over thirty years’ experience in education which include developing and running the Applied Professional Practice programme at the University of Kent, facilitating a comprehensive study skills programme at the University of Sussex, offering literature classes for the WEA in East Sussex and for MIND in London. More recently she has worked with corporate client groups from the Halifax plc, Nationwide US, SAP, Sonymobile, and ToshibaTEC. She has been an adviser on the Doctorate in Professional Studies as well as conducted workshops on writing and criticality for doctoral students. For the past three years Christine has been a programme leader for the MSc Professional Practice in Leading Sales Transformation and for the Nationwide Coaching MA. She holds a post-graduate coaching certificate from Nottingham University and has a book on coaching Coaching for Professional Development: using literature to support success coming out with Routledge in June 2018. Her current book Improving Workplace Learning by Teaching Literature (Springer, 2016) details how she endeavours to support professional practice students, both at postgraduate and doctoral level, to express themselves in a personal way with verve and vigour.

Catrin McDonnell

Catrin MacDonnell is an experienced business and leadership coach, trainer and consultant who works with a wide variety of people from successful entrepreneurs to senior managers and leaders in business, government and the third sector. She loves the variety  this brings, gaining insight into the world of energy, sustainability, property, finance, law and creative industries, amongst others. She coaches fast growing businesses, challenging clients to think differently and see things from another perspective. Her experience of owning her own business for over 15 years has taught her that accepting the status quo is rarely the best option for growth. She was selected to attend a programme at the Entrepreneurship Centre, Babson College, Massachussetts on entrepreneurial thinking and behaviours and enjoys bringing this into her coaching and consulting. She is a certified resilience practitioner  and runs leadership and management programmes with a focus on effective communication and resilience.
Catrin runs her “Hear! Hear!” masterclass at Academi Wales for the Welsh Government, attended by leaders across the public sector in Wales. She is fascinated by how a simple skill such as listening is so rarely mastered. The masterclass highlights the fact that actually hearing what is being said can transform relationships and reduce conflct.


Dr Ron Lawson


Ron is from the University of Cumbria is an inspirational international speaker and coach specialising in dialogic approaches to coaching for leadership and professional development. With over 30 years leadership experience in both the public and private sectors, Ron works with senior executives, elite professional teams and aspiring leaders to break through barriers to success. Ron combines his research into transformative coaching, reflection and reflexivity with his passions as an artist, musician and storyteller to create interesting alternative perspectives on personal and professional development.

Ron speaks on a number of topics including ‘Leadership rites of passage’ and this his most popular talk on ‘Stories to influence change: a dialogic coaching approach to organisation development’, which incorporates the latest concepts and practices of dialogic coaching to influence transformative personal and organisational development.

Philip Crocker 

Philip’s purpose is to encourage and facilitate useful behavioural change: realising potential for individuals, their teams and the wider organisation. He believes successful personal and business development are based on having the right conversations with the right people at the right time – conversations aligned with desired strategic outcomes. Outcomes underpinned by sound internal and external relationships that generate effective leadership in competitive and creative work environments.

He works with senior leaders and also those in transition from ‘technical expert/specialist’, all of whom are now responsible for ‘growing the business’ – relationships with clients, colleagues, innovation in new business opportunities – building high performing teams, working across silos – growth which enhances capability, capacity and influence.



Personal Philosophy
Most motivated by realising potential for individuals and teams – with integrity (wholeness), everything belongs – context and desired outcome are key. ‘Busyness is an all-round killer!’


Business Experience
Broad hands on experience – Commercial and Public Sector – as client and service provider

Initial corporate career in Banking – HSBC London, Paris, Singapore

Affinity Marketing Services consultancy – founded 2000 – regulated market sector – exited 2013

Business Development Consulting – current founded 2000 – strategic planning, leadership, executive coaching 1:1 and teams, business development for the non- specialist.

Developing coaching and mentoring programme with Ministry Development Officer Diocese of Canterbury

Divisional MD of successful FM services London based plc – P&L responsibility, operations, business development and innovation. (1000 + employees). Sold to International Services co. 1991.

Co-founded specialist FM property services co. in Financial and Professional Services Sector – sold to competitor 1999.




Bio Peter Mayes ccrg

A CCRG taster event for potential members 13th June 2018.

The main pathway into CCRG membership has been through recommendation by existing subscribers.  However, it has not always been an easy step between making a recommendation and potential members committing a whole day to test whether the CCRG is for them or not.  We have decided then to experiment with offering an evening taster event for anyone who might like to come along, hear what we are about and also experience a mini CCRG type session.

This session will happen at our usual venue, the Arnos Manor Hotel, on 13th June 2018, between 1830 and 20.30, with refreshments at hand.  Daniel Doherty and Jen Gash will lead the session, though any of you are most welcome to support this event.

Most of all, of course, we would strongly encourage current members to invite your friends and colleagues along. equally, if you are a member of other coaching networks and associations, then, by all means, ask members of those networks that might be interested in becoming a part of what we do.

If you have come across this page by chance but are interested in joining us, then, by all means, please drop me a line, then come along.

If you would like to take this further then contact

Daniel Doherty on


We’re On the Look-out For_We’re On the Look-out For_

CCRG Purpose

When, during a recent CCRG review,  we asked what it is that has kept CCRG alive and thriving through the past twelve years, then feedback suggested that one thing that keeps members coming back is the enjoyment of the company or like-minded coaching mavericks who know it can be lonely out there, and who need the permission to express vulnerability without invoking normative judgment.  In verification of the same, one of our new members recently wrote thus:

‘Just to say thank you for the very warm welcome into this special and richly fertile, open space. Much that I experienced resonates with me still and I look forward to continuing the conversation from the middle of the river’s flow.’

Visiting speakers consistently comment on what a pleasure contributing to the CCRG has proved to be, in the sense of to share ideas and theories with such a fertile, collaborative and responsive group.  Our most recent keynote Professor Monika Kostera said she felt a sense of ‘belonging’, which surprised and delighted her, also that feeling of belonging was unusual in her experience. Through the inclusion of such esteemed visitors over the past twelve years, the CCRG has over time surrounded itself with some really influential supporters who speak well of us in the field.  What has sustained us most is the original spirit of close and deep support and challenge among members, which as leader and facilitator I have done all I can to sustain and nurture.

The creation of the CCRG website at has meant that current members can direct recomendees or other interested parties to this site for full information on the group. This website also curates a rich range of research resources built up from the presentations of the fifty plus contributors that have some generously shared their material with the group, in the spirit of the ‘gift economy.’

In a recent review of CCRG direction, we asked ourselves the question ‘what is the purpose of CCRG?’ This is what we came up with.

CCRG is a seasoned coaching practitioner peer group who meet to


  • Support and challenge each other, where it is okay to be a maverick – or not!
  • Engage in inquiry into the field with visiting researchers who bring findings from the field, and who benefit in development of ideas through using CCRG as sounding board
  • Engage in action inquiry – often experientially based – to develop group insight and breakthroughs
  • Pioneer creative and alternative approaches – incubator for alternative approaches
  • Consciously work for alternative consciousness in the field
  • Work for improvement of practice – own and other
  • Challenge conventional wisdom and practice, policies etc.
  • Work for a better world through coaching – support each other in pursuit of that higher purpose



A short history of the CCRG


The Critical Coaching Research Group – a Short History and Purpose


The Critical Coaching Research Group (CCRG) was founded in 2006, in the academic incubator of the University of Bristol Management School, where I had just taken up a full-time university teaching job, all of twelve years ago.  At that time I really had no notion of the life span of this group, any more than I had specific timing for the duration of my employment in academia, though I did wish that both be long and satisfying, after more that thirty years of self-employment as a coach and consultant.


In the course of my doctoral research into the life-course of management developers and coaches in 2006, my eyes were opened to the power of critical approaches to the study of management in general, and also to the paucity of critical research into coaching in particular. Fired by a wish to learn more about how a critical approach could be applied in the coaching field, I invited Professor David Megginson – known to me through Sheffield Hallam University, where I studied under his mentorship in the seventies – to the University of Bristol to gauge the level of interest among practitioners and academics from the South-West in joining a critical inquiry into coaching practice, much along the lines of the acclaimed Sheffield Hallam Coaching conferences, which had been running in the North- East for quite some time.


This launch event, convened amid the gothic splendour of the Wills Memorial Building, excited sufficient interest for we at the University of Bristol to create the Critical Coaching Group (CCRG) as a formal entity. This fledgling group quickly settled into a pattern of three or four speaker- led conferences a year, populated by a rich mix of established academics, seasoned practitioners, ingénues to the profession, as well as downright sceptics from other professions and disciplines. We also attracted mid-career management students researching dissertations inquiring into coaching practice, together with a variety of alternative researchers whose passion was to work with aesthetic and embodied approaches to knowing.  Between 2006 to 2010, this group served as a powerful crucible for the development of alternative discourses of coaching practice, including the use of narrative inquiry approaches. The continued sponsorship of Professor David Megginson, as a luminary in the field, was of immense support in the early maturation and identity development of this group.


My moving on from University of Bristol in late 2010 left the CCRG somewhat in institutional limbo, as there was no internal sponsor at University of Bristol wishing to take over the fielding and administration of these conferences. Undeterred by this, I decided to take the risk of decoupling this group from institutional attachment, moving to our current location at Arnos Manor Hotel in East Bristol, in late 2010, where we have remained ever since. Without institutional sponsorship, we nevertheless continue to attract academics with an interest in coaching from across Europe, who are happy to spread the word regarding our existence and singular purpose. At that time of de-coupling, we as a group decided to limit our membership to seasoned practitioners alone, while restricting recruitment largely to recommendation by existing members.  We also decided to make membership of the group by annual subscription of a set fee of £150, to ensure that we book venues and speakers ahead of time, but also to incentivise members to commit to participation in all available conferences.


The drive behind the narrowing of the recruitment portal was less one of an impulse for elitist exclusion but rather borne of a wish to accelerate our inquiry into what was emerging on the edge of practice, informed by those inhabiting that edge.  We have been happily ensconced at the Arnos Manor for the past eight years, and look to power on as a group into the foreseeable future, as there is no shortage of prestigious speakers wishing to come sit and learn with us, nor is there a shortage of new members eager to learn about their own and others practice. Sadly we have lost Professor David Megginson as sponsor and guide through illness, and all of our thoughts and love go with him.  We have however gained the invaluable support of Professor Bob Garvey from York St John University, who has been steadfast in his role as our ‘godfather’ and critical inspiration over the past four years or more.


When we ask what it is that has kept CCRG alive and thriving through the past twelve years, then the answer consistently comes back is the company of like-minded coaching mavericks who know that it can be lonely out there, and who enjoy the opportunity to express professional and personal vulnerability, without invoking normative judgment from others.  In verification of the same, one of our new members recently wrote thus:


‘Just to say thank you for the very warm welcome into this special and richly fertile, open space. Much that I experienced resonates with me still and I look forward to continuing the conversation from the middle of the river’s flow.’


Visiting speakers consistently comment on what a pleasure contributing to the CCRG has proved to be, in the sense of it affording the opportunity to share ideas and theories with such a collaborative and responsive group.  Our most recent keynote Professor Monika Kostera, from the University of Warsaw, said she felt a sense of ‘belonging’, which surprised and delighted her, given that feelings of a deeper, inclusive belonging among professional groups were unusual in her experience. Through the inclusion of such esteemed visitors over the past twelve years, the CCRG has surrounded itself with a sedimentary layer of some really influential supporters who speak well of us in the field.  This through-feed of external support and validation has helped reinforce the original spirit of close and deep support and challenge among members, which as leader and facilitator I have done all I can to sustain and nurture.


The population of the CCRG has not remained static over its life’s course. In fact that there has been a pattern of renewal through the natural processes of people moving away from the region or retiring, while others have moved into orbit with us. However a core of original members remain to remind us of our purpose and our ‘foundation narrative’ of critical inquiry augmented by creative approaches used when conducting those inquiries. We have also developed a pattern of speakers returning at intervals to build upon emergent themes explored during previous sessions. At that point the boundary between ‘expert’ and ‘learner’ becomes blurred, when all are engaged in shared inquiry. We have also convened specialized one-day events where we have considered approaches to topics such as ‘narrative inquiry in coaching, and the role of ‘archetypes in leadership practice.’


CCRG Purpose


In a recent review of CCRG direction, we asked ourselves the question ‘what is the purpose of CCRG?’ This is the response that emerged.


The CCRG is a seasoned coaching practitioner peer group who meet three or four times a year for one day conferences, where we support and challenge each other, and where it is okay to be a maverick coach or academic – and where it is okay to be conventional also. We engage in inquiry into the field with visiting researchers who bring towards us their findings from the field, and who benefit through the co-development of ideas by using CCRG as sounding board. Together with these visiting researchers – many of whom would style themselves as scholar-practitioners- we engage in experiential inquiry in order to develop collaborative insight and breakthroughs. We like to view the CCRG as an incubator for creative and alternative approaches where we work for improvement of practice in the field. Part of our purpose is to challenge conventional wisdom and practice, as expressed through policies and professional codes. The impulse here is not a nihilistic one. Rather – and at its best – it is to work together for a better world through coaching, and to support each other in pursuit of that higher purpose.  On a final note, one thing that keeps us coming back is that throughout our proceedings we seek to generate a climate of enjoyment and camaraderie that allows us to cast a wry and sometimes absurdist eye on the world we live and work in.



The creation of the CCRG website at has meant that current members can direct recomendees or other interested parties to this site for full information on the group. This website also curates a rich range of research resources built up from the presentations of the fifty plus contributors that have some generously shared their material with the group, in the spirit of the ‘gift economy.’  Please feel free to visit and browse as this website is open to all.





A reflection on welcoming new members to the CCRG


The news that we had lost a speaker at late notice proved initially stressful to me as leader, especially as it came at the same time as someone wrote to say how much they were looking forward to the speakers – but in the end this drop-out was no bad thing. On reflection, it was adventitious in that we had time on our hands, as we actually needed that recovered space to reacquaint existing members with each other, to welcome newcomers, and to focus on our purpose for the year ahead, and probably beyond. Our extended introductions of these newcomers by their sponsors proved an invaluable time for us all to connect with new members, who proved to be completely up for opening up as to their reasons for being there. The more this evolving conversation went on, the more it seemed to be that our three new people fitted perfectly with the ethos of our group, indeed they were already additive to the richness of the conversation.

The quality of this conversation reaffirmed for me the wisdom of recruiting through the recommendation of existing members as a safest way of preserving our developmentally inclined space. It occurred to me that our accidental rate of replenishment of two or three new members a year – as others move or drop away, while remaining friends on our outer circle of connection – remains about right with regard to finding the right balance between refreshment and complacent collapse into the known, meaning we counter stagnation, without launching us on another orbit entirely. Perhaps I am deluded, and it could well be that we are creating our own self-referencing echo chamber; though it does not feel that way, as I sense we continue to challenge our internal practice.

I notice that balance of men and women in the current CCRG demographic is fairly balanced, compared to many professional coach gatherings, where woman tend to numerically outweigh the men – though the exception might be in coaching body and academic conferences, where historically male voices have dominated, despite the audience being largely female.

I like the way we used the space afforded by traffic problems to catch up with each other. We do not do Monika Kostera’s ‘dead time.’ And of course I am biased, but I do think the physical warm-ups and voice preparation do help for us to put our voices out into the room, to breathe with each other, to be together in voice as well as mind. Interesting too, to notice the resonance between our song ‘Weeping does endure for the night’ and the themes that were to emerge later in the session. Perhaps everything is connected, in a resonant an embodied world.

I really like the way this group self- organises. Our time together is quite elastic and certainly non-linear. As we expanded our time into the space inspired by the newcomer narratives, then our themes of interruption; of intentional disruption; of rut and river; of authenticity and of the search for a deeper purpose, emerged flawlessly from the conversation, ably drawn as they surfaced by Jen Gash. Funny thing is that when Jen and I were planning the day and thinking about our way ahead for the next year, we expressed a wish that the themes we could work with through the year might emerge organically. We speculated without much success as to how this might be facilitated. Yet suddenly, with artifice or intervention, these emergent themes were made manifest, and in no way imposed by us two.

It has often been said to me by participants after a CCRG event, that even though it was hard to see the connection between the chosen speakers before the event, that as the day progressed connections between contributions and what was expressed from the floor became clear. I would agree with that thought, but without taking too much credit in terms of pre-planning or in-the-moment facilitation. I do think that our hive is of sufficient maturity to invite and embrace synchronicities, to allow messianic poetics to flow. In our flexibility, we have been allowing for liquid modernity all along. `

Allowing myself the last words of this opening round, I spoke of the changes in my life, of my re-attiring, not retiring from academia, and of my repurposing the full splendour of my doctoral gown, of my self de-frocking. I talked of how the narrative theme of my PhD enunciated by its title ‘On becoming an academic’ would now need to reverse its direction of travel, at that point where the rivers flow is reversed by the power of the tidal inflow of the estuary, that liminal moment when the tension is palpable. I reflected on the parallel trajectories between the twelve years of my full-time academic arc and the life cycle of the CCRG. Just as one changes, then I allow that so too will the other, when I take agency for my leadership.

In the afternoon we were treated to Monika Kostera and Joanna Srednicka, who shifted our conversation to another level, introducing us to a miraculous poetic world which nonetheless demonstrated a remarkable fit and resonance with our morning’s co-creation of emergent themes. Joanna’s revelation of the differences between the Polish experience of revolution enabled by poetics also seamlessly paves the way for our next event to be led by Bob Garvey on cross-cultural understanding in coaching.

Have we ever experienced a performance such as Monika’s? I doubt it. It made me feel proud of the alternative colleagues I have gotten to know through critical academia, and so happy to share their wisdom and passion with you all. The connections between her vision for the embracing of liminal space and the part that coaching might play in all of this was obvious to all, offering both a provocation and an opening of possibility for the types of dialogue we as coaches wish to enable and materialize in our troubled world. I attach both of their slideshows in our archives for your delectation and delight.

After being dropped off at the station by Monika – where she expressed a strong desire to come work with our group at a deeper level on the poetics approach, which really excited me – I sat on the train trying to capture my immediate response to having she and and her expression among us. My free writing from the train went thus – ‘Monika is all so many things. Luminous, lucid, fragile, a tiny squeak, the strongest voice roaring into an emptiness that none else may dare breathe air into. She is the dragon, she is the lizard shape-shifting before our amazed and dazzled eyes, she is the silken sheen drawing its gossamer veil over all who try to wriggle free from their butterfly selves.’ Not sure if that makes any sense but that is what flowed out.

On the same crowded train table hurtling towards London I offered to two Canadian women sat opposite to me the gift of one of the  Polish romantic revolution poems that Joanna had distributed among us. They loved the poem and we talked long and deep of its portent. A man sat beside me as I resumed the writing of this note to you all. He had three little black books of lists, all with pages replete with various degrees of crossings- out, and two phones into which he barked staccato conversation, only to be drowned out by an even more radical version of rhetorical man who was sat behind us, managing his loud universe with unapologetic, charming but totalizing control. The Canadians shared rolling eyes with sadness at this rudeness cutting across all else. Well not quite all else as we had already forged our complicit poetic bond.

Daniel Doherty November 2017




Publishing your writing on this CCRG website

i mentioned at our meeting this week that it would seem that many among us do write about coaching practice, their own and others. The problem is that much of this writing never sees the light of day, for  whole variety of reasons, but not least because the whole process of getting published is so labyrinthine.


I would really encourage you to send anything you would like to have published or reviewed here to me at I would happily review and then publish on this site.

Down Among the Leavers, post-Brexit

Down Among the Leavers, post-Brexit: An exercise in listening against resistance


Friday evening 24th June 2016


I asked you all on social media what can I do? A friend said keep writing. The activist in me said get downtown and see what my town has to say. Meet a friend in a pub. We agree on everything while half watching the cricket, as England crush the former colony Ceylon. I feel uneasy, move naturally towards the underdog, the dispossessed .Better watching this unfair match-up than media congratulating themselves on capturing ( but never predicting) this generational turning point on the other screen. i move away from my friend, as consensus will never do in my search for local vox pop. At the back of the pub the Pilot ( please steer me safe to shore) a young crowd chaperoned by two old boys are volubly watching the Super14 French rugby final. Rugby i know about that. Safe ground. They were drinking Belgian Stella not Doom Bar ..

The leader of this delightful young group of muscle and aftershave asked me directly how i voted. He is well spoken and probably a graduate, even possibly from nearby Exeter, a major player in the Euro economy. I say i voted Remain, thinking they had too. NO they all voted leave. They are young, surely they and me are suffering some crazy voting inversion? I asked why Leave? . I said i respected their decision but hoped it was not racism or xenophobia. They said no their reasons were purely economic. I asked about the economic arguments, but not much was said in reply to that. I asked about their puzzling passion for French rugby, two millionaire owned clubs stocked by global superstars slugging it out in obscurity. On Euro soil, in Spain. They love it cos the best in the world are free to live and earn a pension in French rugby, beyond their glory days. They said they supported Toulon at the beginning until their Australian star cheated and now they support Racing (Paris. ) Great; so British support of the underdog, one of our values. Mine too. i suggested ‘so you change your mind on a whim – like you might do over stay or go, on an impulse?’

We discuss the ‘fact’ that Scots hate all English. I say no not true. I am born in Scotland. They say they all hate ‘us’. they say they would not be welcome in Glasgow. I suggest that Glasgow is one of the friendlest places on earth. They say no. Then they turn to cheer the rugby underdog. But not the Scots underdog. I could go on but it was really absorbing and i was pleased to keep leaning in. The elder chaperones were really wary of me and getting more so, so I left. Dead pool ball bounce. The underdog won the game, led by a New Zealand superstar.


Saturday 25th June


With encouragement from far away by Stephen Taberner, I continue my one person probe into the minds and hearts of Leavers here in Devon. Yesterday my inquiry got quite ugly, but nonetheless illuminating. A bloke in a local pub was holding forth on the ‘fact’ that if the Scottish People had known the vote would have gone to Leave, then they would have voted leave too; but now they do not know what to do. He also helped us understand that there was no more oil in the North Sea. When i challenged all of this he said ‘I know it is true cos I heard it on Radio Four.’ Turns out his interpretation of this authority was highly selective (I had heard the same programme and let him know that). Somewhat subdued, he nevertheless continued in his post- factual way on his theme that Scots and Scotland would wreck themselves. Where does this demonisation of the country of my birth come from? I felt a tremor of being ‘othered,’ not sure whether to declare my origins or not.

As we talk of other aspects of the referendum he declares that ‘Anyone who voted remain should be ‘thoroughly ashamed of themselves.’ I said ‘Oh well i voted remain and i do not feel at all ashamed.’ He was taken aback, assuming from my age and my being in ‘his’ pub that I was a Leaver. Gathering himself he said ‘Yes, you should be ashamed. A whole generation fought and died in two wars for this country, and you dishonour them by voting to stay with the EU.’ This was vehemently delivered, shouted. Not backing off i suggested that maybe they also fought to defeat tyranny and fascism, to stop deracination of an entire continent. His anger rose to such a red-faced peak that he was shouting in my face. He called me ‘A traitor,’ that I was letting down all my parent’s generation had fought for. The landlord intervened and separated us, dragging him off, where he muttered alone to the pool cues. All this helped me understand though how strongly leaving was conflated with honouring the past, not creating a viable future for our children.


Sunday 26th June


Down among the Leavers #3 Who is pulling the leavers? My inquiry continued Sunday but this time across the estuary, looking to put some water between my questions and the incendiary reaction they provoked on Saturday.  First stop to park the bicycle was an old coaching inn famous for its Sunday morning gathering of the monied and chattering classes. No signs of panic here over the cappuccinos and over-stuffed sandwiches.  In fact I detected a self- satisfied purring, though it was hard to know what was behind that.  This age group was relentlessly over 60 and well heeled, in an understated way. As copies of the Mail on Sunday were unfurled on the semi-circular table beneath the main bow window looking out on the street, I joined the edge of the table to generally insert myself into the proceedings. The main topic was the future leadership of the Tory party. When i asked if Labour were to be a party to whatever might unfold there was low grade sniggering. One man said he had heard that ‘Corbyn was resigning today.’ Someone else said he may as well, as all his troops have left him. This topic of possible left wing opposition now disregarded, we returned to the question of the new tory leader. This discussion was led by a woman reading out commentary on the runners and riders from page 3 of the Mail. No one demurred at these pen portraits.  Some were easily dismissed without discussion; ‘can’t stand the woman, end of’ etc. Boris’s roguish ways continue to earn admiration, even though they agreed that he had been mendacious over his campaign. When pushed on this, they said that nevertheless, he was a strong character and would pull the people behind him. The conversation then turned to the impact of the markets on their holiday money. I was getting nowhere so I was soon back in the saddle.


Further down the river the story was the same, and again newspaper led. Individual thinking seemed to have been suspended, as was any concern for the longer term generational issues. Needing some edge to my meandering, I returned to the scene of yesterday’s histrionics, to discover that the word in the pub was out that I was leading some kind of investigation, which was interesting in itself.  Far from hostility, the Sunday crowd were keen to know what this was about, this ‘survey’ of mine. I explained that i was genuinely interested to know what was in the minds of leavers.  Soon there was a small queue. Someone asked if this survey would be published. I said perhaps.


The richest conversation was with a couple, both running small businesses, who voted leave as a protest against big business and big brother politics pushing them around and telling them what was best. They were emphatic in their distancing of themselves from ‘bigotry and xenophobia,’ and I believed them. They were fearful, though, at the way things were unfolding, and that the same elite would be moving the pieces around in the same old way. They were more than interested in why I thought remain a good idea, from a personal as much from any ideological perspective. They were utterly dismissive of the idea of any second referendum. On the TV, a French second goal sent the Irish to their knees. Time to go after this really rewarding and sane exchange.


Daniel Doherty