“Subject” and “Object”

Subject and Object = one key foundational concept of the theory of adult development. What does subject/object mean? A big developmental milestone in your life happens when you can take a look at yourself more as an object, imagining how your actions and thinking look to people other than you. In other words, you get outside of yourself and are able to see more viewpoints than your own, actually moving to viewing yourself more neutrally, through another’s lens. This constitutes a huge step in your own development, for it helps you slip out from being caught in stories that no longer serve you.

In coaching, we talk about “story” and the “story” you are in. As adults, we can continue to develop beyond the stories that we learned about ourselves, thus making those stories “object” – and making ourselves no longer “subject to” those stories. C H O I C E. When we are “subject to” our stories, that means the stories are mostly unexamined and they can grip us. It’s almost as if we are in a trance (as in unaware, on automatic pilot). When we can make our story “object,” we can open ourselves to new ways of seeing and start to break the trance, and find new perspectives, new choices.

So coaches, when a client comes to you with a hard-clad story, and they can’t find a way out, use your deep listening skills and intuition to invite them to look at the story through another perspective, i.e. make it object. Only then will they be able to cut loose from the grip of the story and see more options for their own thinking and action. And leaders, when a colleague or direct report come to you with a seemingly unsolvable issue, invite them to put the issue out there to be looked at. Ask them, what would stakeholder X see here? or stakeholder y? How is their interpretation different from yours? This will help to make the story “object” and give more room to see the “facts” of the story in a different light.


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