The Developmental Relationship with Jon Stokes

Jon Stokes & Peppermint Fish
12th September 2019

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The Developmental Relationship with Jon Stokes

In this episode, Faculty Member Jon Stokes provides a fascinating discussion which centers on The Developmental Relationship.


The Developmental Relationship with Jon Stokes

About Jon

Jon trained originally as a clinical psychologist and worked at the Tavistock Clinic and Institute in London, where he became Director of the Adult Psychotherapy Department before founding the organisational consulting service Tavistock Consulting, which he led as Director for five years. In 2000, Jon left the NHS to create Stokes & Jolly with Professor Richard Jolly of London Business School.

Jon has worked as a leadership adviser; business psychologist and he has 20 years’ experience coaching at CEO and board level in a variety of organisations. He’s also a Senior Fellow at Oxford University Said Business School.

Jon brings great depth of understanding of psychology, group and organisational dynamics to the challenges faced by leaders.


Some of Jon’s publications include:

  • Leadership and Executive Coaching in the Sage Handbook of Coaching
  • Several Chapters in The Unconscious at Work, ed. Anton Obholtzer


Jon’s early experience of developmental relationships

02:15 – Jon traces the origins of his thoughts about the Developmental Relationship to his experiences at boarding school and reflects on the influence this had on his choice of career.

4:45 – Jon spent 20 years working in clinical psychology and psychotherapy, where he developed more insight into the nature of developmental relationships.


The origins of the concept

5:45 – The nature of the Developmental Relationship has been contemplated since ancient times, but it’s Freud who first studied it systematically. Further psychoanalysts, including Wilfred Bion, added to our understanding of the nature of this relationship.

8:20 – The idea of getting into a state of mind where we consider the present only, non-judgmentally, overlaps the concept of mindfulness, as described by John Kamat-Zinn.

9:15  -  Carl Rogers defined the conditions for effective counselling and these also apply as the conditions for successful development.


The foundational experience of the Developmental Relationship

11:00 – The Mother-baby relationship is generally the first experience of a developmental relationship for most people. Jon describes the nature of this experience and the importance of the parents’ role in ‘staying with the uncertainty’ of a situation, in order to support the child.

12:45 – Being aware of, and making sense of previously-unmeaningful experience, is the essence of the developmental process.


The requirement for expertise

13:45 Jon recounts the experience of Julliard School violin teacher, Dorothy DeLay to illustrate the fact effective development is not necessarily based on personal expertise, it relies more on an ability to ask the type of questions that encourage someone else to develop.


The link to good coaching

15:35 Jon shares his definition of coaching and helps us consider the process of coaching by describing the way gorillas ‘coach’ their offspring, in the wild.

18:30 The origins of the GROW model are in Carl Rogers’ work and a lot of what coaching involves is linked to these concepts.

19:30 Ed Schein also wrote about three types of ‘helping’ relationships, which shine some light on the type of developmental relationship that is most appropriate in coaching.


Research into the Developmental Relationship

21:15 – Jon summarises Micheal Lambert’s research into the outcomes of counselling. It revealed a proportionate split in the critical elements that led to greater effectiveness. Those elements are, the client’s context; the relationship with the counsellor as experienced by the client; the client’s hope or expectation in the helpfulness of the counselling and finally, the tools and techniques used by the counsellor.

25:30 – The quality of the relationship is critical to the outcome of coaching


The impact of the developmental experience

26:25 – The mother-child relationship is the most fundamental form of developmental relationship and has been studied extensively by psychoanalysts, such as Donald Winnicott. He coined the term ‘holding environment’ to describe the ‘good enough’ mother.

28:05 – Aim to be a ‘good enough’ coach so you create the right environment for your client to develop their own skills, rather than try to fix their problems for them.

29:45 – Jon reminds us of Keats’ view of a great artist as having ‘negative capability’ or the capacity to remain in ‘mysteries and doubt’. The coach has to provide a ‘container’ for the contemplation of uncertainties and confusion in order to support their client effectively.

31:15  -  Einstein also describes this phenomenon as the ability to remain in contemplation of a problem for a long time, rather than jumping to a solution. It’s OK not to know the answers to a client’s confusion, the process of contemplating possible solutions is more valuable for the client.


Mentalising, empathy and the essence of great coaching

34:15 - Tuning into your own feelings, or ‘mentalising’ is a helpful skill for a coach. Jon describes two types of empathy and stresses the importance of the purpose of this empathy – it’s so the client can empathise with themselves and recognise their own feelings.

35:40 – The essence of great coaching – the ability to listen without judgement, empathise and provide helpful feedback is incredibly effective because it links to our evolutionary need to be connected, to belong and to be understood.

38:30 - Work is an important source of self-esteem for lots of people, so for a coach to help someone become more effective at work can have a significant impact on their lives.


Challenges for coaches

40:10 – Jon advocates that coaches employ a coach themselves and experience that type of relationship for themselves.

41:55 – David Maclelland’s framework for needs or motivations is a helpful model for coaches to think about. David Kolb completed some research based on this model, that revealed what combination of needs or motivations effective coaching requires.


To conclude

45:10 -  Jon summarises his key points from the conversation.


References for Jon Stokes The Developmental Relationship

Barry Duncan et al:  “The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering What Works in Therapy”. American Psychological Association

Douglas McKenna & Sandra Davis “What are the active ingredients in successful executive coaching?” Industrial and Organisational Psychology, 2 (2009), 297 – 304.

Carl Rogers “Characteristics of the Helping Relationship” in “On Becoming a Person”. Constable

Barbara Sand: “Teaching Genius: Dorothy DeLay and the Making of a Musician.” Amadeus Press. Also article in web :

Jon Stokes: “The Unconscious at Work” chapter in Anton Obholzer & Vega Roberts “The Unconscious at Work”.  Routledge

Joan & Neville Symington “The Clinical Thinking of Wilfrid Bion”. Routledge

Donald Winnicott “Playing and Reality”. Routledge.

Ed Schein “Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help”. Berrett-Koehler

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