Balancing Ourselves Using the Six Streams of Competence
By Joy Reichart
In these times of massive change and disruption, many of us are starting to look inward to see how we can be of greater support to our families, communities, and the world. Integral Coaching, which is a sustainable, self-generating framework for developing ourselves and others, offers several practical ways to take up this inquiry.
One of the assessment models we use to help us in this is called the Six Streams of Competence. This model serves to give us a snapshot of where our client might be out of balance, and where it would serve them to develop greater competence. It is also a handy way to assess ourselves. (In fact, the essay portion of the Professional Coaching Course application invites prospective students to assess themselves in each of these areas. It explicitly invites the applicant not to prove they are competent in each stream, but rather assess themselves honestly to begin to glimpse their areas of development.)
The Six Streams are:
Let’s explore each stream—its value in our lives and the world, where we might be out of balance, and what we can do to deepen our competence in each area.
The Cognitive Stream
Not surprisingly, this is the most developed (but not balanced) stream for most people in Western culture. Though it has begun to shift, cognitive intelligence is by far the one that is most valued and attended to, often to the detriment of the other streams. Individually and collectively, it is overdeveloped.
In times like the present, this imbalance can send our intellect into overdrive attempting to solve problems. And there are problems to be solved, no doubt! Thank goodness for vital progress being made in science, economics, and thought leadership now. But the intellect is also a space of fear, anxiety, and other automatic and unhelpful behavior. Generally speaking, attending less to this stream and more to the others will serve us well.
That said, there are some who are more developed in the other streams and actually could benefit from deepening in this area. Exercises like planning and follow-through, mindfulness meditation, and even a regular reading practice can strengthen this stream in ways that are helpful.
The Emotional Stream
Emotional intelligence has been making its way into the cultural lexicon more and more in recent years. Teams and organizations are beginning to recognize it as an essential skill. This is the area where competencies like empathy, compassion, and heart connection reside. It is hard to argue that the world would benefit from lots more development in this direction.
When the emotional stream is overbalanced, though, it can cause difficulty. There are those who suffer from exhaustion and burnout through a compulsion to love and care for others at the expense of themselves. “Out of balance” can mean too much or too little.
Where do you fall along this continuum?
Practices to develop deeper emotional intelligence include metta meditation, HeartMath, and self-observations around empathy, compassion, and boundaries.
The Relational Stream
This stream is not simply about having a lot of friends or steering clear of conflict. Competence in this area includes being able to communicate with a wide range of people, to see from different points of view, and to set aside one’s own desires for the sake of a relationship while maintaining a sense of one’s own worth and dignity (1).
A complex topic in the best of times, we are now compelled to examine it when relationships are being redefined by necessity, and when effective speaking and listening are some of the few tools left to us to express ourselves. In many ways we are all being called to develop our relational competency. How do we start?
You may do some self-observation to see where the imbalance lies. Is it in speaking? Listening? Are there particular kinds of people with whom you have more difficult relationships? Is some softening and receptivity warranted in your way of being, or do you need to bring your voice forward more assertively? Once you’ve discovered a particular aspect of relational competence you wish to develop, you can look to exercises to cultivate it—exercises that likely live in the Somatic Stream.
The Somatic Stream
If the cognitive stream is the most overdeveloped in our culture, the somatic stream is arguably the least developed. Our bodies tell us every day what we need to stay well, give us subtle signals that can influence our decisions and actions, and show us what it feels like to be connected to someone else. However, most of us were taught not to feel, sense, and discern at this level, but rather to think hard and figure things out. This has rendered us disconnected from our bodies and the wisdom that lives there.
Moreover, if we are disembodied (i.e., if our attention is entirely in our heads or floating outside of ourselves completely) we are subject to the prevailing currents of thought and emotion in the world, which right now consist largely of anxiety and fear. Being grounded in our bodies makes us less subject to overwhelm and, therefore, more supportive to others.
For some people, deepening somatic intelligence is a matter of recognizing we have a body at all, perhaps by paying attention to our feet on the ground several times a day. For others, it is developing habits of responding to the body’s requests for food, rest, movement, and other basic needs. Those at more practiced levels of embodiment may take up practices that deepen our intuition or balance the direction of our energy (e.g., becoming more receptive, assertive, flexible, etc).
Every student in the Professional Coaching Course spends their year “building the body of a coach:” engaging practices that get them in shape to hold their clients in a place of grounded spaciousness. What qualities might you need to develop to help you do this now?
The Spiritual Stream
This area may involve religious beliefs or practices, but usually extends far beyond them. In Integral Coaching, we view this stream as the ability to create a life dedicated to the benefit of everyone, strengthening our bond to the wide web of life, and being an active member in communities dedicated to compassion, wisdom, and service to others (2).
Can you feel how being connected to the wider web of life can aid our world right now? How, in fact, most of humanity is being compelled to reckon with this connection? It’s become undeniably clear that none of our lives are occurring in a vacuum.
What can you do to cultivate your connection to the wider web? What communities are you a part of—or have thought about becoming part of? Most spiritual communities have found a way to get their offerings online, so now is a wonderful time to check out one or two.
And what supports your feeling of connection? For many, it is time in nature, listening to music, or making art. We also have the literal world wide web offering infinite ways to connect in unprecedented ways. Orchestras are playing symphonies from their individual homes, tapping straight into the well of the love and possibility available to all of us. What could be more spiritual?
However you can attune to this connection, it seems essential that we all turn up the volume on it now.
The Integrating Stream
As the name suggests, this is where it all comes together. This stream is about bringing our authentic response to whatever is unfolding. It’s moving away from compartmentalization, knowing who we are at our core, and coming to each area of our lives as a more unified human being. It is where we contact our genuine expression and bring our essence and our values to everything we do.
A tall order—and an important one. Being integrated is essential to being of real support to others. Perhaps you’ve worked with a practitioner who is passionate about their modality, but it’s clear they’re carrying some resentment or insecurity just below the surface. Likely it doesn’t take much to throw them off balance. It’s difficult to trust and achieve any real healing in the presence of such folks, well-meaning though they are. Above all, Integral Coaches are dedicated to being an integrated presence for their clients.
We come to balance in the Integrating stream by looking at the parts of ourselves that might be in the shadow—pieces about which we feel shame or fear. This doesn’t have to be the terrifying experience it sounds like. Approaches including the Enneagram personality type indicator give us windows into aspects of ourselves that we habitually either lean into or deny.
How will you take this forward?
Can you identify one or two streams in which you’d like to develop deeper competency? Which ones? Why do they feel important, and how are they off balance? How might you begin to work in these areas to increase your capacity to support others and help the world?
Please don’t try to work with more than one or two—for one thing, it will split your attention and dilute your efforts. Plus, it is very rare that all six streams need attention at once. Surely there are streams in which you are strong—which are those? How can you use your competency in these areas to support others?
The world is calling on us each to shift and come into alignment with our purpose. We hope this is a useful tool in discovering how to do that.
Join New Ventures West for a free online event where you can see how this and other models inform how Integral Coaches approach all their interactions.
(1), (2), Professional Coaching Course student manual, ©2020 James Flaherty
Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.