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The Process of Reflective Coaching: Levels of Inquiry

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[Note: this coaching tool is adopted from an analysis of reflective coaching processes described in William Bergquist and Agnes Mura. coachbook: A Guide to Organizational Coaching Strategies and Practices. Available on www.amazon.com and Kindle.]

During the past twenty five years, increasing attention has been given the field of organizational consulting to the processes of reflective inquiry—initially championed by Donald Schön, his colleagues, Chris Argyris and Peter Senge. While reflective inquiry is often an unpredictable process—similar to improvisational jazz and theater in many respects—there are, still, a few reflective moves that have been found to be particularly effective when engaged in a coaching process. Specially, I propose that an effective reflective process often involves moving back and forth through seven specific levels of analysis.

Each level offers a different perspective and a different reflective lens.

1. The reflective process often begins at Level One with the client reporting on their Observation of a specific event. The reflective coach will begin with a request: “Tell me what happened.” or “Tell me what you are seeing in this email.”
2. Given this initial observation (and the narrative or brief story accompanying

this observation), a coach and client can begin moving toward Level Two: an examination of the Data that has been obtained. The coach asks: “What did you see that is relevant to your immediate concerns and interests?”

3. From here a coach and client can move to a Third Level, which is concerned with the Meanings that a client assigns to the Data that has been gathered. A relevant question is: “What does this mean for you?” or “How does this data relate to an important issue in your (work) life?”

4. Level Four involves the identification of and analysis of Assumptions that underlie the Meaning the person has assigned to the Data. The coach asks: “How do you know that your observation is accurate?”“How do you know that the meaning you assigned to this data is appropriate?” This will either help validate the assumptions the client made, or clarify any misperceptions he had formed or even lead to a total shift in perspective, if needed.

5. At Level Five, the coach is helping her client access some Conclusions.  Several questions are often asked at this level: “What do you want to do about this situation?” “What can be done to address your concerns about what you have observed?”

6. These questions inevitably move the client and coach to Level Six, which is concerned with Beliefs. The coach asks: “Why do you think this decision is appropriate?” “What makes you think that taking this action in this situation will lead to success?” “How confident are you that this will be effective?”

7. Finally, at Level Seven, Action takes place, based on the Conclusions reached and the Beliefs that support these conclusions. In post-Actions reviews, the coach will be encouraging her client to reflect on the actions taken by asking: “What did you actually do?”  “What occurred when you took this action?”

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