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Coaching the Person, Not the Problem

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Questions seek answers; inquiry provokes insight.

When using reflective statements in coaching, clients hear their words, see how their beliefs form their perceptions, and face the emotions they are expressing. Then, a follow-up question that either confirms (Is this true for you?) or prompts exploration (when the coach is curious about what, when, where, how, or who) provokes clients to look into their thoughts.

Reflective statements + questions = reflective inquiry.

Adding reflective statements to questions makes coaching feel more natural and effortless. You don’t have to worry about formulating the breakthrough question.

Pairing reflective statements with questions frees the coach of the weight of finding the perfect/best/right question.

 On the other hand, some professionals who call themselves coaches ask questions for the purpose of determining what advice to give. They criticize the International Coaching Federation

(ICF), formerly known as the International Coach Federation, for rigidly imposing requirements around question asking. A Harvard psychology professor told me she wasn’t an ICF credentialed coach because her high-level executive clients didn’t want her to ask about how they were feeling. “It’s a waste of time to question their thoughts and emotions,” she said. “They want my expertise. They are clueless and need advice or a kick in the butt.”

It’s possible that’s what her clients need, but that isn’t coaching. It’s face-slapping mentoring.

I fear the loss of coaching as a distinct profession when the word coaching is diluted by people preferring to give advice. Coaching is an effective technology for helping people quickly reframe, shift perspective, and redefine themselves and their situations. Coaches act as thinking partners for people who are stuck inside their stories and perceptions. They help clients think more broadly for themselves, beyond their blinding fears, inherited beliefs, and half-baked assumptions that limit possible actions. As a result of this new perspective, clients discover new solutions, take action on solutions they had avoided, and commit to long-term behavioral changes more often than when they are told what to do.

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