Home Concepts Best Practices Coaching the Person, Not the Problem

Coaching the Person, Not the Problem

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Dewey felt that combining the tools that provoke critical thinking with Socratic questioning would prompt students to go inward to give their thoughts serious consideration. They would then be able to distinguish what they know from what they don’t know, confirm or negate a stated belief, and substantiate the value of a fear or doubt. He said that metaphorically, reflective inquiry enables us to climb a tree in our minds.3 We gain a wider view to see connections and faults in our thinking to better assess what to do next.

Watching the Movie from the Top of the Tree

Reflective inquiry includes statements that hold up a mirror to our thoughts and beliefs to provoke evaluation. The practice of mirroring, or what I call active replay, includes when the coach summarizes, paraphrases, acknowledges key phrases, and shares the emotions and gestures clients express. Clients then expand on the meaning of their words with explanations or corrections. They may drop into silence, shifting their eyes up, down, or sideways as they look into their thoughts. Coaches will often pause to let their clients think. If the pause is unbearably long, the coach might offer a reflection and question such as “It looks like you are considering something. What is coming up for you now?”

When coaches use reflective statements, people hear their words, see how their beliefs form their perceptions, and face the emotions they are expressing. Then, when coaches follow up with a confirming question (“Is this what you believe?”) or exploratory question (“What is causing your hesitation?”), clients are prompted to stop and examine their thinking.

We use reflective statements plus questions to trigger people to reflect on how they think.

Coaching behaviors include noticing energy shifts, tone of voice, pace of speech, inflection, and behaviors. Coaches play back clients’ beliefs and assumptions to examine their verity and limitations. They summarize complex outcomes and possibilities, offering the statements to clients to accept or alter. They offer observations when clients show resistance. They reflect progress to reinforce movement and growth. The goal of offering reflective statements is not to lead clients in a specific direction but to help them clarify and evaluate their thoughts.

By using reflective practices, coaches encourage clients to think about what they said and expressed. The coach accepts the client’s responses, even if the client gets defensive or uncomfortable. Giving clients a judgment-free space to process the coaching observations is critical to their progress.

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