So much of coaching seems counter-intuitive, but once you experience the concept and put it into practice you can’t and won’t go back. Coach the Client, Not the Problem is one of those concepts. Why? Because people spend a lot of time living in their problems, so we want to change the focus entirely. This becomes hugely important when working with a client who smokes, especially when it’s crystal clear that quitting tobacco would do the client a lot of good in many areas of their life and health.
Coaching is a way for us to partner with our client in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. This includes honoring the client as a creative, resourceful and whole person that possesses the wherewithal to come up with the issue on their own, so you can work cohesively to draw out the solutions.
Our clients don’t need us to fix them or show them the way. They need us to reveal what is blocking them from knowing what to do and guide them through what’s possible. Our goal is to bring clarity to their desired outcome, to uncover what is stopping them from achieving what they say they want, and setting up the “I Can Do this” actions. We are their Thinking Partner!!
It’s common in problem solving to focus on what’s missing to solve a problem or meet a challenge. The trouble is, we already know that what’s missing isn’t there! Focusing on problems is draining and de-energizing, it magnifies weaknesses, and focuses only on the here and now rather than the future desired state.
Coaching to strengths is a higher level of thinking and will likely be a new experience for our clients. This positive focus moves them away from their problem-centered current state and provides the energy they need to advance. Strengths are naturally motivating and exciting to think about, it reveals resources available to the client, and provides hope for something better.
Start by reflecting on what you see and hear, look for patterns, emotionally charged statements, and shifts in emotions when they talk about their desired outcomes. Use their words, and just share what you notice. Fight the temptation to add in your opinion or judgment because it does not serve either of you well. I refer to this as collecting flowers and then presenting it as a bouquet back to the client. It’s okay to summarize, but make sure not to embellish or exaggerate the facts, and no telling the client what to do.
Ask or listen for why the outcome is important to them, and listen for and reflect the assumptions, beliefs, conflicting values, needs, desires, and fears – then ask how these relate to the outcome they want to achieve.
Don’t be afraid to get it wrong – your client will set you straight.
Most importantly be present in what shows up for you and the client – this means opening up your own beliefs and holding space for the client to succeed. You have to believe the client will quit smoking and CAN quit smoking. You have to believe in their potential, and that’s not easy sometimes.
Your energy makes a huge difference. Emotions occur within the body, and it shows up in your full body presence. Curiosity from your brain, courage from your gut, and care from your heart. Where are your brain, gut, and heart at with this client? Do you believe the client can quit? Are you holding space for the client to succeed? Are you assisting the client to see what is possible for them when they get what they desire?
As a coach, let’s say a client arrives at a coaching session wheezing and towing along an oxygen tank. They are already facing anxiety, fear of change, and procrastination and there you are wondering how someone can continue to smoke when they feel so crappy, have trouble breathing and don’t recognize their smoking as an issue or problem. This is where you take a deep breath, check your brain, gut and heart for any judgement and release it to the universe asking to learn in love for the benefit of this client. The coaching conversation becomes very different, depending upon whether your focus is on the person or the problem. Strive to create a different, more powerful coaching session.
Next time someone comes to you with a problem, even a problem they are unaware of, try this little script.
“Being unable to catch your breath seems terrible, and really hard to deal with. I’m curious, if you decided to quit, how would you personally benefit?”
Chances are people will look at you weird for asking such a coach-y question, but so what? It’s the more powerful question, and a certain part of the other person’s mind will intuitively answer. Enjoy the perspective shift! Reformulate what the client has said, reinforce it, and refocus it back on them. Then ask about their confidence: If you really decided to quit, do you think you could do it? What would prevent you from quitting? How would you overcome this barrier?
The bottom line is that focusing on strengths can energize both you and your clients. It helps facilitate coaching the person and not the problem, and It helps people experience living out their best and healthiest life.