Coach the Client, not the Problem: #2 of the Five Best Life Coaching Skills

September 08, 2015 by John Andrew Williams

The 2nd of 5 Life Coaching Skills that Will Change Your Life

The 2nd of these 5 skills is perhaps my favorite and goes hand in hand with Level 2 listening. For a quick review here are the five skills we’re looking at in this mini-series.

#1: Levels of Listening

#2: Coach the Client, Not the Problem (A coach’s mindset)

#3: Simple, Curious Questions

#4: Levels of Motivation

#5: Well-Designed Actions

My hope in this mini-series is to give you a better idea of what a coach actually does, which seems to be a perpetual challenge for life coaching. I believe this post sheds light on the mindset of a life coach, and one of the biggest differences between life coaching and other helping professions.

#2 Coach the Client, Not the Problem

So much of life coaching is at first counter-intuitive. But once you experience the concept you cannot 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. I know I’ve spent a large part of my day thinking about how I can solve some problems ahead of me. My phone and laptop decided to die on the same day. Where was my focus: one how amazing life is and cherishing every minute of it or reformatting and getting everything back up and running? The truth: a little of both but heavy on the problem side.

Let’s play out this little scenario in a life coaching session.

As a coach, however, let’s say a client arrives at a coaching session with a laptop and phone that just stopped responding. (If you wanted to step up the example in your mind, you could substitute any number of “problems” for the phone/laptop not working, for example, anxiety, fear of taking an important step, or procrastination.)

Here are some initial places you could go with your questions:

What happened to mess up the laptop and phone?

What is your plan to fix them?

How soon do you think you’ll get them working again?

All valid questions that remind me of the kinds of questions I was asking when I was on tech support. Each of those questions was aimed to address the problem.


Coach the Person

So let’s consider a few life coaching questions that would exemplify coaching the client.

  • In dealing with this challenge, what did you learn about yourself?
  • What characteristics do (or did) you rely on to be successful?
  • What kinds of things did you say to yourself?
  • How kind were you to yourself?
  • While dealing with tech support, what surprised you, if anything, about your reaction or experience?

These questions almost completely ignore the problem and instead focus on what the life coaching client is either learning or your client’s characteristics or experience.

By pointing your client in this direction and exploring aspects of your client, you are creating a different, more lasting type of learning. Doing so is simply more powerful than merely addressing the problem. You are shining a light onto what is going to help your client solve every problem in the future.

Practice Person, not problem

Next time someone comes to you with a problem, try this little script.

“That seems terrible, and it’s looks really hard to deal with. I’m curious, what are you learning about yourself in the process?”

Chances are people will look at you weird for asking such a life coach-y question, but so what? It’s the more powerful question, and a certain part of the other person’s mind will look at his or her resourcefulness even if outwardly balking at the question.

Enjoy the perspective shift!

Also read: Simple, Curious Questions: #3 of the Five Best Life Coaching Skills

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