Coaching through barriers

“If you knew you couldn’t possibly fail, what would you try?”

This is a favourite staple of executive coaches, and for good reason. It strips away everything that inhibits your achievement, and gets you to focus on the outcome, exclusively.

An alternative could be:

“Let’s say you do have enough time/money. Then what?”

Sometimes, when coachees are challenged they come too preoccupied with the question. What they need is a creative prompt to get them thinking a bit broader:

“Give me three options that would help move you forward.”

When a coaching conversation appears to stall, you might actually be on the cusp of discovering the underlying reason for a barrier. It may be that the coachee is subconsciously waiting for you to bring the reason out into the open.

“What made you decide not to discuss this at the programme committee meeting? Talk me through your reasoning.”

As a reflective practitioner yourself, you’ll realise the benefits of regular reflection. So why not use it to help remove an individual’s self-limiting belief?

“I realise that you are finding working with Louise in Finance very difficult. But I’d like you to arrange to meet with her at some point over the next few weeks, and commit to writing down how you felt straight afterwards. Try and describe how you approached the situation, what you said, what the response was, and how it made you feel. What you write may help uncover the barrier.”

This approach usually brings something to the surface, with the added benefit that the coachee will be doing this themselves and therefore there is further time for them to reflect before your next meeting. If they are still struggling, you can help with a more direct line of questioning as follows:

“How do you feel when you think about meeting with Louise? Which part of the conversation do you fear the most?”

Here are some indicators that a coachee has beliefs that are limiting them:

  • “This is going to very difficult.”
  • I don’t have sufficient experience to do this.”
  • I don’t have as much experience as John and he has much more esteem.”
  • I’ll never be able to work at that level.”
  • “It’s always the same. I can’t get funding.”
  • “No, there are much more qualified staff than me for that job.”
  • I have to do this, otherwise what will the Dean think?”
  • I need to do better, but I’m not as confident as I used to be”.

Some key phrases are highlighted above in bold. People often say what they are thinking. If they can say “I will” instead of “I have to” or “I want to” instead of “I have to”, a lot of barriers to progress can be eliminated.

One of the benefits of adopting a coaching approach is that you help people to move on with their thinking, so that they can achieve more. You get to practice simple techniques and observe the results.

Reflection: When was the last time you said “I can’t” or “I have to”? How might the situation have changed with alternative language?

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