This article was originally written by Michael Hall - gently edited by The Coaching Room
When you coach, there are a few basics that you want to know. The starting point is always, “What do you want?” To make sure the answer is relevant and important, you want to know “Why is that important to you?” Then to make sure it is grounded in reality, you want to know when and where the person wants it. From there you will want to know if the person knows what to do. “Do you know what to do to get what you want?” If the person does not, that’s great! It means that you, as a Meta-Coach, have a job! Now you get to earn your fee. Let there now be a chorus of hallelujah!
Blocks to Success
Now along the way, you will be identifying blocks and interferences. “So what stops you? Could anything stop you from getting what you want?” There usually are blocks. If the person says “no, there’s nothing to stop me,” then look confused, scratch your head, shift around in your chair, pause
... Then look your client in the eye and ask:
“So if nothing stops you ... then why are you not out there doing what needs to be done to get what you want? Why are you sitting in my coaching chair?”
Usually the person will now start to get real with you. This makes, “What stops you?”, a truly great question. But you have to work it. Sometimes you have to repeat it several times. And when they tell you what stops them, don’t just buy it on first hearing. They are most likely to give you a list of superficial excuses. Question them. “That stops you?” “How does that stop you?” “How much does that stop you?”
At this point you are going to hear two kinds of things that your client asserts which stop him. You are going to hear facts of the world and you are going to hear internal beliefs and assumptions. The “facts” are actually the real life factors that will occur, or could occur, that you’ll have to deal with. These are actually not what’s stopping a person. A person may use them to excuse themselves from acting. Yet the fact that others act, and do not let these things stop them, show that these are not the actual interferences.
I don’t have enough money for this (or time, personnel, energy, etc.). They will (or could) laugh, say no, reject me, think I’m stupid, etc.
The project could fail, be difficult, take longer than expected, etc.
The internal beliefs, assumptions and frames are what’s actually stopping, blocking, and interfering the realisation of the goal.
Self: I’m not adequate, not skilled, stupid, unlovable, have low self-esteem, etc. Ideas: My ideas don’t count, aren’t creative, never work, etc.
Others: People with power and money control things; managers never listen, bosses don’t care, even the experts can’t figure it out, or are divided, they are too competitive, etc.
Change: You can’t change an organisation, change is hard, only those at the top can create change, trying to change things means conflict which is bad, etc.
Back of the Mind Blocking Frames
Once you get the block or interference out on the table, you’re ready to ask meta-questions and invite the person to step-back to find the interfering block and it will always be a limiting belief, decision, identity, understanding, etc. It will be some frame that creates the limiting or fallacious interpretation.
What are you assuming that stops you?
What limiting belief, decision, understanding, identity, etc. stops you?
These beliefs, decisions, understandings, identities, etc. almost always operate as an assumption. That is, they are just assumed and not questioned. Functionally that makes them unquestionable which explains why the person can’t get beyond the block. He assumes “that’s just the way it is” (e.g., they are, I am, etc.). Then, assuming this limitation, he just accepts it, resigns to it, and/or never even thinks that it could be otherwise. This, in turn, eliminates any critical thinking. In fact, it stops thinking.
Now you are in a place where you can intervene and there are many ways to do that. One way is to reverse the assumption. “What would be a positive opposite assumption?” Typically, just reverse it.
Limiting assumption: “I’m not able to handle conflict, so I can’t be assertive at work.” Reverse assumption: “Because I am able to handle conflict, I can be assertive.”
Turn into a question: “If you knew that you could handle conflict, what would you do to reach your goal?” Or, “what ideas would that generate in you?”
Limitation: “I can’t stand failing, I need to get things right, being wrong means I’m stupid.” Reverse: “I don’t have to get it right the first time, being wrong lets me learn.”
Question: “If you knew that you can always learn even when things go wrong, what would you do, what ideas would that stimulate in you?”
As a Meta-Coach, as you flush out the hidden assumptions in the back of the mind, turn them around, and put them inside a meta-question, you are setting up a new hypothesis and giving your client a chance to try out a new way of thinking. It sets up an experiment for life (the tasking).
1) Detect limiting assumption.
2) Reverse it and turn into a liberating frame.
3) Attach to the person’s goal (well-formed outcome).
4) Ask as a tentative hypothetical meta-question.
5) Ask the question repeatedly and in different words.
When you do this, you enable your client to think imaginatively beyond their old fears, limiting beliefs, excuses, and model of the world. Often what you are doing is designing a Torpedo Question for your client.