Stop helping your clients solve their problems

By Toku

There’s a commonly held belief in the coaching industry that the client sets the agenda when it comes to coaching, that coaching starts with a request for something they want to create or a problem they want to solve. And while this is true to some degree, if we understand the way the human mind works, we quickly realize this is not the best way to go about things. 

The conscious mind is like a computer terminal — it runs programs that already exist in the subconscious mind. So when a client brings a problem to you, they are presenting a program that has always been running for them. Even if you solve the problem on a conscious level, you’ll still get the same results. 

As a coach, you want to access the programming that created the problem. That’s the real power of coaching: dealing with the underlying programming, or the ways the problem has been constructed. 

So if you just coach people on the exact content they are working on, you’ll likely just help them come up with the same solution that sounds a little different. 

This is why you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the actual content of their concerns. Instead, here are some questions you should be asking and paying attention to.

1. How do they talk about the problem?

In asking this question, you’re looking for fixed ideas they have about themselves or the way the world works. The presence of such ideas is always an indication that there are new ways you could suggest for them to approach things from. Does it sound like what they are saying has been said a bunch of different times? If so, this is an indication that it’s a well-rehearsed story and that they have had this kind of problem before. So dig deeper. 

Another thing to look for is whether it seems like they are trying to choose between two bad options. If so, remember that there are always more options available. 

Finally, listen for what they are not saying. Is there any obvious place where they are leaving information out, where it seems like they are making an assumption, a guess, or jumping to a conclusion? Pay attention to the context – people rarely tell you everything relevant about their perspective, so try probing further to better understand the information surrounding the problem. 

2. How do they feel about the problem?

With this question, you are looking for clues about the feelings they have that are hidden. Look for their non-verbal cues. Do they seem angry, sad, or afraid? Do they talk fast when they talk about their problems? Is their heft in their voice? Is their face tense? Do they seem defeated?

Is their energy low when they talk about this thing, are there feelings or desires they are not expressing? Do they seem like they are afraid or anxious? 

Often, unexpressed feelings and frustrations can get in the way of people looking at a problem more objectively and with a level head. Are there things they need to say, express or be heard around, so they can actually deal with what is going on?

3. How are they relating to the problem?

The final thing to look for is how they relate to the problem overall. Does it seem like it’s referencing something else or connected to something in the past? Does it feel like they are anxious about something in the future? Is it similar to other problems they have experienced before? Is there something going on underneath the surface that hasn’t been revealed? Are they relating to the problem as victims, where something is happening to them, or as if they are in charge and need to do something, tell something, or take control of something? 

The next step is to get curious.

Once you’ve gauged the answers to these questions, you need to get curious about what is causing the underlying problem. You don’t have to figure it out completely, diagnose it, or decide what to do with it. First, you just have to take your client’s attention off of content and onto the context. 

As you start to look at the context and the way the problem is created at its source, you by default begin to look at a person’s programming and the underlying systems that cause them to create the same types of problems again and again. 

By simply putting your curiosity out there and reframing the problem around the answers to the above questions, you start to create new pathways and new possibilities for coaching and problem solving. 

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