By David Steele
It is common for coaches to preface their coaching questions with “I wonder…,” “I’m curious…,” or the more unskilled and uncoachlike “I think…,” “I recommend…,” and “I suggest…”
What’s wrong with that?
Simple, as soon as you say the word “I” to your client you’re focusing on yourself, not your client and you are mis-using your Coaching Superpower.
Your Coaching Superpower
What is your Coaching Superpower? It’s what and where you choose to focus your client. If you think about it, as coaches we are pretty helpless, our client has all the power over their choices, actions, and results and there is nothing we can say or do to “make” them successful. Advice, suggestions, information and ideas by themselves don’t work (I’ll elaborate on this in a separate article about Your Coaching Superpower), which is why our coaching skills and training de-emphasizes them and emphasizes inquiry to facilitate empowerment, ownership, discovery, decisions and actions.
So we are helpless and TELLING our client what to think and do doesn’t work, so what CAN we do?
In any one moment in a coaching session there are an overwhelming number of things to focus on in response to our client; some will be productive, some not productive, and a few will be wonderfully transformative. As coaches we have absolute control and choice about what and where we focus our client with our next coaching question, which is all we need to do in facilitating empowerment and discovery that leads to awareness, choice making, ownership and results. This is our Coaching Superpower and using it effectively takes practice to become a masterful coach.
Are You Listening to Yourself?
One of the best ways to develop your coaching skills is to record your sessions and review them to evaluate the effectiveness of your coaching questions, identify missed opportunities, gain more insight into your client and how you “show up” as a coach. When you are in the moment with your client you can’t do this effectively.
In my 22 years as a coach trainer and mentor, I have observed countless trainees practicing their coaching skills and have reviewed hundreds of recorded coaching sessions submitted for certification.
Using the word “I’ to preface coaching questions always seemed normal and OK until I encountered one trainee who overused the word “I” so much that I challenged her to eliminate the word from her coaching sessions. She appeared to understand the problem and accepted the challenge. She struggled mightily with this ingrained habit and towards the end of her training was finally able to minimize using the word “I,” which, all by itself, boosted the effectiveness of her coaching tremendously.
In mentoring this coach trainee it really hit home for me how the word “I’ can hinder the effectiveness of coaching and how one simple little tweak in how you craft your coaching questions can make all the difference in the world.
So my position is that “I” is a dirty word that needs to be deleted from the coach’s vocabulary.
What Does This Mean?
One school of thought that resonates for me about coaching is that the goal of the coach is to be transparent/invisible to empower our client so they can fully experience and discover their truth and choices. The more we intrude, direct, and act like an expert consultant or guru, the less ownership the client takes and their results suffer.
As well intentioned you might be, using the word “I” tells your client you are in your own head rather than 100% fully present with them. Your client then has an experience of and is reacting to you in the moment, rather than being able to fully experience what’s happening inside of them.
In short, you are inadvertently using your Coaching Superpower to place the focus on yourself instead of your client, or at least creating confusion by mixing the two.
What to Do?
Simple, use your Coaching Superpower to ask clean, simple coaching questions without prefacing them with the word “I.” For example-
Instead of “I’m curious what would happen if…?” just ask “What do you think would happen if….?” or simply “What would happen if….?”
Instead of “I wonder what it would be like if…? Just ask “What would it be like if…?”
The fix is simple, but it’s not easy to change a habit, so I highly recommend regularly listening to recordings of your coaching sessions until you’re satisfied with how you “show up” as a coach. Then, once you’re satisfied, share your recording with a trusted mentor coach for a reality check and tips for further developing your coaching skills to become a successful, masterful coach who gets extraordinary results for your clients.