A Coaching Power Tool Created by Catalin Bebia
(Life Coach, ROMANIA)
When people show up for the coaching session they already had thought about a problem that they would like to discuss and develop an action plan to overcome.
Usually, we see a certain degree of awareness about the topic and impact to them (what to address) but we equally often notice a road-blocker to move forward.
By developing the contracting conversation the coach might identify the characteristics of a client’s “contemplation” phase throughout a wider change , where there is a recognition of the problem, initial consideration of behavior change, and information gathering about possible solutions. However this does not imply a determination to move, and a prolonged period of contemplation might distract people from acting. In many cases, the border between contemplation and procrastination could be very thin.
Risk-averse individuals are more likely to develop a contemplation tendency, especially when they exhausted the options by self-discovery and they are coming into the coaching session with a lack of an identified plan on how to address challenges along the change journey.
Identifying the “severity” of a contemplation stance on the client side would depend very much on the self-awareness level they achieved before coming to the session. To develop a fruitful coaching session the coach should first seek to determine the level of awareness that exists with the client and help the client during the contracting phase to touch upon the bottom-line believes, values, interests, or emotions that are potentially keeping the client captive in contemplation. Then, moving the conversation into what clients would like to achieve in the coaching session the coach shall employ as much as possible the power of open-ended questions that would help the client to move beyond his current roadblock.
As mentioned earlier, the possible fear of facing risks or having failures might keep clients hooked into contemplation. On the other side, the contemplation would represent an opportunity to take steps forward considering the earlier definition for contemplation. The question would be how much is too much, how can we make sure as coaches that we’re not taking our clients beyond what they are willing and committed to without a significant risk for relapse? And this of course depends on every single client we find in this position.
The power tool I propose is contemplation vs. preparation, as a tool to employ when clients aren’t ready for big steps.
This tool might particularly become relevant when dealing with clients that are more likely to uphold the progress towards their goal by registering small/quick wins along their journey rather than being patient and confident to wait until the end.
Why is this relevant? As Adm. (ret) William McRaven said in one of his speeches that is now often referred to by motivational speakers , “If you want to change the world, start off making your bed”. The same might happen with clients which are in contemplation and for which big changes are projecting to them a vision of risks, uncertainty, and failure. Then it becomes extremely important in such cases to help clients identify those small or quick wins that would feed their motivation and energy to continue to change themselves towards the goal they would like to achieve.
How are we helping them arrive? Strong words like “next”, “first”, or setting up shorter planning horizons might help them focus better to define what the success looks like for the immediate action. Then embed this success into the next sessions or steps to help them advance and get confidence. And constantly ask them what is the value they attach to these small steps and how do they feel after are seeing the results. Verbalization of inner voice is often a very good practice that helps clients loudly hear their thoughts and think differently of what they hear versus what they silently imagine.
Openly discussing with clients what they perceive as risks regarding their current behavior is yet another dimension that creates a good link between contemplation and preparation. One of the key features of contemplation is that within the clients in the contemplation phase there is still a commitment for change in the immediate future. Developing the conversation about the motivation behind this commitment would help shift the client from the temptation to constantly seek barriers and rather focus on creating a projection of how the future would look like. Leveraging questions that would help clients embark on imagination exercises, closely linked to the topic they are willing to address, helps them to build paths to the future state and play scenarios of actions like in a sandbox. But being connected to the commitment for change the sandbox would not only provide a safe environment for exploring alternate options but also potentially take the clients from emotions and bring them to an outside-in view of their own plans. Once plans are successfully tested in the sandbox then it might be a good moment to help them make choices that would best fit their pace.
After a comprehensive review of the topic and clarification of contemplation dimensions, preparation kicks-in more naturally in the conversation. However, this should not be positioned by the coach as a push of the client towards making hard choices, e.g. option one or option two. This might raise the risk of the coach to be perceived as directional in conversation. Even if not noticed as such by the client the consequence might materialize through the client being still hesitant about moving ahead and not as a natural evolution of his state.
Preparation is the stage in which the client demonstrates a clear willingness for change, “I will change. Really!”. And further to that the client starts also to draft the first steps of change. Often this might translate into the client’s intention to move to the action stage soon. It is critical however to help the client set a realistic expectation regarding the journey starting point, by bringing back some of the risks that the client identified before, during the contemplation phase, and also mirror to the client the intended mitigation plans. Investigating with the client the support needs, either from the outside circle or from the coach, would create to the client the comfort that he/she owns the plan and the journey but is not alone in case support is required. Exploration questions like “what kind of support can I / anybody else give you”, “how are you going to let them know you need their support”, “when are you going to let them know you’re going to need their support” shall give to the clients a wider social context in which changes are taking place and more comfort.
Once in the preparation phase, the client shall be able to articulate more precisely what is he/she going to do next – for example, taking up a gym membership, joining a study group, visiting a specialist. Coach’s help in identifying specific goals including any relevant measures is key to increase the client’s commitment and boost his/her confidence to move away from procrastination and make progress. As mentioned before, for those clients who need quick wins, this would be a very good point to help them visualize how does the good look like – if an action is defined as taking a gym membership, then ideally a measure for this action should be identified so that once the client enrolls to the gym he/she will not only checkmark in the plan that membership is achieved but strive to get the sought benefits out of that – for example, losing x kgs weight after the first month, be able to run x kilometers after the first week, and so on. However, the targets should be realistic and linked to the problem statement initially agreed upon. Otherwise, not being realistic or relevant would only create dis-engagement once the planned milestone is achieved but target not. Although the end-goal might be very ambitious – for example, be able to run a marathon next year – particular attention shall be given to setting intermediary targets calibrated to a normal performance pace for the client. These intermediary targets would keep the client connected to the goal but also offer an opportunity for assessment and plan adjustments.
Wherever possible in the longer-term coaching relationships, the coach should offer to check-in regularly with the client and discuss the progress towards the goal.
In summary, employing contemplation versus preparation as a power tool in coaching shall bring benefits in terms of the client’s commitment and comfort especially when dealing with risk-averse clients. This tool would build on the opportunity offered by the client’s awareness and willingness to change but will not push boundaries too far, rather will offer to the client an action plan built to bring him/her quick wins that shall elevate confidence and fuel energy to move farther.
- What sets you back from changing/taking action?
- How would you feel if you would start changing today?
- Which would be your source of positive energy to support the change?
The Stages of Change, Christian Volz, 2009
Make your Bed, Admiral William H. McRaven, University of Texas, 2014
The 6 Stages of Change: Worksheet For Helping Your Clients, Jeremy Sutton, 2020