A Coaching Power Tool By Christopher Foley, Career Coach, IRELAND
On my journey as a coach over the last number of months, a pattern has emerged which is a lot more prevalent than one would expect. Or on reflection, maybe it should be expected?
Addressing Clients Fundamental Issue on Deception vs. Honesty
A client comes to a session, willingly as all clients do in coaching, and the topic is very personal and often emotive to them, for example ‘I need to get fit and lose weight. This is a very common topic which the world deals with daily. In general, it’s a reasonably well-known area with a wealth of information available through the internet. The coaching session proceeds, the goal is clearly defined and agreed upon, the success measures are identified (a set of steps for the first week defined), the importance of the topic has been worked through and things are progressing forward positively. There is real positive momentum at play, or at least perceived to be at play. It comes to accountability and the client stumbles somewhat; not fully committing and the coach can get a sense of the client holding something back. The session has hit a blocker to a degree, false momentum has surfaced .
The coach becomes curious as to what is causing the blocker and begins the process of digging deeper to gain an understanding. The client and coach work through some thoughts and a restructured client’s plan emerges. But there is still something simmering that hasn’t surfaced in the session and allowed the client to be strongly committed to their action plan. The coach shares the observation of uncertain commitment by the client! It’s only then the client starts to unearth deeply emotive and personal reasons that are rooted in them which cause a range of emotions from shame to fear and causes the client to deceive themselves. The coach can unlock this and enable the client to become very sincere with themselves and truly honest.
What’s at Play in This Scenario?
The initial goal is true but in a sense is fairly abstract, which can be the norm in most sessions. The client has what’s perceived to be all the tools to resolve the need at hand. Then the blocker surfaces and the coach’s awareness is heightened that the root cause may not have truly appeared yet. The client believes that their outward rationale is the problem to address in the session, not the root cause. An uncovering or unpacking of that issue results in opportunities to allow the client to explore what is driving that root cause. The client can reflect further and unearth a more fundamental issue or demotivation point that could be attributed with behavior that they feel embarrassed or ashamed about e.g. self-describing themselves in a negative term such as laziness. The client has unpacked the self-deception (which they may not have been consciously aware of) and transitioned over to real honesty about themselves. Once this change has occurred opportunities arise for the client to address the fundamental issue rather than them being deceived by a perceived issue.
The concept of deception can hide the real underlying issue. It’s a very real phenomenon that coaching can be an ideal tool to use to unearth it, but equally can be missed and a false goal achieved, depriving the client of the true resolution that they sought coming into the session. This power tool will look at how unearthing potential deception can be achieved and the client moved to reflect honestly on their situation.
Deception is defined as ‘the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid’ .
Self-deception is defined as ‘to deceive oneself especially concerning oneself’ 
Deception is a very complex area where philosophers have and still differ in their opinions . At its most fundamental, self-deception is an error one makes about oneself . Self-deception can be underpinned by beliefs, varying motivations, social pressures, and many other factors. More importantly, it can be of the conscious and unconscious kind .
In the context of this work; where the deception has originated or whether it is of the conscious or unconscious kind is not paramount. It may be that a client is unconsciously deceiving themselves, that they are not fully aware of its existence. This power tool is more about the uncovering of this ‘deception’ that is holding back the client. Deception puts a cloak around a client’s thinking and if the coaching session can unveil that cloak, the road of opportunity opens up in front of the client.
Honesty is defined as; ‘adherence to the facts’ 
Honesty may not be the direct opposite of deception, from a linguistic perspective, but it’s a state, where if one gets to it; deception can be unveiled for what it is. Getting to the point of true honesty can take time in a coaching relationship and needs real, genuine courage from the client.
The application is like a delayering process. The curiosity of the coach becomes so important in these scenarios, curiosity on behalf of the client. The coach may need to explore several different aspects of the client’s thinking, namely: feelings, beliefs, values, and intent.
- How does that make you feel?
- What’s driving your emotion here?
- How is that belief/approach serving you now?
- How do you want to feel when you achieve your goal?
- Call out conflicts that are showing up, e.g. you say that you want to get fit but you don’t have the time!
- Playback what they said and leave it sit with them, without a question. The client needs to hear their thoughts back. It allows them to reflect more deeply.
- Observe body language mismatches with spoken language and draw the client to the potential mismatch
As insights or moments of awareness arise, ask the client to make use of these, ask them how it impacts their emotions and feelings.
- What is that insight telling you?
- What learning can you take from that awareness?
- How can you use that learning to move closer to the goal of this session?
This journey of discovery that the client is on, potentially from a state of deception and transitioning over to a brutally honest and sincere assessment of themselves does take a lot of courage on the client’s side. Therefore acknowledgment from the coach of ongoing progress becomes very important as momentum increases and needs to be harnessed .
Take 5 to Check Back on the Session Goal
It is important, especially when new findings are discovered and possible deception unveiled, that the coach brings the client’s attention back to the original goal and checks what impact this unveiling may have on the goal.
- With this new insight, what impact does that have on your original goal for today’s session?
It may be that the goal will change at that point. It’s very important to check in with the client in this regard.
An alternative option can be to take the Byron Katie  approach. This challenges the client in a way more direct fashion. This approach challenges the client to examine their thinking, i.e. is what you are saying correct and true. This more direct questioning can be the catalyst for a client to unearth deception if it exists.
Deception is a real thing that people deal with daily. It can have a detrimental effect on a person achieving life goals and targets. The real problem is that the person may not be aware of its existence and the potential suppressive implications.
Coaching is an ideal medium for which to uncover this and transition the client over to a truly honest reflection on their beliefs and values. This power tool focuses on the delayering process necessary to unveil possible deception and get the client to the point where honest reflection can occur.
 Self-Deception (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
 Patten, D. How do we deceive ourselves? Philosophical Psychology, 16, 229–246.
 E. Funkhouser and D. Barrett, "Robust, unconscious self-deception: Strategic and flexible", Philosophical Psychology, vol. 29, no. 5, pp. 682-696
 Do The Work — The Work of Byron Katie
 Momentum in Coaching, Foley, C.