Words are our tools, not just as coaches, but as humans. Words have the power to assist us in our survival. Language developed through the use of words when as a necessity to survival people began stringing words together and were able to communicate and pass on important information. In human history words have been used to annihilate entire groups of people. Words have been used to incite and inflame and create untrue beliefs about other groups in order to gain power. Hitler was a master with words and used specific words to incite and create dissonance. Thus we must remember the words of the Toltec and be impeccable with our word and use our words to acknowledge, encourage and enthuse, not to incite. Therein lay the power of words. “Le Mot Juste”, just the right word to empower, transform and motivate. This is the goal of the “word” in the coaching process. To be able to create a powerful environment where the client is understood and empowered for the betterment of their lives.
One way to create a powerful environment is with careful questioning. To borrow from the world of journalism, the Five Ws and one H are the accepted formula for storytelling. The Five Ws and one H, are excellent coaching tools. They imply questions in and of themselves. Each of the Five Ws and one H are great tools. The coaching process is comprised of these words and when used in proper context can elicit understanding and empowerment. These six words are, Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. The coach begins the process of discovering the goals and beliefs of the client with, ” Who are you?” Leading with, ” What do you want?” Followed with, “When do you want to achieve this?” “Why is this important to you?” Finally, “How do you expect to accomplish this?” These questions posed by the Coach and followed with deeper and deeper questions delivered with care will create a connection and prevent “yes or no” answers. This is the way to progress in the coaching environment.
Rudyard Kipling, in his “Just So” series of stories (1902), begins his story “The Elephant’s Child” with:
- I keep six honest serving-men
- (They taught me all I know)
- Their names are What and Why
- And How and Where and Who.
These are the tools of the storyteller and the seeker of the story. The story is what we seek in coaching. When we know the story we know the client. With this knowing comes understanding. If your purpose is to learn a client’s story you must be also be curious. Curiosity denotes interest and when people feel that you are interested they are more open to connecting with you. The connection is created using The Five Ws and one H. They are inspiring and influential words that lead to the story that lies within us all. These words prompt the storyteller to reveal themselves. It is through revelation and inspiration that the coaching process progresses.
When a coach, asks, “What else?”, “Where are you going with that?”, ” When would that occur?”, “Why do you think that is?”, “Who do you think could help you with that?” “How do you think that happened?” There is curiosity and interest. Curiosity reveals intention, three very powerful words. It is within the use of the Five Ws and one H that curiosity reveals intention. It is with powerful questions that the coach explores the client’s intent. The client has the answers the power of the question has the ability to open the door to communication.
According to Kevin Hall, “We should never underestimate or take for granted the power of communication. We should never underestimate the right word spoken at the right time. Words connect us to each other. They make up what we hear and what we say. They are the essence of who we collectively are”.
In the case of Carolene, the mother of four mentioned earlier, the addition or changing of one word allowed her to change her perspective and move forward. During a session with her she shared the feeling that her estranged husband was sabotaging everything and that she was trapped in a difficult job because of it. In order to move her to a new perspective it was suggested that she add the words “attempting” and “temporarily” to her statement. Thus her statement went like this: “He is “attempting” to sabotage everything, and I am “temporarily” trapped in this difficult job”. Just these simple changes gave her control over her feelings and her situation. She realized that there were no absolutes and that changes were possible even inevitable. The addition of these two words reframed her perspective and allowed her to move forward to the point where she now has a new position and is no longer fearful of the outcome of her marital situation.
In conclusion just the right word, or words, used in the proper context of the coaching process, can and will create a powerful transformation for both the client and the coach. It has been shown here that the power of words in coaching is at the essence of the coaching experience for both the coach and the client. Words have the power to heal. Words have the power to alter attitudes and change outcomes. Words are the tools we use to communicate with one another, to guide and support and especially to acknowledge.
Smalley, Susan, PhD. Huffpost Healthy Living: Words Are Like Living Organisms.
March 14, 2012, http://huffingtonpost.com.
Hall, Kevin. Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose Through The Power of Words.
E-book Harper-Collins 2009.
Ruiz, Don Miguel. The Four Agreements, A Toltec Wisdom Book. California: Amber Allen Publishing, Inc., 1997.
Kipling, Rudyard. Just So Stories. 1902.