Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rocking the Boat: A couple of coaching assumptions and questions

“Confrontational, eye-opening, and refreshing.”
“No-escape conversations about what really matters.”
“Brutally candid, very direct, and respectfully in-your-face.”

These are some of the phrases that my clients use when they describe my style and interventions. And they are right. I do not shy away from confrontation or conflict. I disrupt where necessary to reach objectives at a good pace. I provoke if that's what it takes to open eyes and decrease blind spots. 

Of course I do this because I deeply care for my clients. I professionally care enough to risk misinterpretation of my interventions and to risk discontinuation of a project. It hasn't happened yet, but I've been close twice. However, my clients quickly experience  deep professional care for their professional and personal well-being. And they learn that my assumptions about people are different than those of most coaches. Six of these assumptions are: 

1.    People grow and change in response to challenges.

2.    The client loses when a coach beats around the bush, sugar-coats, postpones, delays, or rephrases as opposed to courageous, direct, candid and, if need be, confrontational and provocative interactions.

3.    In a trusting and transparent relationship people can handle confrontations, provocations and the (sometimes brutal) truth.

4.    People have a greater ability to change than is often assumed by coaches and themselves. 

5.    The psychological fragility of people is frequently overstated by both themselves and others.

6.    Unproductive behaviors can be drastically altered, no matter how seemingly severe.

These assumptions lead to a direct, candid, and if need be provocative approach which in turn leads to quicker and more sustainable results. No sugar coating or procrastinating, instead, you will face unpleasant truths and embrace radically different perspectives. In provocative coaching you will face your idiosyncrasies and challenges head-on. Not to dismiss, judge, or condemn them, but to see them for what they are and how they play their part in what you accomplish - and what you don't. 

Just a few of the many coaching questions that I have found very useful:

1. Related to your coaching objectives, think about what you are not telling me, what you are not showing me, what you are hiding from me? Follow-up question: What is keeping you from full disclosure?

2. What is that you are not admitting to yourself? In which ways and in which areas are you deceiving yourself?
Follow-up question: Can you list all the benefits from this self-deceit?

3. What do you gain from your problems? What would you lose if your problems, that led to these coaching sessions, were all solved?

4. What have you purposefully done lately to surround yourself with people who challenge you and are willing to oppose you?
Follow-up question: To what extend do you use their perspectives to really grow? 

Which are your provocative responses and practices?
And for examples of really provocative interventions, keep an eye on my next blog post. 


  1. Well put, Carolien; if executive clients didn't want the hard truth or to be challenged, most could just have another conversation with their reports. Of course we must take care to be confronting and supportive so a hard message is heard in the spirit it is intended. Most of my coaching is with intact senior teams, and many of your questions apply as well there.

  2. Thanks for your comment Al. You are right, I need my messages to be interpreted in the spirit of my intention, which is professional development at the right pace. I always tell my clients that I can only use (and be) this approach because I professionally care for my clients - deeply.