3 Simple yet Powerful Coaching Tools to help Clients get ‘unstuck’​

Everyone gets stuck at some point. Helping clients get unstuck can be key to great coaching outcomes.

Clients engage coaches to help them achieve outcomes that are important to them, outcomes they don’t feel they can achieve alone.

These pursuits are often challenging, so it makes sense that sooner or later most clients will feel ‘stuck’ or their progress may come to a grinding halt.

When a client is feeling ‘stuck’, they will find it difficult to be engaged and motivated. Taking action will take a back seat to making excuses and in extreme cases, self-esteem can take a hit and the de-motivation and self-disappointment may expand into other areas of the client’s life. If you can’t get the client back on track, chances are the coaching engagement will be terminated – after all, they hired a coach to get them through their challenges to achieve their goals. Obviously, you are not expected to be accountable for their goals, but as a coach, you should be accountable for doing everything possible to get your client through challenges they encounter on their journey.

Whilst we can argue about the definition of accountability, I think it is fair to say that the coach has a responsibility to do all they can to keep their clients progressing toward their goals and dreams. It is also generally true that the more experience and education a coach has, the more likely they are to have a vast range of tools and techniques to keep their clients progressing. 

Great coaches are able to identify if a client’s motivation, engagement and progress is slowing or has stopped. This means great coaches have in place systems, processes, tools or techniques that enable them to:

  1. Easily and regularly track and monitor progress
  2. Hold clients accountable, even in the toughest of times and
  3. They have a vast range of coaching tools and techniques to ‘un-stick’ clients!

3 Great Coaching Tools

So, here are 3 simple yet powerful coaching tools that I have used many times to help clients get ‘unstuck’.

1- Micro Steps:

Sometimes clients can come to a grinding halt because they feel overwhelmed, confused or simply out of their depth. To get them moving you can help them identify the next one or two Micro Steps. A ‘Micro Step’ needs to be mindlessly simple and clear, and generally a much smaller step that you would typically or logically capture. For example, if a client has a goal of writing a book, they might be working on their next step of ‘create overall concept’. This might seem like a simple step but if progress is not evident or has halted let’s break it down further. For example:

  1. Buy sticky notes
  2. Brainstorm ideas onto sticky notes, one idea per sticky note (10 mins)

You don’t need to break down the whole goal of ‘writing the book’ or even the whole step of ‘creating overall concept’ into Micro Steps. Just identifying the next one or two Micro Steps should do it. It can also be really fun to brainstorm these Micro Steps with your client. The smaller and sillier the better! This makes it really simple for your client to take action and mark progress. Why does this matter? Because extensive research demonstrates that witnessing progress toward a goal we care about is a huge motivator. We can ‘tick off the Mirco Steps as they are completed. This confirmation of action and progress can result in renewed motivation and confidence sufficient to keep moving toward that goal. It is also likely that your client will easily be able to identify the next steps to take.

2. The 5 Whys :

Asking “Why?” may be a favourite technique of toddlers in driving you crazy, but it could teach you a valuable thing or two about making progress. In fact, asking “why?” is not just the domain of toddlers, this technique is used in businesses around the globe and is drawn from the field of ‘quality management. It is attributed to Sakichi Toyoda, founder of the Toyota Motor Corporation and one of the fathers of the Japanese industrial revolution. These techniques are believed to have been first used in the 1930s, became popular in the 1970s and Toyota and thousands of companies around the world still use them today to identify the cause of issues and solve challenging problems.

In coaching, there are lots of reasons ‘why’ clients can get stuck. So to delve into what’s really going on for them we can give ‘the 5 whys’ a go.

The aim of ‘the 5 whys’ is to find out the real cause of what is going on. It is built around a simple questioning technique and around the premise that the first time you ask ‘why’ the answer is likely to be a smoke screen By the time you get to the fourth or fifth ‘why,’ you are likely to be hitting the cause. So here is an example:

  • Coach: (1) Why didn’t you take any action toward writing your book this month?
  • Client: I was too busy because on top of work I had friends and family staying with me.
  • Coach: (2) Why did having friends and family staying with you and being busy at work stop you from taking steps toward writing your book?
  • Client: Because between work and my friends and family I had no time left for me.
  • Coach (3) Why did you let them take up all your time and not give any time to writing your book?
  • Client: Because I felt like I needed to be there for them all the time, as well as not letting anyone down at work – I guess I just didn’t feel comfortable spending time on me.
  • Coach (4) Why don’t you feel comfortable spending time on yourself, don’t you feel your goals are important?
  • Client: I’m not sure but I always feel guilty if I am not doing what others want from me, so I tend to put myself second and everyone else first.
  • Coach (5) OK, now I think we are getting somewhere. Why do you think you feel this way about allocating time to yourself and your goals ….

As you can see by the time you get to the fourth or fifth why you should be starting to identify the real cause. Knowing the real cause you can work with your client on a solution. Without the five why’s we often treat the symptom not the cause.

This can sound deceptively simple but it requires thought and intelligent application in order to find the right ‘why’. You may have noticed in the above example that the answer to one question leads you on to frame the next ‘why’ question.  Below is a table to help guide you in using ‘the five whys’.

This method can be extremely valuable and powerful. It does require practice though. But the more you use and apply it and the more you practice it, the more you’ll begin to find the real underlying cause of your clients being stuck and come up with effective solutions to get them moving again.

 3. Permission Slips :

This is simple and fun. Sometimes clients get stuck because they are emotionally drained, exhausted, stressed or just need a break. This can happen when you never give up in pursuit of a goal you are passionate about, yet giving up is not an option, so our clients continue regardless of their emotional, physical and mental health. If you are observing this in a client, then sometimes all a coach needs to do is give their client permission to ‘have a break’, ‘to take a day off, to ‘push out the next deadline.  Sometimes clients need this permission to ‘dis-engage’ so they don’t feel guilty or feel like a loser.

In fact, giving a ‘permission slip’ could even be seen as a reward for progress and be awarded to the client before fatigue or ‘getting stuck’ sets in. After all, part of the coach’s responsibility is to make the pursuit of lifelong dreams and goals sustainable and enjoyable and having ‘me’ time is something we should all be doing regularly. 

If you want to make it even more fun and rewarding, you can print out permission slips and officially hand them to your client, and make them sign it!

Teaching our clients to have fun and plenty of ‘me’ time can go a long way to maintaining progress and ‘getting unstuck.

Everyone gets stuck at some point and moving someone forward is definitely not a ‘one size fits all process. But one thing is for sure if our clients stay stuck, their goals and dreams are going nowhere. A great coach makes sure they have a swag of tools and techniques to keep their clients progressing.

My recent work in developing the Achiiva mobile coaching application has to lead me to work with hundreds of coaches and their clients, as well as a wide range of coach training colleges and universities. I continue to see the best and worst of coaches’ coaching. If you are a coach I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a great coach. All comments appreciated.

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