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When Clients Don't Know What They Want

Posted By Jacqueline Ann Surin, 01 July 2017

This is a question I’ve had to think about. I see my  role as a coach as helping clients get clear about what they would like instead of what they don’t like or want. And yet, I’ve had clients who can’t articulate what they want.

Sometimes, that’s because they just don’t know yet. On some occasions, I’ve had clients who didn’t ask for coaching and were sent by their boss instead.

I’ve discovered that using Clean Language allows me several ways to coach a client so that they can develop their own outcomes and solutions even if they are initially unclear about what they want.

Clean Questions are a set of simple, neutral questions developed by the late David Grove. These questions reflect back only the coachee’s words so that the client is only dealing with their stuff. None of my stuff pollutes the client’s experience.

“I don’t know”

One way to open a Clean coaching session is to ask: “What would you like to have happen?”

It’s a specific Clean question that invites a client to think about what they want instead of what they don’t want. This question is especially useful if a client is facing a challenge or feeling stuck in some way.

And just because I ask that question, doesn’t mean clients immediately or automatically gain clarity about what it is they want.

For example, I’ve had clients answer: “I don’t know.” Another Clean Language coach reported that, after repeated attempts to get his client to think about what they wanted, the client said, “Don’t ask me that question again”.
What would you do in that kind of situation?

Here are some things I’ve done during a coaching session, using only Clean questions, that might also work for you:

1. I would help them develop their understanding of what the problem is like for them, especially how they are actually experiencing it.  I would ask, “And when you feel anxiety, what kind of anxiety is that?” and “And is there anything else about anxiety?” I might even ask, “And whereabouts is that anxiety?” or “And where could that anxiety have come from?”

In my previous blog, I shared how asking that last question resulted in my client knowing a bit more about his anxiety. As a result, he could then let it go i.e. he knew what he wanted to do with his anxiety.

2. I might ask, “And when you don’t know, what would you like to have happen now/in this session/until you do know?” One client, who said he didn’t need to be coached and only came to see me because his boss had made it mandatory for him, said: “I’d like to find out more about coaching. And I’d like to find out if you’re genuine.” I used only Clean Questions to find out more about what he needed to know. And we had an honest conversation about what he felt was needed in his firm. His feedback about the session? He said, “I felt like I was in my moment, rolling a cigarette” and he was assured that I was genuine!

3. And finally, I might say, “And you don’t know. And when you don’t know, how do you know you don’t know?”  One client said she knew she didn’t know because “my mind is nothing”. And that gave me an opportunity to ask a few more Clean Questions about “nothing” until she realised she needed to think quietly for something to come up for her.

I hope these tips have been useful for you. Look out for my future blog posts on Clean Language and how it can be applied in both one-on-one client work and in group facilitation.

 

Jacqueline Ann Surin

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