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Bringing Goals into Reach

Posted By Jacqueline Ann Surin, 01 July 2017

In my previous posting, I shared how a coach who uses Clean Language would begin client sessions with, “What would you like to have happen?”

That question invites clients to think about what they would like to have happen instead of what may be currently happening. It creates a space for clients to think about what they want instead of what they don’t want. Doing that helps clients move from problem to a desired outcome or solution.

I learnt another way of asking that question for when clients have intractable problems, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370) disappeared in 2014.

The co-authors of Metaphors in Mind, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, were training us in Malaysia just after the MH370 tragedy. We got to talking about how we could use Clean Language to counsel grieving family members if the chance arose.

The standard invitation of “What would you like to have happen?” would have resulted in answers such as, “I want my wife back”. Or “I want to know what happened to my family”. Or “I want the plane and all those on board found safe somewhere.”

My question was, how could you use Clean Language to support clients with an outcome that was way outside of their control? What’s more, it was highly uncertain not just if but also when these desired outcomes would ever come to pass. 

Setting a time frame

Tompkins and Lawley’s answer was, use the same question and fix the time frame for a desired outcome in the here and now, or in the near future.

For example, if a client said, “I want my wife back”, the coach could ask, “And you want your wife back. And what would you like to have happen between now and when you have your wife back?”

Or if a client had said, “I want to know what happened to my family”, then a coach could ask, “And you want to know what happened to your family. And what would you like to have happen between now and when you know what happened to your family?”

Asking the question in this way fixes the client’s attention on what they may be able to affect in the short term rather than agonize over what may or may not happen in the long term. 

When goal is far away

I’ve used that same way of asking that question when clients have a goal that is far off in time and space.

One client I coached in 2015, whose firm was in a state of flux, said he needed stability. But that could only happen in 2016 when some staff had left and new hires had joined the company.

So, I asked him, “And what would you like to have happen between now and 2016?” When I asked him that question, this is what happened. He was able to articulate what needed to happen while waiting for his head count and the fluidity of different personalities in the ecosystem to stabilise. 

At the end of our session, he reported he had found some “concrete and practical solutions” to his issue at work. “It’s good that we were able to walk through the steps to get somewhere,” he said, even though all the steps were his. I merely asked him some Clean Questions that fixed his attention on the near future, instead of a year and a half down the line.

When else could you use the question in that way? If a client said, “I want to buy a new house” or “I want to publish a novel”, you could ask, “And what would you like to have happen now during this session so that you can buy a new house/publish a novel?”

To recap, 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 will continue to blog on Clean Language and how it can be applied in both one-on-one client work and in group facilitation, and I hope they provide you with useful coaching tips.

Jacqueline Ann Surin

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