Last year, I was commissioned to provide four coaching sessions to employees of a Kuala Lumpur-based company. Before the first session, one of the employees was rather anxious. He was early for his appointment and he asked me rather nervously what to expect. This was when I inadvertently discovered the power of asking about the source of a client’s emotional state.
I’d learnt a specific, ‘Clean’ question to help me with that and this was my opportunity to put it to good use. Clean questions are simple, neutral and follow an exact word sequence. This particular question is:
“And where could that [coachee’s words] have come from?”
Developed by the late psychologist David Grove, Clean questions reflect back only the coachee’s words, inviting them to notice their inner experience more deeply. Often the coachee is then able to generate new insights and perspectives about their own stuff, resulting in clearer outcomes and solutions.
I joked that coaching wasn’t like sitting for a Malaysian public exam where there were right and wrong answers. Then I reassured him that with Clean coaching, he would determine what direction to go in. And okay, this was his first time being coached. So, his anxiety was perhaps understandable.
But when we met for the second coaching session, the client was still nervous. I was a bit surprised. And so before we began, by way of making conversation and just to acknowledge his anxiety, I asked, “And where could that anxiety have come from?” I don’t remember if he actually gave me an answer and I didn’t think very much of it. I was only making conversation, not yet coaching.
So I was pleasantly surprised when at our final session, the client said he wasn’t nervous anymore. He said, “I thought about the question you asked me the last time: ‘Where could that anxiety have come from?’ And I realised, I went through therapy when I was growing up, and I hated it. And there’s nothing I hate about what we’re doing. It’s completely different. So...” He smiled and said
“I could let the anxiety go”
You just never know how a Clean question might land, even if it’s asked casually. And you just never know what a client will do with a question when she or he is ready to process it.
This is my first blog for the Association for Coaching. Going forward, I’ll keep blogging about Clean questions and how they can be applied in both one-on-one coaching work and in group facilitation.
Jacqueline Ann Surin