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How to make good coaching even greater?

written byTony Hustedon 07/10/2015

Over the last 8 years I have enjoyed the pleasure of being a Mentor Coach for coaches seeking their International Coach Federation Associate Certified Coach (ACC), and Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credentials. Some weeks I get the opportunity to listen to as many as six coaches using their skills to expand their client’s awareness, create workable actions plans, develop new skills, connect with their deepest values, gain clarity on their visions, and to become more of the kind of person they want to be.  

One of the things I enjoy most about the mentoring process is that I get to hear the fruits of my own labor. As a Coach Training Facilitator at Erickson Coaching International, I spend most of my time training these same coaches. Through the Mentoring I get to hear exactly what the real world working results of our training creates.  

One area of development that I have been exploring and expanding my own skills recently relates to the Coaching question, “What Else?” It is similar in structure to “Anything Else” (which on a side note is a close ended question), and “Tell Me More”. After listening to many coach conversations I noticed a pattern emerged in the way clients would respond to being asked the “What Else?” question. In many cases the client would simply restate what had already been stated, just in different words.  When asked multiple times repeatedly, it sometimes started sounding like an interrogation. Probably the most common pattern I hear when clients are asked “What Else?”, is that they answer at the same level of thinking.  

If you are a Solution-Focused Coach you are most likely familiar with the Neuro-Logical Levels originally codified by Robert Dilts. The Logical Levels looks at how the human mind structures thoughts, and how can be used by the Coach to notice where their client is putting their attention. Think of the mind as a filing cabinet with 6 drawers: The Environment which includes when and where, the Actions which includes what specifically is being done, the Capabilities which includes the how it will be done, the Values which is the deeper why, the Identity which is who the client is becoming through the process, and the Vision which includes the impact on the world through the client creating something of value in the world itself.  

My initial training in the topic of personal development was in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and not Coaching.  My initial training was heavily focused on the Logical Levels, and it has always been a listening structure at the core of my own work as a Coach. The most common thing I hear clients do when asked “What Else?” is to answer repeatedly at the same Logical Level.  In some cases this is re-enforced by the Coaches phrasing questions with a specific Logical Level, “What else could you do?” or more generically, “Anything Else” Instead of creating increased awareness, Coaches are allowing the client to circle around and around at the same Logical Level much like driving around a traffic circle without ever turning off and in a new direction.  

I am pointing this out because I feel that there is a large opportunity for more powerful questioning.  One of my favorite ways to think about Coaching is from an Albert Einstein Quote:    

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them"

If Coaches continue to simply ask “What Else?”, the client circles around the same Logical Level that the problem was created at, and therefore it cannot be solved at that level.  In all the Mentoring I do, I very rarely hear a client have an Ah-Ha moment or really break into new ground when asked “What Else?”.

What works even better, and can get better results, is to shift to a different Logical Levels. I notice what Level my client is answering at, and then I go up or down a Level. Since the Logical Levels is a top down organizing model, the upper levels control, modulate, and transform the lower Levels, it is usually more powerful to go up. So the next time you find yourself about to ask, “What Else?” shift up to the next Logical Level instead.  If a client is describing Actions they could take, shift upwards with a questions about what skills (Capabilities) they would employ to make this happen, or ask about them why it is important to undertake those actions.   

For many clients asking “What Else?” is simply asking them to explore the exact same level thinking as the previous question. This is not say that “What Else?” is a poor quality Coaching question. I use it from time to time when a client isn’t giving me enough information to formulate the next question. I also from time to time use it when my mind goes blank for a few seconds, and the “What Else?” question buys me a little time to formulate an even better question.