When I first started out coaching leaders, my listening focused primarily on the topic the person brought to the conversation. For example, the person when asked ‘what do you want to focus on?’, would express: “I’m stressed about work. I want to find a way to deal with my stress.” In this post I will share a couple ways how you can help others deepen their awareness. 

The International Coach Federation (ICF) describes one way of creating awareness in this way:

“Coach invites client to state and/or explore his/her learning in the session about her/his situation (the what).”

After establishing the outcome for the conversation, I would continue to help them reflect on their situation with questions like:

‘What’s causing you stress?’ Or, ‘What would minimize your stress?’ Or, ‘What has worked for you in the past to deal with stress at work?’. Not the worst questions, but too focused on the ‘topic’ of ‘stress’. And instead of exploring underlying issues more, we too quickly went into exploring solutions. I was working the topic, but not working with who the client is ‘in this topic’.

I have learned since, while it is important to pay attention to the topic, it is even more important giving them space to reflect and pay attention to who they are in the context of their topic.

In creating deeper awareness, the ICF describes it further this way:

“Coach invites client to state and/or explore his/her learning in the session about her-/himself (the who).”

Both, the ‘What’ AND the ‘Who’ are important in a coaching conversation. The latter even more so. Here is where deeper awareness and insight is needed in order for the client to discover what they really want and what they want to change in regards to their topic. As a coach, I partner with the client to explore what they are experiencing with their topic, deepen their awareness of what is going on in their heart, soul, mind and spirit before exploring solutions and possible steps forward. This brings about a ‘being’ change, not only ‘doing’ something differently.

Working with the ‘What’ brings clarity of what is on the surface or around us.

Working with the ‘Who’ brings clarity of what is going on under the surface. Be it in our identity, being, perspectives, beliefs or values. 

Learning to connect the ‘Who’ with the ‘What’ is key for deepening awareness.

Powerful questions help others go deep and discover what they previously could not see.

Or as the ICF states it: 

  1. Coach asks questions about the client; his/her way of thinking, assumptions, beliefs, values, needs, wants, etc.
  2. Coach’s questions help the client explore beyond his/her current thinking to new or expanded ways of thinking about himself/herself.

Below are a few questions that could help deepen awareness. What would you ask when someone comes to you wanting to deal with their stress?

Reflection & Action

Some of the ‘Who’ questions might be:

‘What kind of stress is that?’

‘What is impacting YOU that stresses you?’

‘What happens ‘in’ you when you experience stress?’

‘What impact does this stress have on you?’

‘What impact does this stress have on your work relationships?’

‘What do you do to get stressed?’

‘What are you not doing that makes this stressful?’

‘If you were your ‘ideal’ you, how might you engage with what stresses you?’

‘What are you like when you get stressed?’

‘What words or messages go through your head when you feel stressed?’

‘What is good about this kind of stress?’

Try it out this week, with a client, a friend, a colleague. See what happens!

What would you ask?