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Taking Relevant Others Into Account

It would be a rare coaching client that only takes their own welfare and needs into account, without regard to what anyone else thinks or feels. Most people have family members, friends, and/or work colleagues who could be affected by changes that the client decides to make.

In the previous article we talked about applying Appreciative Inquiry’s ‘Wholeness Principle‘ to reconciling conflicting needs and impulses within the client. A second way in which the Wholeness Principle can be applied in coaching is to invite the client to explore how other people who are important to them would respond to any courses of action that the client is seriously considering.

This is worth doing for a number of reasons. Friend groups, teams in a work context, and particularly families can all be considered as complex systems. If one part of the a system (your client) starts acting differently – for example, by going for a different career, becoming more assertive, or even changing their approach to exercise – that may lead to changes in how one or more of the other people in that the system behave.

The emotional aspect is also important, because emotions affect motivation. If a significant person in the client’s life is upset at the changes that result from coaching, the client might feel guilty, which could affect their will to continue.

On a practical level, the client’s success with their chosen course of action may be dependent on support, or at least a lack of opposition, from other people in their life.

For all these reasons, exploring the likely responses of others can be a useful investment of time in the coaching session.

Questions to Explore the Effects on Others

The first question you might want to ask is, “Who else will notice that you’re making these changes?” For each other person identified, you can ask questions that invite the client to consider how they will perceive and respond to the desired changes.

I find Gervase Bushe’s ‘Experience Cube’ model (from his excellent book Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work) a useful way of structuring questions to explore different aspects of experience. We can look at our experience in any given moment as having four elements:

  • Observations – what we can actually see, hear, etc
  • Thoughts – what we believe, what we tell ourselves
  • Emotions – what we are feeling
  • Wants – what we want to happen, what we want to do, goals etc.

Using the Experience Cube as a guide, we could ask the client these questions about each person:

  • What will they notice? (sensory evidence)
  • What will they think is going on? (how they will make sense of the changes you’re making, what do they think your motivation will be, etc.)
  • How will they feel about it?
  • What do they want you to do? And to explore more broadly the other person’s motivations and wishes for the overall situation: What do they want to happen?

Of course, the answers will only be guesswork on the client’s part. So you could ask a supplementary question that invites the client to put in place a method for checking their expectations against reality:

How will you know your predictions about this person’s responses are accurate?

Naturally your client will care more about some people’s responses than others, so if you wanted to get an idea about this you could ask:

How important is this person’s response to you, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is ‘hardly at all’ and 10 is ‘it’s massively important’?

Note: as often happens with these articles, you might find questions like this useful even if you’re not coaching from an Appreciative Inquiry perspective. For example, if you’re an NLP coach or therapist, you could use these or similar questions to check the ‘ecology’ of a proposed change.

Applying the Wholeness Principle in Coaching (2): Relevant Others

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