Presuppositions are implicit assumptions or background beliefs in a statement (or question, or command) which the listener has to take on board for the statement to make sense. They are important because:

  • They often fly under the radar of conscious awareness, so they can frame the direction of a conversation without either party being aware of them.
  • They give clues to how a speaker’s belief system really works, without having to explicitly ask the speaker about their beliefs.
  • They often provide a more accurate picture of the speaker’s belief system than would be revealed by direct questioning.
  •  By becoming aware of your own underlying assumptions, and by asking questions with empowering presuppositions built in, you can lead the coaching conversation in more useful directions.


What is presupposed here?

… and if this project is successful… 
Try to stick at it 
What will it be like when you succeed? 
Do you have any questions? 
What questions do you have? 

Unconscious Presuppositions

Your beliefs and assumptions about the world will emerge as presuppositions in what you say. The client’s unconscious mind will pick up on these, even if the conscious mind doesn’t?

So, how do you ensure that your presuppositions are empowering?

The answer is to always hold in your mind an image of the learner as they will be when they have solved all their problems and achieved what they want, and to remember that they already have all the inner resources they need. This way you will not be unconsciously limiting them through the Pygmalion Effect.

This is a lot easier, as it means you don’t consciously have to craft the wording of every sentence. Holding empowering beliefs about the client is one way that the most effective coaches differ from the rest.


Questions in Coaching (2): Presuppositions

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