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It is common for coaches to explore client situations from the client’s perspective – experiences, observations, thoughts, feelings, expectations etc. What I notice a lot is that coaches not exploring wider situations, perspectives, expectations, wants and needs happening around the client or their situation. New coaches can take quite a ‘blinkered view’ in their own thinking. This then translates into the questions they ask. There is huge value in opening up the clients thinking to accommodate wider and deeper perspectives.

A more ‘systemic’ approach

As coaches develop they may well come across the work of John Whittington and his ‘Systemic Coaching’. Whilst this article is not about systemic coaching it touches on some of its most basic tenants.

Creating awareness in clients is a key purpose of coaching. This isn’t limited to just the clients self awareness.

In this context it about a client’s awareness of their stakeholders, other systems (groups and processes) and factors around their current situation. It is about considering the impact and influence from these stakeholders and systems that can exist and affect the client. Also how the client can influence these stakeholders and systems. When a client explores this a powerful shift can occur in their thinking.

I am yet to experience a coaching situation, where these things have been explored fully and the client has not achieved strong realisation that has impacted upon their approaches, behaviours, thinking and outcomes.

Developing different perspectives

By simply exploring a clients situation with open questions, new coaches bring wider thinking and consideration to their clients. Examples include:

  • Who are the key people / teams / customers in this situation?
  • Which stakeholders will be influenced or impacted by this situation?
  • Who needs to be aware or involved in this situation / actions?
  • What is the risk of not engaging with these people?
  • By involving these (people) in your exploration, what might this bring / not bring to your outcomes?
  • Who else do you need to influence to achieve your outcomes or reduce risk?
  • How might they interpret what you are trying to achieve?
  • Considering all of your stakeholders, who will be most affected / influenced by what you are trying to achieve?
  • How will you approach each of the individuals? What do you need to cover for each?
  • Which stakeholder(s) do you have to pay particular attention to?
  • Which stakeholder(s) do you have to keep particularly close and informed?
  • If X had a say in this what might they be saying about it?
  • Considering these stakeholders, what concerns might they have?
  • How could you use X in this situation?
  • How might your approach here impact upon your working relationships with these people?
  • What situations / environments or areas outside of yours do you need to consider when deciding on you options?
  • Which external situation will have most impact upon your area?
  • How will your approach influence / impact upon other areas? How will they impact? What does that mean for you and your area?
  • What are other areas doing which will influence how you approach yours?
  • How will parts of your process(es) involve others?
  • How deep is the overlap with other teams / processes/ areas?
  • What are the risks / opportunities to each of these areas with what you are trying to achieve?

Making it practical

Most of the questions used by newer coaches will take place purely on a verbal level. They often don’t think about using more experiential approaches.

By making these questions and approaches more dynamic is where the value really comes out. Depending on the client’s learning style more practical approaches can be used to get the client to ‘experience’ different perspectives.

Get the client to map out the differing stakeholders on a flip chart, post it notes or sheet of A4 starts to get them really thinking about these people or situations.

Similarly, you can go further and write the names of individual stakeholders on separate sheets of A4 and them putting them on the floor, then physically getting them to stand on each stakeholder to physically ‘be’ in that person and their thinking takes it to a whole new level. Firstly, simple approach might be:

  • Who is the biggest stakeholder out of all of these?
  • Go and stand on the stakeholder
  • As that stakeholder looking at the situation you are facing, what are you seeing?
  • How is this stakeholder viewing you?
  • Describe what these stakeholders needs might be. What are they expecting of you from this project?
  • What are they expecting from you here?
  • Describe this stakeholders particular style?
  • What’s important to them?
  • How might you influence them to agree to your approach?
  • What sort of words and language are going to work for them?
  • How might you bring them on board?
  • What particular knowledge and skill do they have that would be useful for your situation?
  • Once exhausted the client can move onto another stakeholder and so on.

Then, once completed do a review with the client

  • What’s your thinking now?
  • What did you learn from this exercise?
  • How does this influence your approach to achieving your goal?

Take your time

Finally, new coaches have a lot to consider, practice and develop. Taking the time to get the client to see different perspectives is simply an extension of existing questioning approaches. On telephone calls with coachees when I explain to them this approach I hear ‘the penny drop’. When they then play with this technique our subsequent conversations are full of the learning they have gained.

New coaches have to be deliberate in their use of it. Perhaps even being explicit with their clients. I just want to explore with you the role of other stakeholders in your situation. This focuses the mind of both client and coach.

Getting clients to think and consider through the eyes of each of these people brings very different perspectives and awareness. A line manager who views their plans through the eyes of each of their team members, may have a very different approach to the line manager that doesn’t. A leader considering a change piece through the needs of all their stakeholders may have a much more holistic style to initiating and communicating the change.