Start at the end
I often look forward to this question from a potential client
“So, where do we start?”
It’s a loaded question that is at once searching for a description of the process itself as well as an expressed desire to start working on all the issues the client is bringing. But what they really want to know is where this potentially complex and daunting process will end, not where or how it will start. After all it’s already started.
So, when I hear “where do we start?” my response is often:
“Well, let’s start at the end…”
And every time a look of relief spreads across their face – even though they may not yet fully understand what’s meant. And it’s at this point that your magic question works best.
We all have our own question, I’m sure, based around an ideal outcome. But it’s more important, I believe, to connect the client more personally, more deeply to their journey than simply to ask, “If a miracle occurred and you woke up and it was all different etc ….’’
That question implies that it may actually be possible to perform a miracle, worse still that it may be you who’s going to perform it, that the client may not need to work very hard to achieve change. Which is why, I believe, that question can be a disservice to the client and to coaching in general. In every question, even a ‘magic’ one, I prefer to reinforce that this is their journey, their work, and that they really need to invest themselves in that work if they are going to grow and change. And that’s true whatever the objectives or organisational needs.
“Nobody else asked me what I’d like the coaching to achieve – what a good outcome for me would be!”
“That first meeting felt like a really useful session in itself”
With that in mind, I often say something along these lines:
“Let’s imagine that we decide to work together – it is work – and it’s six months later and it’s been really useful and successful for you…..how would you know? What would you be feeling that would confirm to you that this journey had been really worthwhile for you?”
That kind of question embodies much of what this whole approach is about. First it provides a series of triggers that allow the client to fly off in their imagination along a path, with you alongside, to a positive, truly worthwhile destination. But it’s also reinforcing that this will be their journey, their work, their investment in themselves and that the coach is purely the facilitator and catalyst for that journey. And that it will be hard work. No miracles, sorry.
I often follow up with a related question:
“So, if we do decide to work together (see C ‘Choose your clients’!) and it’s a really effective developmental journey for you, what would other people notice about you – as a colleague/as a leader/in role – how would others experience you differently?”
By now they are describing the destination, the journey and how others would experience the difference. By this point clients, the ones you’ll want to work with anyway, are invested in their work, in their journey.
Now, relax. You’ve just laid the foundation stones to a successful chemistry check.
Time to move up a level.