Be a better coach… let the pea emerge

Princess and the Pea

As High Performance coaches, we often coach our clients through limiting beliefs. Clients tell us what they want and then we ask them what’s been getting in the way of them having ‘it.’ Most of the time, we need to ask several questions – dig at least 5 levels deep – in order to find the underlying belief that is driving the thought driving the emotion driving the behavior.


Once we have identified the underlying belief that is holding them back we can then work with our clients to change their belief into something that is aligned and congruent with what they say they want.


This type of coaching can produce transformational results. Sometimes. But there is a deeper style of coaching that is far more effective at the level of true growth and awareness. And that is coaching for insights instead of through beliefs.


At its core, coaching for insights can be summed up as talking less, listening more and really holding the space to allow the client to arrive at his or her own distinctions. We claim this IS what we do but we don’t do it in practice. Not really. Or rarely. Most coaches rush in to solve ‘the problem’ at the first identifiable hurdle.


The master coach rarely, if ever, provides a solution. Because at the core, there are no problems. Only insights and deeper levels of awareness. The master coach asks questions and then holds the space.


In terms of results, coaching through beliefs provides our clients with powerful tools and resources they can use with deliberate intention in order to create lasting change. The weakness of this is that it requires the client to consistently and persistently apply these tools day in and day out before that change is embedded. It works from the outside in. Coaching for insight on the other hand creates a space that allows a deep internal shift in awareness which initiates the process of deep transformation from the inside out.


Here are 7 tips to keep you in the coaching-for-insight space:


  1. Practice the 80/20 rule – as a coach, you should be listening 80% of the time and speaking 20% of the time.
  2. Get comfortable with uncomfortable silence.
  3. Be willing to ask dumb questions.
  4. Don’t be attached to your clients having a breakthrough. Its always cool when your client has a breakthrough but when you’re attached to that as an outcome you’re setting an agenda that is more about you then them and you’ll be steering them (unconsciously or consciously) to an ‘A Ha’ that might not even be real for them. Many times the most dramatic breakthroughs come in the plainest packages.
  5. When you think the client is ‘there’, go even deeper. When a client says ‘thank you’ at the end of what feels like a massive insight, they are wanting you to stop. THAT is the perfect time to go even deeper because that “thank you” is often an indicator that the ego is uncomfortable and feeling vulnerable – and now you’re in the zone of the REAL truth.
  6. When a client diverts attention from the topic (eg makes a quip, changes the subject, asks a question back, makes a joke, deflects etc) be courageous enough to hold them in the discomfort.
  7. It is not always necessary or appropriate to ‘close the loop’ at the end of a coaching session by asking a client to commit to action. When a client has a true insight, leaving that door open can help them deepen, further and anchor their insights.



Think of ‘The Princess and the Pea’ as a metaphor for coaching for insight. If you were coaching through beliefs, you’d immediately find ‘the issue’ within the stack of 100 mattresses. All those mattresses might be an ‘obvious’ problem. If you were coaching for insight, you’d ignore the obvious and go deeper and deeper until the pea emerged.


Just remember, YOU as the coach don’t need to see the pea. Its not our job to solve the problem or find the solution. The greatest coaches in the world – just like the greatest writers in the world – keep it simple, sunshine. Holding space effectively  – as ‘simple’ as that might be – is in fact one of the most powerful and transformational skills you could ever master.

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