Coaching for Personal or Work Place Change; A process Approach

About Coaching

Coaching takes place when one person uses their expertise to assist another person to improve their performance, learn something of value and, or make changes in their thinking and behaviour that translate into a better quality of life, work, sport or interest. The term “coaching” can be used to refer to subject matter expertise, as in swimming coach or maths coach. It can also be used to mean someone who works with individuals and small groups to assist them become more able, resilient, and in tune with their lives.

“The term “coaching” can be used to refer to subject matter expertise”

In the world of personal change, there is a continuum, with psychotherapy and psychology at the most serious end, some dealing with severe mental health issues as well as less debilitating situations. These people normally have graduate or post-graduate training in their fields and rely mostly on research and evidence based skills for their therapeutic intervention tools.

In the middle is a range of therapists and coaches working with moderate to lighter issues, some of whom work to enhance functional situations as well as solving problems. Their training can range from a blend of informal non-accredited programs leading to membership of private, non-accredited professional style bodies, up to rigorous, post-graduate qualifications. Life coaches operate at the least debilitating end of the range of clients and may only have three or four weeks training or a Certificate IV qualification.

If you consider consider consulting a coach to help you solve a problem or create a future outcome, there is a wide range of offerings available. Currently, coaching is similar to the Wild West: It is unregulated, freely available, priced from a few dollars per session to thousands. Each coach has a different idea of what questions and problems are appropriate for coaching.

The questions you might have for a prospective coach are of course subjective, but the level of qualification they hold, as opposed to non-accredited training, is likely to indicate the potential quality of their work. It is also important to discover if they intend to put you through a specific program, regardless of what you present, or if they expect to tailor what they are doing to fit your responses as the session or set of sessions progresses.

You might be interested in how long a coach has been in practice and if they get good results with their clients, but do not rely on client testimonials. Many clients prefer a confidential service and giving a testimonial might not be in their interest, so an absence of testimonials cannot be equated with incompetence. Equally, a flood of testimonials does not mean you have found someone who does lasting, high quality work. You may be able to ask your prospective coach if you can talk to a client to get a reference. That is different from testimonials and can often be arranged.

The form of coaching we teach at Inspiritive in the Graduate Certificate in NLP and apply in our private practice uses patterns of thinking, communication and behaviour to offer change to clients. We attend to clients’ current patterns of thinking, communication and behaviour and work with them to provide more functional options for them to create what they want. In our opinion, coaching does not offer advice. It guides clients to learn different ideas and new perspectives so they can access the internal and external resources they need to make their own choices and decisions according to their own values.

To give an idea of how process based coaching functions, here are some frames to consider.

When a new client comes for coaching, there is information we need and there is information that many clients imagine we want, but which, for us, simply offers more detail than is useful. If a client has consulted a coach, psychologist or therapist before, or read about therapy sessions, they may assume we want to know the entire background history that led them to their present situation. Some people hold the view that the telling of their story is beneficial to them and some want to make sure we know everything possible so that we can work with them.

This is not the case with process coaching. It saves time and creates a direction to explain how we can be most useful to a client right at the start of the first session. We can tell a new client that the most effective way to work with them is for us to ask specific questions and for them to respond to those questions. Some of the questions may seem unusual and we may not ask the questions the client might expect. This is because we are working with how the client responds to their situation, not the situation itself.  

We are here to identify clients’ outcomes and change limiting patterns of thinking so that the client can learn what they need to achieve their outcomes. This is different from talking about problematic events in depth. We use the clients’ own language and thinking patterns to teach them generative skills. This enables them to become independent,  self directed people who make satisfying choices and create their own lives. To do this, we need the freedom to ask unusual questions that lead clients to think differently about their situation, often without their having to tell us what that situation is.

Coaches do not have the legal privilege of confidentiality that psychologists enjoy and even psychologists are required to report admissions of illegal activity by their clients. Our approach can offer an effective substitute for privacy. Process coaching can be entirely confidential, because we do not need to know where, when or with whom specifically, an event took place. Nor do we need to know what the event was, just the client’s internal response to it. For example, a client may say; “I have a situation at work with a senior person. It recurs roughly every week. When the senior person uses a particular voice tone or has a particular expression on their face, I feel as if I were six years old and about to be reprimanded and I don’t like it”.

A description like this tells us everything we need to begin the session and nothing to identify the kind of work, the workplace or the senior person. It provides a wonderful opening statement for change to unfold as we ask additional questions. Most new clients are not that succinct naturally, but with clear instruction and assurance that this is the quality of information we want, they discover that we can work fast and effectively and without exposing them to unpleasant memories.

A coaching session is conducted within the frame of a well formed outcome. The well formed outcome is a set markers that define and elaborate an outcome to the point of taking action if it works out, or changing it to something else that does a similar job if it fails the tests. In coaching, the coach’s outcome is to assist each client to get the best quality outcome in terms of the client’s values and choice.

“A coaching session is conducted within the frame of a well formed outcome”

The stages of a Well Formed Outcome

  • Establish what the client wants; this is an outcome
  • Establish the evidence they would see, hear, feel that proves to them that the outcome has been achieved
  • Establish what they want the outcome for, or what they want the outcome to do or provide for them; this is the intention for having the outcome
  • Establish that the outcome is physically possible to achieve
  • Identify the resources, internal and external, required for obtaining the outcome
  • Identify the costs and benefits associated with obtaining the outcome
  • Identify the consequences of having and keeping the outcome
  • Identify the appropriate time frame for achieving the outcome

In terms of a coaching session, a client is presumed to have a problem, a question or an outcome that they want to pursue with the assistance of a coach. Either way, there is a difference between their present state or situation and their desired state, or outcome.

The coach’s function is to assist the client to identify and clarify their own outcome and identify what has been preventing the client from having their outcome. Then the coach will lead the client to make changes that are consistent with the client’s values and the client meeting their outcome and intention, or having a result they find more generative and that supersedes their original outcome. With process coaching, the coach’s function is to facilitate the client’s process and the client’s choices at all times. Advice is not offered and is not part of the coach’s responsibility. This is important to remember, especially if a client seeks advice.

The beginning of a session is for introductions, describing the flow and the process and determining the present state and outcome. This sets the stage for discovering what has prevented the client from having their outcome and how to approach proposed changes. The coach will ask specific questions to gather enough sensory specific information to identify the present or problem state without going into it in detail and to develop an outcome that fits the client’s needs and wishes. The skill is in identifying the non-verbal, sensory specific elements in the client’s experience that have been making it difficult for the client to pursue their outcome successfully.

With this approach, it is rare to take a complete NLP process and use it from beginning to end. The use of process questions and directed information gathering enables a coach to keep pace with the client’s process and direct their attention while accommodating and guiding the client’s own patterns. The coach directs the process by attending to non-verbal shifts and language patterns in the client’s responses, while the client applies the coach’s questions to the content of their situation without having to say anything identifiable.

Most of the change work takes place by way of information gathering. Clients become aware of subtle signals in their experience and beliefs that have been deeply presupposed that have been directing their attention and behaviour away from their outcome. As they learn how their own process has been functioning and bring additional resources into their attention, their experience changes. In addition, there is the option of using all or parts of formal interventions in combination to facilitate clients’ changes.

This form of coaching is applicable to resolving problematic situations and generative outcomes. It works equally well with long standing and recently manifesting issues in  personal, sporting, business and workplace matters and relationships. All interventions are tailored to the client, their values and their preferences and are aligned with each client’s life and working contexts to preserve and enhance their ongoing experience.

All change work is done with the client, for the client and towards furthering the client’s outcomes. Clients are made aware that a coach cannot change them directly. It is the client who makes their changes, with guidance from the coach. Also, neither coaches nor clients nor parents nor bosses can force the other people in their lives to change. It is a fact of life that we cannot change another person. Leverage involves inducements and pressure, but even then, the subject of the inducement or sanction has to find it meaningful to them, or they will not comply. In coaching, we are dealing with freely chosen change in service to an equally freely chosen outcome.

“All change work is done with the client, for the client and towards furthering the client’s outcomes”

Where a client’s problem is apparently created by someone else, the client may start the session with certainty that someone else needs to change. However, interactions and relationships are systemic. This means that when a client changes their own state so they become comfortable and able when they are with a problematic person, the client’s presentation is different. Therefore the other person is bound to respond differently and sometimes it appears as if that person has changed. The base line outcome for a client who feels disadvantaged or unsafe when they are with a problematic person, is for the client to become naturally competent, comfortable and able in themselves, with a sense of choice; plus whatever additional outcomes and intentions they may have for themselves in those contexts. This is possible, however unlikely it may appear initially, provided the client is willing to trust that the coach is competent.  

Process coaching is made safe for clients by the frames that govern it. The absence of identifiable history and disclosure protects clients’ privacy. The absence of advice protects clients’ right to choose and decide for themselves and the coaching process is pure process. Questions and instructions are given to enable clients to attend to their own situations differently from their normal ways of thinking, to help them identify and apply resources and ideas that they would not have found by themselves. Every coach appreciates a client who is willing to learn to do something different in the privacy of their own mind. When a client is willing to explore their own process with a well trained coach, the results can be impressive.

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Is There A Coaching Model Or Template In NLP?


Coaching is a popular application for NLP patterns. The intention is to assist a client to solve one or more problems, create and discover outcomes for themselves and to provide processes whereby the client can organise their thoughts and experience to achieve their outcomes. This requires the coach to gather useful information without being drawn into stories or content, to marshall that information using their pattern detection skills and choose questions and process instructions to provide the necessary guidance to the client, all while observing non-verbal communication and listening for language patterns and speech patterns.

Coaching includes some similarities to participating in training exercises, all of which provide a context for developing skills and familiarity with NLP principles as well as processes. These include information gathering, sensory observation and calibration of an exercise partner and the capacity to ask pertinent questions and guide someone through a process. Coaching also requires additional skills and knowledge, related to framing and managing the coaching process and choosing the questions and interventions they offer to fit each client’s responses based on the patterns the client exhibits and or appears to be missing. Coaches also have to manage themselves and their context to ensure that their clients can maintain productive and resourceful states to make their changes.

A coaching session needs a framework in which to operate. While NLP does not espouse a formal model for coaching, it does include processes which lend themselves to that function. The most basic is the Present State compared with Desired State model. In this model, we seek to discover the client’s perception of their present state and their outcome or what they want instead. We can probably assume that if a client has a present state and wants a desired state, they are experiencing something preventing them from making that change by themselves. That something may become the subject of the coaching session. Minimally, it provides the starting point for gathering more information to flesh out the thinking and behaviour patterns the client has been using and the patterns they could use to greater effect.

While there is no direct mention of outcomes or intentions for outcomes, a competent coach will be aware that having a client discover an intention for wanting their outcome widens the scope for creating a satisfying and functional change that fits the client’s values and contexts. However, it is not necessarily common knowledge that change interventions are more effective if made in a larger frame (that contains one or more solutions), than the problem’s own frame (which does not contain solutions). Less experienced coaches will probably appreciate a coaching model that provides more guidance and reminds them to investigate intentions, evidence for outcomes and ecology (evidence that the changes proposed and made will be beneficial to the client and not disrupt anything in their greater system that matters to them). These concepts are instilled in a good NLP training, but may take time to become second nature.

The Outcome, Intention and Consequence process used with well formedness conditions from the Well-Formed Outcome provides a complete framework for running a single coaching session or a planned series of sessions. It can be used to create a coaching needs analysis, a proposal, a coaching contract and a coaching frame or model. The Present State – Desired State model provides enough framing to get started and then relies on the coach having sufficient expertise to ask penetrating process questions and identify and track multiple patterns simultaneously. A fully articulated outcome model provides the less experienced coach with a complete set of prompts to get them going and guide them through the coaching process, provided they have the necessary skills to be coaching in the first place.

Coaching Models: An Outcome Oriented Model

  1. Establish an Outcome
  2. Establish the intention for the outcome
  3. Establish evidence for the outcome
  4. Identify resources to achieve the outcome
  5. Check that the outcome is under the client’s aegis, (by the client and for the client)
  6. Check the consequences (costs and benefits) of getting the outcome are acceptable
  7. Check the consequences of having and maintaining the outcome are acceptable
  8. Check that the client wants that outcome and in a timely manner

1. Outcome

Establish one or more outcomes with the client and if there are several, discover if they are related or examples of something more general that might itself respond to an intervention.

2. Intentions

Identify an intention for an outcome to pursue this session. An intention, by nature provides a larger scope in which to work, thereby providing the client with more choice about what they want and how they express that. Sometimes they will prefer the content of their intention and choose to use that for an outcome.

3. Evidence

Identify sensory based evidence of the client having their outcome. What will they see, hear and feel that lets them know they have achieved their outcome.

4. Resources

Identify resources both to achieve the outcome and to facilitate the client to make the changes they want to achieve the outcome and meet the intention

Identify the present state or limiting factor. Something has been preventing the client from making the change they want or from achieving the outcome they have identified. This is likely to be something the client cannot articulate or even identify without assistance and may become the basis for an intervention.

5. Aegis

Check that the outcomes are by the client, for the client and not for third parties. (If an outcome is for someone else, go to the intention. Pursue higher levels of intention until you find one that is by the client and for the client).

6. Consequences (costs and benefits)

Check for ecology and cost-effectiveness of achieving and having the outcome. NLP change processes work best when the client is congruent about the change they ask for. However they can also work for a limited period if the client is not congruent. It is the coach’s job to ensure that the client considers how their choice fits their values and greater system.

7. Congruency

Review outcome and intention for new present state. Outcomes can evolve in the presence of new information and possibilities. Recycling through the outcome can provide further direction and updating of the client’s choices

8. Time Frame

Check that the client wants that outcome and in a timely manner

Notice that all the above is information gathering. When a coach uses this process to guide their work in a coaching context, they will learn what they need to identify and offer a suitable intervention for that client. Given that the client becomes aware of relevant material via the questioning process itself, the intervention the coach uses will be more in the way of facilitating change that has begun already. Process based information gathering can be all that is needed for some clients to make the changes they wanted.

This model does not specify skill training related matters such as the need for establishing and maintaining rapport with each client nor how and when to make or change the direction of an intervention. It is used here simply as a guide for how to frame one or more coaching sessions. Other business uses have been mentioned in passing, but this model can be used anywhere where the user needs high quality information and verifiable non-verbal delivery of that information.

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