‘No matter what happens, we always have a choice.’ (Napz Cherub Pellazo)
‘What are your options?’ is a good question in coaching, except when it isn’t. Many people come for coaching in the first place because they face an issue or a dilemma, and they can’t see a way forward. Sabine Dembkowski and Fiona Eldridge observed this phenomenon in their article, ‘Beyond GROW’ (2023): ‘Clients often experience a stuck state…where they feel trapped as if there are no alternatives or keep circling around the same issue without being able to generate new options.’ Against this backdrop, ‘What are your options?’ can be met with a bemused, ‘I don’t know. That’s why I’m here.’
An inexperienced coach may feel stuck too at this point and perhaps, hoping to find a way through, ask something along the lines of ‘What have you already tried?’ Again, this may elicit little more than feedback on what the client has already done and found to be ineffective (which the client knows already anyway), and bring both parties back to square one. An alternative, and potentially more useful, framing could be something like, ‘Given what you have tried already, what is the crux of the issue for you now?’ This may stimulate fresh insight and, in turn, raise new possibilities into awareness.
A different approach can be to pose questions that aim to stretch the boundaries of the client’s current constructs and imagination, for example: ‘What would you do if you had a blank cheque?’ ‘What would you do if you felt no fear?’ ‘What could you do if you were not answerable to anyone?’ Claire Pedrick might invite a stuck client to generate a spectrum of options, from ‘Do nothing’ to whatever they would regard as a ‘Nuclear option’. Ian Gray deploys a fun and radical brainstorming technique, where every third option or idea must be ‘illegal, immoral or absolutely unworkable’.
If a client still feels completely stuck, I may invite them to take a large, blank sheet of paper, draw themselves at the centre, then co-create radical options in the form of a mind map. In order to help minimise the risks of instinctive psychological and emotional resistance or push back from the client, I emphasise that the options simply represent possibilities, not what the client may want or consider right to do. Against each option, I then invite the client to respond to two questions: ‘If you were to do this, what would it make possible (or right)?’ and, ‘If you were to be do this, what would you need?'
[See also: Out of the building; Worst possible idea]
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