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The Surprising Question That Can Shift Your Entire Coaching Session

    Have you ever noticed how easily our minds gravitate towards problems? It’s human nature – our brains are wired to spot potential threats to ensure survival. This primal instinct, however helpful in some situations, can lead us to focus heavily on what’s going wrong instead of what might be going right. As coaches, we often find ourselves helping clients untangle these complex webs of problems. But what if we shifted the focus a bit?

    This shift is where the Pre-Session Change Question shines. Imagine the impact of asking “Since scheduling this session, have you noticed anything, even small, that feels a bit better?”. With this question, we open a subtle window to the world of possibilities. A client may be surprised. They were so focused on preparing to explain their struggles – now they’re invited to scan for any positive blip on the radar. It may seem counterintuitive because we might assume a client wouldn’t seek coaching if they already spotted solutions. Yet often clients are so immersed in the problem space that they miss the tiny victories or glimmers of progress already happening.

    The Pre-Session Change Question has roots in the realm of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, a school of thought premised on the belief that clients hold within them the resources and capabilities to create change. It’s not about denying problems or naively assuming they disappear overnight. It’s about planting the seed of possibility – the idea that even a small sliver of improvement is a sign of resilience, and is something to be acknowledged, nurtured, and built upon.

    This shift, even if subtle, can have profound effects on the motivation and trajectory of the coaching journey.

    Why This Question Matters

    In India, with its rich culture and traditions, there’s a deep understanding of the power of intention and perspective. The Pre-Session Change Question aligns beautifully with this philosophy. It acknowledges the inherent strengths and resources clients already possess, even amidst challenges. Here’s how it resonates in almost any coaching landscape:

    • Building Rapport and Trust: Indian culture places a high value on relationships grounded in respect, understanding, and collaboration. The Pre-Session Change Question, by focusing initially on possible positive changes, signals to the client that their voice and observations matter. It recognizes that they are an expert in their own life experiences and signals your belief in their ability to effect change. This establishes a sense of trust and fosters a strong, supportive coaching relationship.
    • Harnessing Inner Strength: Many Indian spiritual and philosophical traditions emphasize the concept of “Atma Shakti” – the inherent inner strength that exists within each individual. Sometimes, within the context of challenges, it’s easy to lose sight of that strength. The Pre-Session Change Question acts as a gentle reminder, encouraging clients to tap into their resilience. It can evoke a deeper awareness of their ability to navigate obstacles and create positive shifts in their lives.
    • Celebrating Small Victories: The Indian psyche often embraces the concept of “Sabr” – a combination of patience, perseverance, and unwavering faith. The Pre-Session Change Question, with its focus on even small wins, honours this concept. Let’s say a client shares that they managed to implement a 5-minute meditation practice in the morning amidst a hectic schedule. Recognizing this intentional effort, even if the problem isn’t fully resolved, nurtures a sense of empowerment and builds momentum. It underscores the transformative power of incremental steps and sustained effort.
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    Illustrative Example

    Imagine a young woman, Aditi, seeking coaching to improve her work-life balance. The long hours and stressful demands feel overwhelming. The Pre-Session Change Question might lead her to identify something like, “I started going for evening walks with my family, and that time together feels good.” This simple recognition provides a counterpoint to the negativity bias. It highlights Aditi’s innate desire for connection and her ability to make changes in her schedule, even small ones. This insight serves as a valuable starting point for exploring broader solutions for improved work-life harmony.

    The Pre-Session Change Question harmonizes with deep-rooted Indian philosophies, empowering clients to recognize their own capacity for resilience, resourcefulness, and the ability to create lasting change in their lives.

    Exploring the “Yes”

    Mr. Sharma’s Story

    Mr. Sharma sits down for his coaching session, a weight of exhaustion evident in his posture. A successful entrepreneur, he’s built a thriving business, yet lately, the long hours and relentless pressure have begun to take a toll. You start the session by asking the Pre-Session Change Question: “Since scheduling this appointment, have you noticed anything at all that’s been a little bit better, even in a small way?”

    Mr. Sharma pauses, thinking. Then, unexpectedly, a slight smile flickers across his face. “Actually, yes,” he admits. “This week, I finally delegated a few of those tasks that always pile up. To my surprise, everything ran smoothly.”

    Now, the magic begins! Here’s how your follow-up questions guide Mr. Sharma towards greater insights:

    • Unearthing Exceptions: “Tell me more about that delegation. What specific tasks did you let go of? And how did you feel about it initially?”
      • Mr. Sharma might explain that he delegated report generation and inventory management to his team. He might express initial nervousness about relinquishing control, followed by surprise and relief when things went well.
    • Highlighting Client Strengths: “It sounds like you took a leap of faith by delegating. That takes courage and a good understanding of your team’s capabilities. Those are valuable skills in any business.”
      • This acknowledgement shifts Mr. Sharma’s focus from fear of failure to recognition of his own decision-making strengths. It builds confidence, increasing the likelihood that he’ll continue to delegate effectively.
    • Scaling the Solution: “On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being totally overwhelmed and 10 feeling completely in control, where would you say you were before you delegated? And where are you now?”
      • Mr. Sharma might admit he was at a 3 before and now feels closer to a 5. Then you’d ask, “What might get you to a 6? Is there another task you could delegate, someone you might train, or a process you could streamline?”

    The Impact

    These follow-up questions don’t just gather information; they transform Mr. Sharma’s experience in several ways:

    • Identifying what works: Mr. Sharma now has concrete evidence that delegation, though initially nerve-wracking, leads to a more manageable workload.
    • Self-awareness: He recognizes his own courage and skill in building a capable team.
    • Progress Motivation: The scaling question visualizes success. Mr. Sharma is prompted to consider the next steps, building on this positive change.

    What started as Mr. Sharma’s small flicker of improvement, thanks to your insightful questions, has ignited a process of self-discovery and empowered him to move forward with greater confidence.

    Let’s dive deeper into ways to effectively navigate scenarios when clients respond with a discouraged “no” to the Pre-Session Change Question. Here’s a look at each strategy:

    • Acknowledging the Struggle: Empathy is paramount. Sometimes, clients simply need to feel heard and understood before they can begin to imagine change. A response like, “It sounds like this has been a very difficult time for you. It’s completely understandable that you haven’t noticed any significant changes” validates their struggle. This builds rapport and shows the client that you aren’t expecting them to put on a brave face during coaching; it’s a safe space to express the full range of their experience.
    • The Power of the “Miracle Question”: This truly is a gem of SFBT! Here’s why it’s so effective: it plants the seed of possibility without downplaying the current struggle. “Imagine tonight, while you sleep, a miracle happens. The challenges haven’t completely vanished, but when you wake up, you notice a tiny sign that things are starting to shift for the better. What would that sign be?” This question helps clients:
      • Focus on Solutions: It subtly moves them away from fixating on problems and opens their minds to even the smallest positive possibility.
      • Define what “better” looks like: This gives you valuable insight into their goals and values, providing direction for the rest of the coaching process.
      • Tap into Hope: Even imagining a ‘tiny sign’ injects a dose of hope, something clients desperately need but often struggle to access on their own.
    • Finding Past Successes: This strategy encourages a strengths-based approach and is especially helpful for clients who feel particularly stuck. “Have there been times, even brief ones, where this challenge felt a little less intense? What was happening differently during those times?”. This might involve some deeper probing, but may uncover:
      • Inner resources: They might recall being more rested or having the support of a friend, highlighting the importance of self-care and their support system.
      • Past coping skills: Perhaps they engaged in a hobby or mindfulness practice during a less stressful time. This can be re-introduced to their current situation.

    Case Study: Mr. Singh’s Shift in Perspective

    Mr. Singh, a young professional, presented with overwhelming work-related anxiety. His “no” to the Pre-Session Change Question didn’t derail the session. The Miracle Question helped him envision waking up feeling a bit more optimistic. Exploring this idea revealed that Mr. Singh had been suffering from sleep deprivation due to long working hours. This highlighted an important starting point – even though the work anxiety itself wasn’t resolved, a focus on sleep and self-care created an actionable opening for positive change, ultimately improving his ability to manage workplace challenges.

    The Pre-Session Change Question isn’t just about those “yes” moments; it’s how you respond to the “no” moments that demonstrates the true power of solution-focused coaching.

    Practical Coaching Tips

    Let’s discuss a few tips for incorporating the Pre-Session Change Question into your coaching practice:

    Timing is Key:

    • The Initial Spark: There’s something particularly potent about using this question in a first session. It establishes a solution-oriented tone from the very beginning. It demonstrates your belief in the client’s capacity for change and invites them to be co-creators of the process.
    • Check-Ins for Progress: As you suggest, using the question at the start of subsequent sessions is a brilliant way to keep solutions and progress at the forefront. “What has been better or even slightly different since our last conversation?” can uncover insights between sessions and highlight successful actions the client has taken. It also helps to calibrate your coaching approach based on the pace of their progress.
    • Client Resonance: Certainly, find wording that resonates with you as a coach and feels comfortable. But pay close attention to your client’s language too. If they are particularly focused on “moments”, mirror that in a follow-up question: “Tell me about those moments where you felt some relief? What made them different?”. It shows you’re truly listening.
    • Adapting to the Situation: There may be times when a direct question about positive change feels jarring, especially if a client is in the midst of a major crisis. In such cases, a less direct approach might be more appropriate: “Are there any areas where you feel the pressure has eased slightly, even just a bit?”

    Meet the Client Where They Are:

    • No One-Size-Fits-All: The beauty of solutions-focused coaching is its adaptability. Some clients might eagerly describe several positive shifts; others may share only one small win. Both are valuable starting points!
    • It’s About Meaning, Not Magnitude: Your role is to help clients recognize and amplify whatever they deem as positive change. It might seem insignificant to you, but if it matters to them, it’s incredibly meaningful.
    • Follow their Energy: Pay attention to where your client’s energy grows. If they light up talking about a brief moment of relaxation, spend time exploring that. Conversely, don’t force them to dwell on a “positive” change that feels forced or inauthentic.

    Additional Tip:

    • Take note of THEIR words: As clients describe positive changes, note the specific words or phrases they use. These can often be woven into powerful follow-up questions or affirmations. For example, if a client says, “I felt a bit more in control,” you might later say, “It sounds like feeling in control is important to you. How can we build upon that?”

    The Pre-Session Change Question is a simple yet deceptively powerful tool. It’s in the nuances of its use, with a keen focus on flexibility and client-centeredness, that you’ll see its true potential for transformation.

    It’s Not About Quick Fixes

    It’s crucial to remember that the Pre-Session Change Question isn’t a magic wand designed to instantly erase complex problems. Coaching, after all, isn’t about pretending difficulties don’t exist or expecting clients to manufacture sudden, dramatic transformations.

    Instead, the power of this question lies in the subtle yet profound shift it creates. It plants the seed of possibility, reminding the client that change can happen, even if it starts with small, nearly imperceptible flickers. By acknowledging the presence of such flickers, however tiny, it validates the client’s experiences while also gently challenging the “problem-saturated” mindset.

    This shift in perspective is not to be underestimated. For clients feeling hopeless or stuck, believing that positive change is even remotely possible can be a turning point. The Pre-Session Change Question ignites a spark, encouraging them to notice resources, strengths, or past successes that they may have overlooked in the shadow of the current struggle. Sometimes, this single well-timed question is enough to subtly alter the trajectory of the entire coaching journey.

    A Call to Action

    Coaches have the privilege of witnessing change. Often, true transformation begins by taking a step back, highlighting the client’s strengths, and reminding them of their capacity to navigate challenges. The Pre-Session Change Question is a simple yet profound way to do just that.

    The next time a client sits before you, instead of immediately diving into their issues, consider asking: “Since making this appointment, has there been anything, even a small spark, that feels a bit better?” You might just be amazed at the powerful journey of solutions that unfolds.


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