I am sometimes asked how we can guarantee a personal breakthrough in thinking in less than 180 minutes.

It sounds unusual (most breakthroughs do at first) but the biggest obstacle to helping a client get the clarity at the velocity required for a real breakthrough is the coach polluting the session with their own content and interpretation.

This is why:

In order for there to be a successful coaching relationship there are two necessary conditions.

The first is the need for complete ownership of the thinking and solution by the client. The other, often unspoken, condition is the need for the coach to maintain credibility and trust.

It is logical that in order for a client to have complete ownership of the outcome all of the content and the thinking must belong to them. Indeed this is the foundation of the Socratic method which has formed the basis of psychological and educational practices for many years.

However, in order to maintain credibility and trust there is a significant pressure on the coach to bring their content and their interpretation of things to the coaching session. The client does not own this content nor do they interpret things in the same way. This new content and interpretation forces the client into the unknown. It is often argued by coaches that exploring the unknown is the whole point.

But, there is a problem.

Unknown content and interpretation causes uncertainty. Neuroscience is now telling us that this uncertainty causes our thinking to slow down. We also resist the unknown until we can get comfortable with the new information. Slow thinking and resistance to change are the arch enemies of a breakthrough.

So how do we create a coaching environment where the client has full ownership of the content and interpretation, is unlikely to resist change, and where the coach maintains credibility and trust without bringing their content or interpretation to the session?

To answer this we have to test the assumption that the only way to maintain credibility and trust is through delivering content knowledge. That is usually how coaching is done. We also have to test the assumption that not bringing content to a coaching session will result in a loss of credibility and trust.

What we have discovered is that neither of these assumptions are true provided that certain conditions exist:

  1. The knowledge that the coach brings to the session is only about how to think (the process of thinking) not what to think about (content).
  2. The thinking process must help clients get rapid clarity in their thinking and on their content.
  3. If the client identifies content they think is missing the coach helps the client build an action plan to get the content rather than be the source of it.
  4. If the coach is asked to provide content they acknowledge it is their content before delivering it (we avoid this where possible as in our view it becomes tutoring not coaching and it will reduce the probability of a breakthrough).
  5. The breakthrough is guaranteed so there is no psychological or financial risk to the client.
  6. The coach is proficient in the thinking processes themselves.
  7. The session is well structured so that thinking is extremely focused.

By ensuring each of these 7 conditions exist it is possible for a client to have a personal breakthrough in 180 minutes or less. If any one of these conditions is missing a real breakthrough is less likely.

Of course, having a breakthrough and acting on it are two very different things.