Blog Post: A Tool that Creates Possibilities


A coach can open up a client’s world by making them aware that there are an infinite number of possibilities between two choices. I had a client who wasn’t sure whether to speak up in a meeting. Someone had said something that my client had considered at best wrong and at worst offensive. He chose to keep silent for concern of making the entire situation even worse. His decision wasn’t resting well with him.

During the coaching, I commented there were numerous ways he could have responded. He could have raised a question, he could have respectfully disagreed, or he could have condemned the other person’s statement. The awareness that he had many possible responses relieved him of the distress of choosing between two extremes.

We want to be careful as coaches to not suggest solutions. I may have gone too far. It is possible that my client didn’t need relief, in fact, he may have needed to learn how to be forceful in a meeting when inappropriate comments are made. We need to be very slow in making observations in case they are solutions in disguise.

My experience, however, does suggest that many clients need to have their perspective stretched. Many clients are thinking about the current moment rather than the future or the past. They tend to consider change to be instantaneous rather than a slow, cloudy transformation. They are looking at a one-dimensional point rather than a two-dimensional line.

Another client was struggling with the many stresses involved in organizational transition. He was stressed out because what used to work didn’t work anymore, and he hadn’t yet figured out what would work going forward. I showed him a model that suggested three phases in a transition – the old way, the unknown, and the new way. We spent the rest of the session recording the client’s new awareness about his situation since he realized he was in the middle phase of the transition, rather than on one side or the other. This changed his perspective.

The root of this awareness is that we can change the client’s perspective by introducing the concept of a spectrum. Wikipedia defines a spectrum as “a condition that is not limited to a specific set of values but can vary, without steps, across a continuum.” In other words, there are unlimited possibilities between two points.

One spectrum you might be familiar with is the light spectrum. As a boy, I learned that the colors of the rainbow could be remembered by the pneumonic ROY G BIV. The rainbow starts with red and ends with violet. But there are more than seven colors in a rainbow. In fact, there are an infinite number.

When we hear a client struggling between two options, it may be time to introduce the concept of a spectrum. Here are a couple things to consider when introducing the spectrum.

  1. Don’t place any parts of the client’s dilemma on the spectrum. The spectrum is there to unleash the client’s awareness. Don’t do any of the work for them. Don’t ask questions that lead the client to look at any one part of the spectrum. Encourage the client to do this work on their own.
  2. The two points of the client’s dilemma my not be the ends. With the rainbow, we can’t see it but we know that infrared light is on the spectrum to left of red. And we know that ultraviolet light is on the spectrum to the right of violet. What I didn’t know was that microwaves are to the left of infrared and X-rays are to the right of ultraviolet. Clients don’t often look at the extremes but new awareness can be found there, as long as it continues to be helpful.
  3. The usefulness of a spectrum can reach its limits. A binary choice would be to say someone is conservative or liberal. A spectrum would be to say that you could lean one way or another. You could be a conservative liberal or a liberal conservative. But this still limits the possibilities of expressing someone’s political position. A person could be very liberal on one issue and very conservative on another. There may be another position that doesn’t fit anywhere on the spectrum at all.

Introducing the concept of a spectrum can a great tool of awareness in your conversations. Be hesitant with its introduction and handle it with a light touch. Give the client as little as needed to stimulate a larger perspective and a broader awareness. Used correctly, your clients will appreciate this tool that quickly expands possibilities.

1 thought on “A Tool that Creates Possibilities”

  1. Hi Brian Miller, as always, enjoyed yet another great blog by you. Your following statement is so true in that, “We need to be very slow in making observations in case they are solutions in disguise.” Such a great reminder that our clients are capable, resourceful and whole and have everything they need within themselves. All they need is just more access to the water they already posses. I do have one question for you. The model that suggested the three phases of transition, was that the Bridge exercise? Thanks again Brian for sharing on this topic. Always good and encouraging stuff for us coaches.

    Thanks CAM!

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