Someone in my neighborhood lost their cat. The way I know this is because they have put dozens of signs up within about a 2-mile radius of my house. The signs are everywhere. Each sign has a photo of the cat, something about a reward, and a phone number. They are laminated and they’ve been up for weeks. If I didn’t know better, I would think the cat is running for political office. Somebody really wants their cat returned.
It’s easy to want something, but one of the signs that you really want something is the amount of time, work, attention, and energy you’re willing to invest. If you really want something, you’ll go to great lengths to get it.
One of my favorite coaching questions is “What do you want?” It’s a question that seems easy at first, but once you try to answer it, the difficulty quickly becomes apparent. The question digs down to a person’s true interests, and core desires. It’s a good question when the conversation is still unfocused, but it’s also a fantastic question when a client is describing an issue or a challenge.
One of the reasons I like the question “What do you want?” is because it sets up a powerful follow-up question. Once a client has zeroed in on what they truly want, I often ask, “What will it take to get it?” This is the question of options and cost.
Exploring options and cost is often the place a client realizes “want” is not a binary choice but a question of degree – how badly I want something determines the limitations I’ll subconsciously place on my options for what it will take. The question can also bring to the surface competing desires or at least desires that appear incompatible. It’s also a spot in the conversation where it’s important to remind the client that we are exploring, not committing. For example, I recently had a client who said he wanted his son to move out of the house and get on with his life. When I asked him what it would take to make that happen, my client immediately responded with, “I’m not going to just throw his stuff on the lawn and tell him to not come back!” His tone was downright argumentative – as if I’d explicitly suggested such a course of action.
My client was stuck in a control paradigm. The only option he could imagine was one based on controlling his son. Since he didn’t want to control his son, he subconsciously assumed he had zero reasonable options. He also had competing interests. While he wanted his son out of the house and on with his life, he also wanted a healthy, ongoing relationship with his son. He was unwilling to sacrifice his relationship with his son for the goal of his son moving out.
A third question I usually ask about this time builds on the first two: “How willing are you to pay the cost?” The question can sometimes be direct, but other times it invites the client to consider what costs he is actually willing to incur to get what he wants. So, my client was not willing to pay a damaged relationship, but he was willing to pay a price of discomfort (for himself and his son), some awkwardness, and quite a bit of uncertainty.
My client decided to start charging his son rent. He started with $20/week, with rent doubling every week up to a max of $750. He calculated it would take 4 to 5 weeks before it cost his son more to live at home than to rent an apartment. His son moved out three weeks later. My client also had to share this strategy with his son in a manner that was kind, hopeful, and respectful. He did it with compassion, telling his son that he knew it was difficult and that he believed it would take a push out of the nest to help him find his wings.
My neighbor wants her cat back so badly that she has gone to great lengths to put the odds in her favor. My client wants his son to take the next necessary step in life. And he wants it so badly that he’s willing to pay a cost: discomfort, awkwardness, uncertainty, creativity, and developing boldness that is properly matched with compassion.
When you help your clients identify what they really want, what it will cost to get it, and what they are willing to do, you have partnered with them to go beyond getting what they want. Often the lengths they have to go to in order to get what they want are worth a great deal. My client grew in compassion and boldness, traits that will serve him in areas of life far beyond the issues with his son.
As a coach, help your clients clarify what they want, what they really want. Push them to explore what getting their desire will cost them. And invite them to pay a cost for what they want. This is the journey of coaching (and the journey of life).