Blog Post: The 2nd Question Determines the Client’s Gear

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The Brain Has Three Gears – Park, Discovery, and Regurgitate

A peek into the client’s brain reveals a gear shift. There are three gears marked on the dashboard. One starts with P, another with D, and the last with R. Just like on a car, the P stands for Park. We need to get the client out of Park as quickly as possible. That gives us two gear choices: D for Discovery and R for Regurgitation. And just like on a car, D will take us forward, and R will back us up.

If the coach doesn’t choose a gear, the client will choose Regurgitation. The client begins to recount all the details of the problem so that the coach can know how to help. The problem with this mode is that the client is not technically thinking. The client is remembering and then regurgitating the information to the coach.

The gear we want for the client is Discovery. Rather than recounting all the client knows about the topic, the coach asks the client to look at the topic from a different perspective. This requires the client to think. What does the client know but doesn’t know they know?

The Second Question Determines the Gear

The first question is set in stone: What do you want to work on today? We need a place to start. Remember that the client’s response to this question isn’t necessarily well thought out. It is simply a place to begin. The coach should hold off on believing that this is the real issue the client wants to explore.

The second question is the coach’s chance to put the client’s brain into the Discovery gear. We will be tempted to ask for more information about the topic. Many beginning coaches have told me they don’t feel like they can coach unless they understand the problem. That is a very limiting belief.

The second question should provoke Discovery: What makes this topic important for you today? What would you like this situation to look like in six months? What are other people seeing about this issue that you are missing? The answers to these questions are not easily regurgitated. Most clients see what’s directly in front of them in the present moment. The coach needs to change their point of view.

Consider this analogy: The client shows up to the session in a hole. A significant problem is before them, and they don’t see any obvious way to climb out. If the coach asks a Regurgitation question, it’s as if the coach jumps into the hole with the client. Soon the coach is seeing the smooth walls of the hole, the same as the client. The coach begins to think: Wow, this is a deep hole. I’m not sure how anyone would get out of here.

However, if the coach asks a Discovery question, the coach can lift the client out of the hole, at least for a while, in order to see the situation in a whole different light. With new perspective, the client may discover there are lots of ways out of the hole. A discovery that would never have occurred if the client simply relayed all the information of which they were aware. The solution didn’t reside in the client’s current awareness. It had to be discovered.

A Recent Example

A coach asked the client what he wanted to work on today. The client said that there was an issue between two employees. One of the employees was new and had taken over the job of the second employee. The second employee worked in a different department, but sometimes their roles would overlap, and when it did, there was friction. The client finished by saying he needed to do some work on their role descriptions.

Let’s consider some second questions:

  • Tell me about the friction.
  • How often do their roles overlap?
  • Is there something else going on between the two employees?

All three of these questions, which sound like reasonable questions, will put the client into Regurgitation mode. If only the client can give the coach enough information, the coach may be able to help solve the problem.

Let’s try some different second questions:

  • What are the elements of a great role description?
  • What might need to change about you to solve this problem?
  • What gift could you give to the employees that might relieve the friction?

These three questions have one thing in common: the client can’t instantly tell the answer. The client will have to think. The client will learn more about their problem as they see the problem from a wider perspective.

Conclusion

The gears in a client’s brain are sticky. In other words, once a gear is chosen, it is difficult to shift that gear again. It might seem reasonable to leave the client in Regurgitation mode, at least at the beginning of the conversation so that the coach has a better understanding of what the client is talking about. But when that moment comes to make the client think, you’re going to hear the painful sound of grinding gears.

Instead, the coach should put the client in a Discovery gear right from the beginning. The coach will be surprised (as will the client) that the coach didn’t need more information to help the client design some action. This also greatly expands the types of problems the coach can process and takes the pressure off the coach who doesn’t want to disappoint the client who is already struggling.

The second question is crucial. Don’t ask for more information. Ask the client to think.

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