by Steven M. Ledbetter
3 minute read
One of the biggest problems that we coaches face is often not recognized as a problem until it’s too late. Until after a few clients have just stopped showing up. Or maybe never came back after that summer vacation. Or joined a Soul Cycle. But this problem starts on Day 1, often during the assessment or even before when we’re just making small talk.
"Our clients tell us the things they think we want to hear."
More often than not, it’s subtle. A, “I’m just looking to get a little more toned” here or an “I average about 1300kcal per day” there. They fudge numbers up or down, phrase things in certain ways, or hedge their guesses for lots of reasons. Fear of being judged, desire to connect, or just universal human cognitive biases. And it’s not just our clients. We all have cognitive biases. We all fudge and hedge. We all want someone (maybe more than one someone) to like us.
So what is a coach to do when you know that you’re being innocently lied to?
Luckily, people may be irrational, but as Dan Ariely notes, we are predictably irrational.
I have found that the creativity of the questions I ask and the way that I ask them goes a long way to getting honest (and self-honest) answers. I first started thinking about this problem when Dan John told me he stopped asking people how many vegetables they eat, “because they all lie. Instead I started asking how many colorful vegetables they eat. Just adding that word suddenly made them honest with themselves.”
It seems that by asking the unusual version of the question, the weirder version that makes the client think for half a second before the “usual” answer, is a fantastic tool to get at self-awareness (it’s also an old counseling trick). So here are a few tactics to get a little deeper and to get the client to start thinking more about what they want and what they are doing to get there.
The goal of all of these unexpected questions is to create an environment where honest self-assessment is the norm and where the client knows that you care enough to go further than the usual stuff. And that you won’t judge them, no matter what they say. They take practice to remember, but the answers are worth the effort.