Chapter 6 - Exploring beliefs and values

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Eliciting values

Values lie at the core of behaviour. Yet most people have only a shallow appreciation of the values they hold, where they come from, and how they influence them. By helping clients articulate their values, we create greater potential for them to achieve change, by aligning their goals and their values.

As a coach, you can:

  • Ask the coachee to identify special, peak moments in their lives, which were particularly rewarding or poignant.
  • When the coachee has a specific moment in mind, ask:
    • What was happening?
    • Who was there?
    • What was going on?
    • What was important about that?
    • What else?
  • Once a list has been established, ask the coachee to expand on each one by one asking questions such as:
  • What does truthfulness mean to you?
  • Can you make it specific – is it truthfulness or integrity or truth?
  • Repeat this exercise to ensure that, as the coachees’ self-awareness grows, their understanding becomes deeper and more effective for them.

The list of values can also be used to inform decision making using a values-based decision matrix, where coachees lists their values and score them out of 10 on their level of satisfaction. They can be challenged to take decisions based on how their values are respected or ignored for each outcome. This can also be used to review life-balance issues for coachees using the scores as stimuli for action.

Another way of eliciting values based on this model include asking the coachee:

  • To list the ‘must haves’ in their life.
  • To take what is important to them, and what others say about them, to an extreme – and focusing on what they might be.
  • To describe a time in their lives when they felt angry, frustrated or upset, and reversing the descriptions of what shows up.

To make this exercise most effective, ask the coachee to describe what values mean to them at the very start.

Challenging deeply held beliefs and assumptions

There is a wide psychological literature on self-limiting beliefs and how easily being reminded of these, even in very subtle ways, can undermine performance. Coaches also frequently encounter strong ‘implicit bias’ in clients – for example, assumptions about particular groups of people that lead to them being marginalised; or assumptions about how a leader should behave, which run contrary to evidence.

As a coach, you will need to:

  • Be attentive to statements that indicate a deeply held belief or assumption and decide whether it is in the client’s best interests to challenge this. (It may be appropriate simply to make a note of it and bring it back into the conversation at a more apposite time.)
  • Draw attention to the finality of the statement by saying something like ‘Well, that’s that then; no point in looking at that any further’ if it can be done in a way that shows the coachee the defeatism of their belief. This relieves tension and enables them to stand back from the belief and look at it more dispassionately.
  • Ask the coachee to repeat the sentence and then add ‘because…’ or ‘because, what would happen if you did…?’ When the coachee replies, say ‘And then what would happen’ or ‘And then what would you feel?’ until the coachee has reached the core belief.
  • Once the core belief has been stated, do not rush to fill the silence or provide ideas. The coachee may need to first assimilate the new idea.

Taboo areas

A great coaching question is ‘What are the topics that this team/organisation avoids talking about?’ You can, of course, also use the same question at an individual level. Almost invariably, it opens up issues that have an impact on performance.

  • Rate taboo subjects (subjects you have difficulty talking about) on a scale of 0–4 (no difficulty–high difficulty) on a table such as Table 6.1.
  • Choose two or three areas that have a degree of difficulty that makes them a challenge to discuss.
  • Explore examples in this area. This can be an occasion when you or your coachee have displayed a dealt with a difficult issue well, or more of a challenge, where there has been a failure to deal with the issue satisfactorily.
  • Explore the antecedents of this reluctance. What individual and/or collective values does this align with or conflict with?
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‘Taboo’ Area

Rating 0–4





                Emotions at work



























                Life purpose      






                Business ethics



                Office politics    



                Getting old        






                Clandestine sex               



                Abuse of power               



                Bullying at work               



                Fulfilling your dreams






























                Mental illness   









                Physical illness  



Opening up conflict









0 = No difficulty; 1 = Slight difficulty; 2 = Moderate difficulty; 3 = Strong difficulty; 4 = No way.

Table 6.1 Taboo areas table

Changing beliefs

Here we offer three core exercises:

  • Exploring values and how they are sustained by rules; examining values you move towards and values you move away from.
  • Costs and benefit of changing beliefs.
  • Process for changing beliefs.

1: Values and rules

This exercise will help the client to identify their current most important values and to understand some of the current rules that they have in place to live by these values. It will help shape these rules to better support them in achieving their goals.

  • Ask the client to list the 10 most important values they are drawn towards; and rank them in order of importance. Examples might include achievement, significance, happiness, growth and freedom.
  • Next they list the rules that they associate with each value. Ask the question ‘What has to happen in order for me to feel… [insert value]?’. An example of a rule would be ‘For me to feel respected, people would have to listen to my point of view, take my opinion into account and solicit my views’. Or, ‘I receive recognition and validation every time someone honours me by sharing his or her experiences, thoughts or feelings’.
  • Now consider values, which they are moving away from, such as rejection, failure and being embarrassed. List their top five moving-away-from values. Use questions such as ‘What are the feelings you would do almost anything to avoid having to feel?’
  • List the rules they currently have for their moving-away-from values. An example might be ‘If I don’t succeed the first time then I will have failed’ or ‘I will never ever again indulge in the consistent experience of rejection as I always have something to contribute, whether expressed or not’.

2: Cost–benefit exercise

This exercise will help your coachee to explore how holding certain beliefs can both benefit, yet also prevent them from changing aspects of their life. Here are some questions for your coachee:

  • Write down the current belief which you would like to change.
  • What are the ways in which you are benefiting from holding this belief?
  • What are the ways in which holding this belief costs you?
  • What are the benefits of changing this belief?
  • And what are the costs of changing the belief?
  • What would you like your new belief to be?

3: Belief changing exercise

This exercise helps the coachee to understand how they underpin their beliefs. This understanding allows you both to challenge those beliefs.

  • What is a limiting belief you have which you would like to change?
  • What behaviours underpin this belief?
  • Unpick the current behaviours and replace them with ones that take you towards your goals.
  • Reframe to replace the old limiting belief with a more empowering one.

Imposter syndrome

Some coachees report feeling imposters in the jobs that they do. Often this is associated with not having social confidence in carrying out their role. One senior executive coachee said: ‘It’s not that I think I can’t carry out the role; it is whether I should’, reflecting on the manual work that all other members of his family were engaged in.

To address imposter syndrome, ask the following questions to the coachee:

  • Name the condition: What would you call this set of beliefs? What do others call it?
  • Ideal state: How would you like to be? What could you realistically do to challenge your own limiting assumptions?
  • Gaining feedback to challenge assumptions: How do you gather information about how you are perceived by others? How could you gain more data?

Note:  Coaches can experience imposter syndrome themselves, especially if working with coachees who have bigger jobs than the coach has. Using a similar process in supervision can be beneficial.

Reassessing role models

Especially in our formative years, we are all influenced by role models. Mostly, this is an unconscious, uncritical process. The problem is, the stronger the role model, the more likely we are to absorb negative attitudes, behaviours and assumptions from them. Unpacking this process helps us regain our own authenticity.

The coach first asks the coachee to think of people who have had a strong, positive influence on their career or personal development. She/he asks them to:

  • Picture each individual, and remember what they looked like and sounded like (this is often best done with the eyes closed).
  • Describe in up to six words or phrases the qualities they most readily associate with this individual.
  • Describe the feelings this individual stimulated in them (and whether the memory of the person still elicits those feelings).
  • Think about the impact that person had upon their career, the choices they have made, the way that they think and so on.
  • Define, if possible, where and how they used that person as a role model.
  • Recall the limitations of that person (i.e. what were they a poor role model for? Did they fail you in any way?).
  • Consider what price, if any, that person paid for the help they gave you.
  • Consider whether how the coachee acts towards others is affected by the way this person acted towards them.

This exploration of leadership in others provides a useful basis for developing an understanding of where the coachee’s leadership values and behaviours have come from and where some of the critical gaps might lie.

The leader’s story

This technique has much in common with career pathing, but explores highs and lows, rather than decision points.

Ask your coachee to:

  • Look back upon their career (or other issue) and identify as many possible highlights.
  • These may be positioned above, below or across a horizontal line that divides them into highs and lows (although some may be both).
  • The coach explores these with the coachee asking questions such as:
    • How did you change as a result of this experience?
    • What was the impact on others?
    • Has your view of that experience changed over time?
    • How will these experiences affect the decisions and behaviours you make in the future?
    • How can you use these experiences to help others?
    • What does this review of your story tell you about your values and what’s important to you?
    • Can you connect any part of your story to a challenge you currently face? That a colleague currently faces?

What is success?

It’s easy as a coach to assume that the client has a similar concept of what success looks and feels like, but (if they have thought about it at all) people tend to have very different pictures in mind. Helping the client put some structure and clarity around what success means to them personally, in both the short-term (task-focused) and longer-term (personal purpose) helps to provide a firm foundation for exploring their issues.

The coach asks the coachee to reflect for a few minutes on their personal criteria for success. Questions to ask include:

  • What does success feel like to you?
  • How would you know when you had got there?
  • What evidence would you point to that indicates success for you?
  • How will others regard you when you are successful?
  • What about success in other areas of your life?

The meaning of success

This technique is particularly useful when coach and coachee come from different generations or different cultures. Over the past 15 years or more, one of us has asked thousands of people in workshops and seminars to undertake it. Mostly, people’s answers divide into those that emphasise achieving defined objectives and those that relate to personal achievement. However, discussion soon reveals that success is a mixture of these expectations – or more precisely, success is ‘achieving what you value’. And what you value may be very different for coach and coachee. 

  • Give the coachee a small number of generic success factors to consider. For example:
    • Money.
    • Status or peer recognition.
    • Job satisfaction.
    • Work life balance.
    • Contribution to society.
  • Allocate a number of points between these factors, according to how much they value each as part of what success means to them. Ideally, the total should be a number that can't be cleanly divided by the number of choices – so they are forced to assign priorities.
  • Do the same calculation, but looking backwards 10 years and forwards 10 years.
  • Identify what changes they see in success criteria between these dates.

Changing belief sets

This is a logical sequence of questions that aims to help people understand and questions their beliefs. This raises awareness of personal beliefs and values, with a view to initiating change.

  • What is your belief about XYZ? Can you be precise about it?
  • How consistent is this belief? In all circumstances? Most? Some?
  • Where and how do you apply this belief in practice? For example, in how you judge your own actions and motives? Those of other people? Can you give me some examples of how you have acted out of this belief?
  • Where do you think this belief comes from? (Your personal experience? Your parents? Society in general? Etc.)
  • What is the benefit of this belief to you?
    • Mentally.
    • Physically.
    • Materially.
    • Spiritually.
  • What is the benefit of this belief to others?
    • Mentally.
    • Physically.
    • Materially.
    • Spiritually.
  • How might this belief work to your disadvantage?
    • Mentally.
    • Physically.
    • Materially.
    • Spiritually.
  • What would be the value to you of a different belief?
    • Mentally.
    • Physically.
    • Materially.
    • Spiritually.
  • What would be the value to others if you have a different belief (e.g. about them)?
    • Mentally.
    • Physically.
    • Materially.
    • Spiritually.
  • What’s preventing you accepting and living out this alternative belief?
  • What would you like to do about that?

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance occurs when the client feels mental discomfort or anxiety experienced when two or more of their strongly held beliefs or assumptions are in conflict; when they feel obliged to act in a way that is contradictory to their beliefs or values, or when they are forced to acknowledge information that conflicts with their existing beliefs or values.

You can help your coachee recognise cognitive dissonance and then help them to address the issue in a more self-aware, self-honest manner. Ask the coachee to:

  • Identify a time when they have acted in cognitive dissonance. This occurs when you appear to be acting in a way or taking an attitude that is contrary to the beliefs or values you usually hold.
  • When this is the case, they need to refocus on their values, attempting to identify a different and preferably better way of resolving the conflict.
  • Use techniques such as:
  • Visualising the situation in which there would be no conflict of values or beliefs. For example, ‘Suppose you had got that job. What would you be doing and saying differently now?’
  • Quantify: ‘How big a real or potential environmental impact would there have to be for you to come to a different decision?’
  • Help identify the emotional mix. ‘How comfortable do you feel with this decision on a scale of 1–10?’ ‘What fears do you have about this?’
  • Follow the chain of reasoning:
  • If you hadn’t had to worry about people losing their jobs, what would you have decided?
  • When and where did you become aware of potential conflict of values?
  • What pressures did you feel that influenced your thinking and decisions?
  • If you could have passed the responsibility for the decision to someone else to have decided for you, what would you have wanted them to say?
  • When you look back on the decision in X months’/years’ time, do you think you will see it as short term or long term? Avoiding the issues or confronting them?
  • Does the decision you have made enhance or demean your ideal self?

Life purpose I

Purpose relates to the kind of person we want to become and how we want to contribute to society, to the organisation and other key stakeholders in our lives. The following three techniques aim to help them achieve greater clarity about this aspect of their lives and identity.

Ask your coachee to:

  • Think about the times in their life when they felt truly joyful and in the flow.
  • Discuss with their coach the top two or three talents they were using in those moments, how the experience reflected their top two passions and how they impacted other people in those moments.
  • Think of how they can contribute to improving the world – what talents are they using?
  • Put together a sentence to the effect of:

I use my (top talents) to (how you impact others) in order to (how I want to make the world a perfect place) because (I am passionate about_____).

Life purpose II

  • First write down everything you hate in the world. It could be things like smoking, drugs, poverty, violence, abuse of something, confusion.
  • Then write down everything you love to do and are good at.
  • Now ask yourself, how can I use what I love to do and am good at to make a difference to the things that I hate and would like to see change. Now you have a life purpose.

Life purpose III

The coach helps the coachee to reflect upon the questions:

  • The major contribution I want to make in the next five years is…
  • The major change I want to bring about in my (life) circumstances is…

Then the coach asks them to think about and write down the goals they have for the next 6–12 months. Then to reflect on the question:

  • How can I relate those goals to the purposes I have just defined for myself?

Building a sense of purpose

A useful set of questions to pose to clients is summarised in the acronym LIST – Life purpose, Importance, Sharing/support, Time. Use these questions to stimulate the coachee’s thinking:

L= Life purpose:

  • Whether you believe in an external agency or not, what is the reason you are alive?
  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What kind of difference do you want to make?
  • Who is your ideal self?
  • What would make you feel fulfilled?
  • When you listen to the still, small voice at your centre, what does it tell you?
  • What is the metaphor for your life purpose?

I = Importance:

  • Why does this matter to you?
  • How much for this do you need to do/how like this do you need to be to feel fulfilled?
  • How big a hole in your life will there be if you don’t make any progress toward achieving your life purpose?
  • How important does it have to be, to make you change your day-to-day priorities?

S = Share/Support:

  • Who shares your life purpose?
  • Who would you like to share it with?
  • Where can you find others who will share it?
  • How could you work with them to achieve more than you could alone?
  • Who else do you talk to about your life purpose?

T = Time:

  • How much of your time and energy do you currently spend on activities that support your life purpose, compared with time spent on other things?
  • When are you going to start investing seriously in achieving your life purpose?
  • If you have started, are you making enough progress and what can you do to make more progress?

Meaningful moments

This involves recollecting occasions that carry special meaning in terms of self-fulfilment and being aligned with our positive sense of identity. What aspects of these events do we want to reproduce in the present or future? Useful when?
Stimulate thinking using questions such as:

  • When have you felt fully at peace with yourself?
  • When have you felt that your talents have been used to their full?
  • When have you contributed most?
  • When did you feel you made a real difference?
  • When did you feel you were who you aspire to be?
  • When have you felt most alive?

Digging for holes

It’s common to have a sense that something is missing in our lives, but struggle to identify what that is.

Here, the main question to consider is ‘Where is the hole?’ For example, this may be in the client’s heart, because of a distressing relationship. Visualising what is missing in this way enables the client to build boundaries around what they are lacking in their lives and to be more rational in considering what strategies they can adopt to fill the holes and become a more complete person.

Making the right difference

Knowing what difference we want to make can be very empowering. Equally, if a client is prevented from making the difference they would most wish to, then a coach can help them identify a different, but equally or more compelling difference they can aspire to.

Useful questions in this regard include:

  • What talents do you have, that could most benefit others?
  • When you have made a difference before, what ideal were you living up to?
  • What part do other people’s opinion and responses have in determining how self-fulfilled you feel?
  • What would give you the strongest boost about how good you feel about yourself, for the least change?
  • What kind of a difference would those you respect/love like you to make?
  • Could a lot of small contributions be worth as much or more than one or two big ones?

Writing your ethical code

The Institute of Leadership & Management and Business in the Community worked together to produce a research-based report on ethics and values in business (June 2013). Two thousand business leaders and managers at all levels within organisations were surveyed about ethics at work.
Here are some of the findings

  • Nine per cent of managers have been asked to break the law at work
  • Sixty-three per cent of the managers say they have been asked to do something contrary to their own ethical code at some point in their career, Forty-three per cent of managers have been told to behave in direct violation of their organisation's own value statements.

Often in the press, scandals come out, and ultimately it is individuals that get prosecuted and their reputation ruined. How can you ensure this doesn’t happen to the coachee?

  • Think of a time (times) when you have been asked to do something that you considered to be unethical.

Answer the following questions:

    • What made the situation unethical?
    • Did you challenge the people involved?
    • Was there a whistle-blowing procedure?
    • Is it in your personal ethical code to stop the unethical behaviour or would you rather just avoid taking part yourself?
    • What are the consequences either way?
    • How do you want to be remembered: as the one who colluded or the one who exposed?
  • Write down your ethical code.
  • Consider what you would do if someone violated it.

Some ethical conflicts seem minor, but it is a good way to practice flexing your style and your approach. Getting a reputation as the one who says ‘no’ is much better than getting a reputation for some questionable activities.

Exploring values

This is one of a number of approaches to helping people clarify and feel comfortable with their values. If the aim of coaching is to help people have conversations that appropriately link their internal and external worlds, then understanding personal values contributes by raising awareness not just of what is important to them, but why and what the implications of holding a particular value are.

The coach initiates a discussion around a variety of themes, about which the coachee is likely to hold strong values, starting with those closest to the coachee and working outwards. Key questions include:

  • What causes you to have strong positive and negative experiences about…?
  • What’s most important to you about …?

The progression can be seen as a step-by-step expansion through four worlds.

The inner world

  • What you feel you need to live up to.
  • Who you feel you are.
  • What raises/lowers your self-respect.
  • What you feel you have achieved in life.
  • What you feel you still have to achieve.
  • What gives you a purpose in life?

The world of close others

  • Who do you most care about and why?
  • What is it about these relationships that you value?
  • What things (as opposed to people) do you value?
  • What makes you feel good/bad about these people?

The outer world

  • Who you work for/with.
  • Where you live.

The distant world

  • What values do you hold about the environment? Foreign aid? Economic migration? Climate change?

You can then use these insights by the individual to help them apply their values more consciously to issues they are facing. You could ask the coachee whether their answers reflect how they would like to be or see themselves rather than what their behaviours and actions say about them.

The values matrix

This provides a straightforward method for exploring values and it works particularly well across barriers of racial, cultural or gender difference.

  • Select one situation or issue.
  • Consider the values matrix, filling in the four quadrants, giving the coach valuable insights into what makes the coachee tick and what drives their responses in situations they encounter.
  • Sharing these differences may be the first steps in helping the coachee examine their values and perhaps changing them.
  Download Table





  • Who are you currently?
  • Who do you aspire to be?
  • What makes you feel good/bad about yourself?
  • What are you best at?
  • What is your responsibility towards other people?
  • What do you want to give?


  • How do you want others to perceive you?
  • Who do you want to impress or have an impact on?
  • What are your expectations of other people’s responsibility towards you?
  • What do you want to receive from others?

Table 6.2  The values matrix

Self-image in Table 6.2 concerns how the individual sees themselves, both as they are and as the person they strive to be. This is important for putting goals into context and often provides numerous points of similarity and hence empathy with the coach. Not surprisingly, there may be large gaps between their actual and desired personae.

Other-image concerns how the person wants to be seen by other people, and how they think they are seen by those people. Useful subsidiary issues here are who these people are, i.e. whose opinion of them is particularly influential. Again, there may be considerable gaps between how they want to be seen and how they think they are seen.

Self-responsibility concerns who the person feels responsibilities toward and the nature of those responsibilities. A recurrent issue here is the degree of willingness the coachee feels towards this responsibility: is it a privilege or an obligation?
Other-responsibility concerns the coachee’s expectations of other people. What is ‘right’ in the way other people should behave towards them? People who are inner directed (i.e. feel that they can control and are responsible for what happens to them) will tend to have very different values from people who are outer-directed (i.e. feel that the responsibility for their circumstances lies elsewhere).

Personal credo

The aim in this exercise is to help the client encapsulate their sense of purpose, or identity, or a mixture of the two.

Ask your coachee to draft a personal motto that describes how they try to live their life, such as ‘winners never quit, quitters never win’. Alternatively, you could ask them what they would like to have on a family coat of arms? For example, ‘From thorns come grapes’.

The epitaph/memorial/leaving speech

Particularly as people enter late middle age, the ‘generative effect’ kicks in – an increasing need to leave a positive legacy. There are various ways in which we can encourage the client to think about what they would like to leave behind them, either in terms of achievements that benefit others, or in how they will be remembered. Then, of course, we can explore whether and to what extent what they do and how they behave now are taking them towards or away from this goal. Here are a couple of simple methods.

Ask your coachee to write their obituary using no more than 100 words to describe their life and achievements. Alternatively, using no more than 25 words, ask them to consider what they would like to have as an epitaph. If that seems too depressing, then ask your coachee to write their own leaving speech which they would like to hear if they were to leave their current organisation or retire.

Throw away a role

This tool is about helping the client establish what is most and least important in their lives. We all adopt multiple roles, some consciously, some unconsciously. Some we seek and welcome; others are imposed on us. Coaching is at one level about making better informed choices, so here we clarify the various roles the client performs and help them choose how much of their time and energy each should consume.

  • Ask your coachee to imagine the roles that they play in their life and to write these down on different pieces of paper, e.g. husband/wife, manager/director, member of a sports club.
  • Now ask them to select a role that is least important to them and ‘throw it away’.
  • Reflect on how their life would be if they did not have this role anymore. What was important about this role? Repeat this process until you have thrown all the roles away.

The transcript reflection technique

An issue discussed in one coaching session may appear to the coach and coachee in a different light later on. The transcript reflection technique involves making a transcript of the coaching session and analysing it at a later point, in order to arrive at a new or deeper understanding. The steps are:

Record the coaching session, and type up the transcript. Always ask the coachee for permission to record before a session, and remember they are free to decline.

The transcript is then sent back to the coachee, and both the coachee and coach read it, some days after the original coaching session. Send the recording as well as the transcript to the coachee as they may prefer to listen to the session again rather than to read the transcript, although this does make it more difficult to analyse it. 

  • Both coachee and coach ‘mark up’ the transcript, writing comments in the margins.
  • This can be done on a number of levels, depending on how far your coachee wants to read into their words and what they are trying to achieve. For example:
    • A coachee who is trying to make some quick changes, may reread the transcript, noting down all the action points that were mentioned, and checking that they had carried them out.
    • A coachee who wanted to become aware of thought patterns or ways of thinking and perceiving a situation would look for themes in the transcript.
    • A coachee who wanted to examine their values would analyse the transcript and identify key relationships, processes and assumptions that structure the text, and by extrapolation, their world. They could go one step further and try to identify what these mean for them.
    • They can also look at the language used, such as metaphors.
    • Coach and coachee could also identify emotional responses represented by, for example, talking fast and fluently, indicating a positive engagement.
  • The coachee and coach could summarise the main themes and discuss it as part of the next coaching session. 

Career metaphor

A career is for many people a large part of how they establish their identity and create meaning for themselves. As such, it is closely connected to their personal narratives. So one way to help them reflect on their careers is to explore those narratives by expressing them as metaphors.

  • The coachee is invited to think of a metaphor to describe their career. The metaphor can be about anything that is vivid for the coachee. It can also be a map of different career metaphors.
  Download Figure fig_6.1

The coach can then ask questions along the lines of:

  • Which of these quadrants (see Figure 6.1) do you see your own career as being in at present?
  • Are there any other quadrants that appear more attractive?
  • What do you need to do that will help you to move positions within this map?

Competing commitments

A classic truism in coaching is that, in order to bring about a desired change, it is as important to be aware of what we are going to stop doing, or do less of, as of what we do want to do. Consciously or unconsciously, our time, attention and energy are often taken up by things that don’t contribute to achieving the desired change. So the coach can help the client develop the habit of recognising and managing these competing commitments.

  • Commitment: Identify something that is important to you to have or that you value which you don’t have yet in your life. Make this commitment explicit by completing the stem ‘I am committed to...’
  • Behaviour: Given that the commitment you have just identified is not being fulfilled in your life, complete the stem: ‘What I’m doing, or not doing, that is preventing my commitment being fully realised is...’
  • Competing Commitment: Given what you’re doing, or not doing, what does this suggest you’re actually committed to (the competing commitment)? Complete the stem: ‘I may also be committed to...’
  • Big Assumption: Driving your competing commitment will be an assumption that you treat as true. To uncover this Big Assumption, complete the stem ‘I assume that if my competing commitment is (not) met…’ with how you might feel then. (If you come up with something that unnerves you a little, then you are probably on track. If you come up with something noble, you probably need to try again!)

Sometimes merely being aware of the conflicting comments allows us to change our behaviour. If not, one way forward is to find ways to challenge the Big Assumption. As we recognise that the Big Assumption is not the truth, we free ourselves to achieve our commitments.

Are you committed to pursuing this goal?

If your coachee does not feel that they have energy for a particular goal, it is important to explore whether they want to pursue it. For the coach and the coachee to invest resource and energy in pursuing a goal, to which the coachee is not committed, is pointless. It is also likely to undermine the relationship.

Reasons not to commit to a goal include:

  • Not perceiving the issue to be serious enough (especially in relation to other changes, which you regard as having greater urgency).
  • Having no emotional commitment.
  • Inner conflict with one’s values.
  • A perception that the effort:reward ratio is inadequate.
  • Lack of self-confidence.
  •  ‘I won’t get the support I need’.
  • A perception that the other party(ies) is not really that bothered whether the change happens or not – ‘Next time, he/they will pick on something completely different’.

The meaning of YES!

Being self-honest about just how committed we are to a course of action isn’t always easy. This is a simple approach to bringing some clarity to just how motivated we are to fulfil the task.

  • Ask the client to be as candid as possible about where on the scale their level of commitment lies (see Table 6.3). Anything below a six is unlikely to happen!
  • Based on the response, explore whether the client should let go of this task (admit it’s not going to get done and stop worrying about it) or explore tactics to increase their motivation to achieve it.

Table 6.3 Level of commitment

  Download Table

10 I am totally determined to achieve this whatever the cost

9 I am very determined to do this and I’m prepared to make major sacrifices to do so

8 I will make this my number one priority

7 This will be one of my key priorities

6 It’s very important to me

5 It’s quite important to me

4 I feel obligated to do this

3 I’m not sure this is what I really want

2 I’m quite reluctant

1 Over my dead body!

Really helpful questions

  • What are your values towards others?
  • What are your values towards yourself?
  • What are the connecting values between these?
  • What are the organisation's values?
  • What are your core values?
  • Where are they most and least aligned?