Developing Options

Developing Options

Problem-solving and overcoming challenges can be tricky business, especially for coaches. This article was written for coaches but the learning in here can be used by everyone. How do you motivate someone to tackle their problems head on? One tenet to keep in mind is: People are more invested in solutions they come up with themselves.

Generating options by asking your coachee to think, instead of offering advice or solutions, is one of the most important tactics a coach can use. Let’s take a look at five techniques coaches can use to help their coachees develop options taken from the book Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills. Another great book about developing and expanding one’s options that also inspired this post is Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath. I highly recommend both these books to any coach trying to develop their coaching acumen.

The “Five Options” Technique

When people are stuck their innate ability to “think outside the box” can become limited. When we are mulling over a challenge we face on our own, we tend to stop thinking creatively after coming up with two or three options. If those options don’t look very attractive, that is when we can get stuck.

The “Five Options” technique gets people unstuck by pushing them beyond their initial set of options and back into a creative way of thinking. Simply ask for at least five potential solutions to their problem, and keep asking until you get at least five.

Questions to ask include:

  • “Give me five options for how you could tackle this challenge.”
  • “Give me another option.”
  • “What else could you do?”

The “Obstacle” Approach

This approach gets people thinking creatively by starting with the barriers someone has run up against. Instead of thinking of how to get from point A to point B, the goal is to identify what’s standing in the way between these two points. Then, you job is to help your coachee develop solutions to overcoming those obstacles. Consider asking questions like this:

  • “What is stopping you from reaching your objective?”
  • “What do you need that you don’t have to reach your goal?”
  • “Who do you know that could help you with this?”
  • “How could you remove your obstacle?”

The “Ideal Future” Technique

This technique asks the coachee to conceptualize his or her ideal future or their best possible perceived outcome, and then work backward to the present. When we start problem-solving by thinking about the present we often get stuck, because all we see are obstacles (ex. time and money constraints). Taking the mind to a future-state and examining what success looks and feels like in this state removes present-state constraints. By visualizing and experiencing our desired future, we often also gain the motivation needed to overcome any current obstacles in our way.

  • Step 1: Identity a goal or dream. Ask: “Where would you like to be with this in three to six months?”
  • Step 2: Go to the end. Take the person to a point in the future when the goal has come to pass. Ask: “Imagine that it is 90 days (or six months, or a year) in the future, and you’ve achieved this goal. Take me there and tell me about it.”
  • Step 3: Visualize the ideal outcome. Ask the person to picture their ideal future in detail. Ask: “Imagine you are in the future right now and you’ve achieved everything you want to achieve. Envision it in specific detail. What do you see and feel? What has happened?”
  • Step 4: Work backward to the present to develop a solution. “What do you need to realize the future you just described? What steps do you need to take to get there?”

The “Transformational” Approach

Sometimes the best solution comes through asking your coachees to transform who they are (including attitudes, expectations, and/or their responses). Instead of trying to change their outward circumstances (usually impossible anyway), get them to think about how they could change themselves. Start this conversation by asking: “What could you alter about yourself today that would improve your situation and/or improve your future outlook?”

Thinking Outside the Box

As I stated before, sometimes we can get stuck inside a box and all our potential solutions fall within the boundaries of that box, true for the coachee as much for the coach in certain circumstances. For instance, it is easy to look only at options a coachee thinks will fit in a certain schedule or limited budget. He or she may falsely believe being happy is impossible unless something and/or someone else changes. Get them out of that box by asking questions like:

  • “If you saw yourself as powerful instead of powerless, what would you do?”
  • “If this were a life-or-death situation, what other resources could you tap into?”
  • “What if your schedule or budget was unlimited? If you had more time and money, what other options would you have?”
  • “Your options seem to be shaped by a certain belief… Does that belief work here? Could adjusting or reevaluating your point of view lead to some better options?”

Helping your coachees develop their own options empowers them and allows them to become more invested in the solution to their problems. Use these techniques to arm them with the tools and information they need to succeed — and you’ll succeed too!