Exploring Client Behaviors

I’ve uncovered a blind spot, which I always find exciting! Because it’s often challenging to notice a blind spot in ourselves. Others most often can see in us what we cannot.

The blind spot was uncovered as a result of the mentor coaching and assessing I do, with the PCC Markers serving as a catalyst (which I also use parts of for ACC mentoring, and as a baseline/jump off point for MCC mentor coaching). I’ve noticed how few times I seem to find evidence for this marker:

Active Listening, Marker 5: “Coach inquires about or explores the client’s behaviors.”

I noticed this a few months ago, and decided to pay particular attention to listening for and finding evidence for this marker. And yet still nothing much was apparent to me. Okay, what’s going on here?!

Even one of my peers thinks that this marker is fundamental for ACC skill level coaching. What was I missing?

I had a discussion with my husband, Michael Stratford, MCC, a masterful coach, trainer of coaches and mentor, who is well versed in the markers, and a very curious person. I thought I’d share some of what came out of that discussion, with the intent that you’ll have more clarity about how to listen for, inquire, and explore client behaviors. Or maybe you already have clarity, and it’s just my blind spot!!

If you have other distinctions, please do leave your thoughts and comments at the bottom of this article.

What is ‘behavior?’

The first thought was to go to the dictionary and find the definition of ‘behavior.’ This seems to capture it;

“The way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others.”

Taking that definition, then when we inquire into HOW the client conducts themselves with others, I’m inquiring into behavior.

Here’s an example

Let’s say a manager is leading a meeting and says, “As you all know, we have a critical decision to make that will impact our core product line. I know you’re all aware of this. I’d like to hear as many ideas as possible from everyone of how else we might handle this situation so as to avoid loss of production, and loss of quality.”

The first person shares her thoughts, and the manager listens and makes little comment. Another person shares an idea and the manager says, “Well that wouldn’t work.” Who else has an idea?” Another person shares and again the manager says, “We’ve already tried something similar to that and it didn’t work. I only want new ideas. Who else?”

There’s a long pause of silence, and nobody offers further thoughts. With his hands on his hips, and an exasperated sigh, the manager says, “C’mon, I know you are smart people. What else can you think of?” A few more ideas are put forward, yet nothing the manager seems pleased with.

The coaching opportunity

Let’s say this manager is your client and you have a coaching engagement where he is working on up-leveling his communication skills, and being better at inspiring his team.

Your client (the manager) shares this with you at your next coaching session, “We have a critical situation with a product line. I called a meeting yesterday to get everyone’s ideas about how to handle, and all I got were things we’ve already tried, or are not viable. I couldn’t get any new ideas and these are all smart people.”

Here are some questions to support your client to possibly gain some awareness about his behaviors:

How did you react in the meeting when you got ideas you had already heard?

How did you manage your reaction?

What did you say that encouraged people to share their ideas?

What emotions were you feeling when you didn’t get new ideas?

How did your emotions impact what you said or did?

What did you say or do that might have discouraged people from sharing out-of-the-box ideas?

Given you’re working on inspiring your team members, what did you do toward that?

What could you have done differently to inspire them more?

Who in the meeting do you trust to ask how they perceived your effectiveness in leading that meeting?

Here’s my blind spot

For me, the obvious questions for coaches to ask about behaviors are what did you DO, and how did you ACT. I didn’t think of a reaction as a behavior, but more of a preface to what behavior might occur. However, I’m beginning to realize that if I inquire about their reaction, that is inquiring into behavior.

The same is true if I notice what seems like an uncomfortable laugh when the client is saying something to me in a coaching session. Their laugh IS a behavior. When I inquire into that laugh, I’m inquiring into their behavior, not just their perception.

I’m working to broaden my definition of behavior beyond the obvious (how did you ACT, what did you DO, what have you DONE, what can you DO…) For example, could these questions also get to client behavior?

What was the upside to how you handled that situation?

What was the downside to how you handled that situation?

How are your feelings affecting your decision-making process?

In closing…

I’m still in the inquiry of this, so again, if you have anything to contribute to further enlighten my blind spot, please leave your comments below and I’ll respond.

I’m interested to know if you think that exploring client behaviors moves beyond inquiring into what they di or how they want to do something in the future, to also including their perceptions, emotions, and reactions, which would likely influence their behavior.


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9 thoughts on “Exploring Client Behaviors

  1. As always Carly, great article.
    I’m thinking there may be greater clarity found in understanding the distinction between reactions and responses. Perhaps it’s asking about the reaction and then asking about the client’s response to that reaction. I’m thinking that a reaction can be internal therefore not a behavior until the client responds outwardly to it.

    1. Hi Lorraine, I agree with your distinction that a reaction is an internal process, and it isn’t until we consider the behavior of that thinking/feeling process that it might become a behavior. And yet I wonder if the reaction itself is a behavior? How the client speaks about their reaction, is a form of behavior? Carly

      1. I love your authenticity – thanks you for your article.
        When I think of reactions, I think automatic & knee jerk. For me, this seems to relate to my behavior – the way I act or conduct myself. Whatever the automatic reaction is, that comes from a “belief” I have about something which in turn bring about an emotion & from there the reaction. So for me finding the belief leads to the cause of the behavior.
        Also my view about response is that we respond when we are present, aware & at choice. Otherwise, we can be reactive. Novice Coach commenting

        1. Hi Nanor! I agree with what you’ve written too. Beliefs are often at the root of behavior. I wonder if that is true in all cases, or if there is a time when a belief is not driving the way we act (behave)? I’m genuinely curious about that.

          To me, no matter if we are in reaction or response, a behavior is present. It’s just a different behavior. For example. If a person gets up from their chair, head down, and walks quickly out of a meeting without saying anything to anyone, it could be seen as a reaction to something. If the same person got up out of their chair and walked out of the meeting yet smiled at the others, or stood up with a different energy, then their behavior is similar, yet quite different. Something is driving the behavior. Is that a belief? Is a reaction from a belief? Is it a response to a belief?

          Nanor, as you can see, I now have more great questions prompted by your comment!

          1. Well you are a super deep person & yes those are great question.
            I think other than beliefs, Gallup Strengths Finder’s has 34 talent themes that describes the reoccurring pattern of how one innately thinks, feels & behaves. Clearly, we are all different. So these talents are the lens from which we see the world. These ways of “seeing” things cause us to behave & often times react in a certain way all based on our talents. For example, if someone is high in the talent of competition, they will have a bigger reaction to losing than someone who doesn’t care about winning. I think talent is different from a belief.
            Very interesting to hear what you learn from your inquiry. Carly

  2. Recently, in reading Brene’ Brown’s book, Rising Strong, I came face to face with the question of what story am I telling myself when my emotions elevate to a place that might result in a regret response. With that in mind, it would have been interesting to hear what story the client was telling himself as he responded in the tone and with the words he used. Also, another possible question might be, “How was that story aligned with the story you would ideally like to be telling yourself about the way you invite and receive responses from your team, especially in a brainstorming session?”

    1. I agree Vicky. The story that we keep telling ourselves about an event, becomes or keeps our behavior (reality) where it is. Exploring our own, and our client stories, is a wonderful way to bring awareness, and then what else we can be telling ourselves, which becomes our alternate behavior (reality). Carly

  3. I had until reading this article the belief that a question *should* be using the clients language and this would make it neutral.

    for instance instead of:

    What was the *downside* to how you handled that situation?

    Wich presuposes there is a *downside* in the eyes of the coach in that situation i would have asked the question like this:

    When you say “Well that wouldn’t work.” how is this influencing collecting ideas from your team?

    in this way my contribution and biases would be minimal…

    With your examples I learned that it is fine to have biases and allow them to influence the coaching and the client yet there is another method I love to make my biases explicit…

    I would direct communicate them explicitely… for instance:

    I see someone asking for help and slaming those who are helpful in his life. 😉

    followed by a question What does this evoke in you right now?

    or another possible following question:

    is there any relationship between my perception and the dynamics with your colleagues?

    So what I have learned is that I can direct communicate my biases direct into my questions.

    Thank you for the post! It helps me accept the way I am with my clients. There were some shoulds that I eliminated and left into the past.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Ioan. I’m glad you are considering different perspectives of how to work with client behaviors. Carly

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