Whose perspective is it anyway?

As a result of questions a coach asks, or observations a coach offers, clients will often say something like;

“I’ve never thought of ‘it’ (my situation or myself) in that way before.”

“That’s a different way for me to look at ‘this’ (my situation or myself) and never occurred to me until now.”

What that often indicates is the client has experienced a change in their view-point and are now aware of a different perspective that can support them to re-frame or re-view how they are thinking or feeling about themselves or their circumstances.

As a long term coach, mentor coach and ICF Assessor for ACC, PCC and MCC credential skills level, I’ve observed time and again that most effective, and transformational coaching, involves perspective shifts being experienced by the client, about themselves and/or their circumstances.


What is Perspective?

A definition of perspective is, “a particular way of considering something.”

A particular way of considering something, translates into coaching as;

  • Current Reality – What is the client current experience of “reality.”
  • Desired Reality – What does the client want instead, which could be their desired or different experience of their current reality, or what they envision for a future point.
  • Gap – What’s in between their current reality and their desired reality?

“If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” ~ Mary Engelbreit


An example

Let’s say a client is feeling “unsettled” about something in their current reality.

Example questions coach might ask about client current reality;

  • What does “unsettled” mean to you?
  • How do you know you’re feeling unsettled?
  • What indicates to you that you are experiencing “unsettled?”
  • How would others know you were feeling “unsettled?”

Some clients might respond with a metaphor that engages more of their sensory experience (seeing, sensing, feeling), for example, “Unsettled feels like I’m pushing a boulder up a hill…”

Further exploration of client metaphor might support client ability to perceive different perspectives.

Example questions might be;

  • What are you aware of as you push a boulder up a hill?
  • What are you saying to yourself as you push a boulder up a hill?
  • What’s unsettling about the boulder?
  • How big is the hill?
  • What type of boulder is it?
  • Where is your hill?

Note: It’s important the coach listen for how many questions the client wants, and can partner with the client such as, “What’s useful for you to explore about your boulder up a hill metaphor?”


Once the client has explored their current metaphor to the degree that the client wants to, coach might ask the client about a different metaphor if client hasn’t already naturally started to imagine one. For example, assuming client has said they want to feel “settled” instead, coach could inquire, “What metaphor would you use for feeling “settled?”

A shift in perspective can occur in client current reality, desired reality or both. For the client to clarify what needs to happen for them to shift from their current to their desired reality, can be empowering for them.


Client non-verbal communication

Some clients use hand, facial or body gestures as they speak. For example, one person may roll their hands in a circle as they speak. Coach could observe this behavior to the client, “I notice as you said you were feeling unsettled you were using your hands in a circular motion; what were you motioning?”

Exploring client observable somatic information can be an entry point into client connecting more to their inner experiences. Some clients will want to explore their body sensations, and other clients will not. Coach is seeking to be responsive to the client way of expression rather than coach leading the client based on coach preferences or coach training. For example, if a client is using metaphor or visual concepts and their coach instead has a preference for cognitive/thinking and problem-solving using logic, this can be a mismatch, with the client lowering their ability to trust their way of exploring “their world.”


Be present with where the client is

As a client speaks about themselves in their circumstances, the client is having a real-time in-body, in-thought, or in-feeling experience. The coach isn’t having the same experience as the client. The coach needs to pay very close attention to what is occurring with the client, rather than thinking about what the coach will say next.

Most often, a coach who interrupts their client has stopped listening and is often more present to their own thoughts or feelings, including coach ideas to “problem-solve” the client. When a coach isn’t present with their client, they often miss the question to ask or the observation to offer that might support their client to become aware of a different perspective about their current, or desired reality.

For example, coach might assume what “feeling unsettled” means. Or assume client wants to feel “settled” when that might not be their desired way of feeling.

Being curious, attentive and present to a client takes practice for most coaches to become masterful at. We want our client to have the endorphin rush that comes from them discovering things about themselves or their circumstances, that provide different perspectives for them to then act on.

The title of this article, is “Whose perspective is it anyway?” It’s always the client perspective that’s important.


Acknowledge you hear where your client is now

It’s the job of a coach to be present and hear where the client is now. It’s really challenging for most people to consider a different way of perceiving something about themselves or their circumstances if they don’t feel heard.

Think of when you’ve been angry with someone you are speaking with. If the other person acts as if you’re not angry, feelings of anger escalate.

Another possibility is a client may not always want to be in a different reality, and instead want to find ways to live with and accept their current reality. Which in itself may be a perspective shift 😊.


Use of client verbal and non-verbal communication

When we match the way our client speaks, the client is more likely to feel heard, and have trust in the coach. For example, it’s much better to first listen for client use of metaphor and work with that than for the coach to give their own metaphor.

Same with body gestures; watch for client use of their face, hands or body to inquire about, as observing non-verbal communication in a non-judgmental way is a gift coaches can offer to clients.

Noticing and using the client “world” of words, concepts and body gestures can become powerful ways to engage in client understanding themselves and their circumstances. Exploring the client world further can provide the client with ownership for changes in the way they are perceiving themselves and/or their circumstances.


In Closing…

It usually takes consistent and ongoing practice to become really good at improvising in the moment to craft questions using client metaphorical words. It’s like we have to “get in the gym” (yes a metaphor 😊) between coaching sessions and to build our “muscles” to craft customized questions.

What I often do is write down words and phrases a client says, and take some time post-session to craft other possible questions I could have asked using those words and concepts. This builds my capability to be more creative in-the-moment in a coaching session.

I’ve also previously written about using coaching session transcripts to practice crafting customized questions.

What different perspectives are you now aware of, having read this article? 😊

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC


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