In English grammar, the concept of tense is a method that we use to refer to time: past, present and future. Many languages use tense to talk about time. Other languages have no concept of tense at all, but of course they can still talk about time using different methods.
The purpose of coaching is to help the client to reach desired future state. We need an approach for designing coaching questions that can talk about time without using tense. The approach we design must lead to client to think of his future state and be simple enough for the coach to use effortlessly.
The elegant approach is to design questions with the word “to.” The word “to” allows us to talk about time without using tense. For example, “going to” is a special construction to talk about the future; it is not a tense. “To” is a state of flow. For example, water flows to, we go to, we want to, etc. The nature of “to” makes it fluid thinking. “To ” also signals “toward response,” or, to the brain, “reward response.”
The word and concept of “to” is woven throughout the ICF Core Competencies:
Setting The Foundation: “Every coaching session will lead you to experience my demonstration of ethical and professional standards.”
Co-creating the Relationship: “To experience an effective coaching relationship, you and I will have to …”
Communicating Effectively: According to the ICF Core Competencies, active listening “allows the client to vent or ‘clear’ the situation without judgement or attachment in order to move on to next steps” (emphases mine). Active listening includes listening for the client’s use of verb tense, and carefully and deliberately moving him to use “to.”
Powerful questioning is the “ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client” (emphasis mine). By using “to,” the coach can design powerful questions that move the client to a desired future state.
Direct communication is the “ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client” (emphases mine). Effective communication entails more moving to a future state.
Facilitating Learning and Results: ICF defines creating awareness as the “ability to integrate and accurately evaluate multiple sources of information and to make interpretations that help the client to gain awareness and thereby achieve agreed-upon results” (emphases mine). Making the client realize the use of “to” in his thinking and communication increases the probability of a highly productive coaching relationship.
Designing actions is the “ability to create with the client opportunities for ongoing learning, during coaching and in work/life situations, and for taking new actions that will most effectively lead to agreed-upon coaching results” (emphases mine). Clearly, action is for reaching a desired future state. The use of “to” in an action statement seems very important.
The core competency of planning and goal setting is the “ability to develop and maintain an effective coaching plan with the client” (emphasis mine). In goal-setting, helping the client to see the trends and possible changes seems to be a normal outcome when we focus on use of “to.”
Managing progress and accountability is the “ability to hold attention on what is important for the client, and to leave responsibility with the client to take action” (emphases mine). Progress is clearly a “to” state, and so is accountability (e.g., “I am accountable to myself for …).
As you can see, many ICF Core Competencies include “to,” demonstrating the recognized power of “to.”
R R Krishna, PCC, is an Executive Coach and Cognitive Behavioral Coach with more than 30 years of experience in coaching, training and human resources. He is a Certified Master Coach through the Behavioural Coaching Institute and an Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS) Accredited Executive Coach. He also holds an Executive Masters in Neuroleadership through the NeuroLeadership Institute.
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