When clients ignore their strengths

A friend from our free meetups and exchanges (link to register below) was telling us a story that all coaches can relate to. She was coaching a young woman who for the life of her did not want to admit that she has done anything well. The client had an impressive CV, multiple languages, multiple post-graduate certification, a highly sought-after profile. She was looking to find a new job and was engaging in coaching to prepare for job interviews.

When our friend asked her what her strengths are, she went silent. “Nothing much”, she said. And when asked what her friends and family would say her strengths are, she replied: “I throw nice parties.” Whatever coaching move our friend tried — the client would or could not talk about things that she does well.

Now, what to do? Here are some coaching moves that might be helpful:

Describe first

It is much easier to describe and tell a story than to interpret and talk about a general “strength”. So start by asking questions like:

  • What is a moment in your work life that you are a proud of?
  • When did you feel happy and fulfilled at work? (probably even easer than “proud”)
  • What did you do that contributed to that?
  • Was there a time where things could have gone wrong but did not?

Describing moments of joy, motivation and fulfillment at work is socially acceptable, fun and uplifting.

Invite to talk about team success

When talking about these moments, you can inquire about the team that made it possible:

  • Who contributed to the joy, the success, the motivation?
  • What did they do?
  • How did you respond?

Invite to talk about details

Invite the client to talk about the details of the story.

  • When your team was successful and joyful, what did everyone do?
  • What did you do?

Invite to talk about contributions

When the joyful, motivated, successful situation has been described, there might be a feeling of joy and maybe even a bit of pride in the air. Now it might be easier to talk about the client’s contribution:

  • What did you contribute to the success?
  • If you had wanted to mess this up, what would you have needed to do?
  • Oh, you did not?
  • What did you do instead?

Invite to talk about learnings

A skill or a strengths are usually learned or developed over time. In order to become aware of one’s strengths talking about how they were developed is an interesting exploration:

  • Where did you learn to do that (the contribution)?
  • Who taught you?
  • Who is the person who might be least surprised that you were able to learn this?

Ask for a perspective change

You can probably leave it at “learnings” because clients can draw their own conclusions when they describe what they did. If you are preparing someone for a job interview, it might be helpful to gather language that the client might use in the interview:

  • What would your team say about you?
  • What would the person who is not surprised that you learned this say about you?

I hope these ideas are helpful — do come to our free meetups and exchanges to share your ideas and discuss these and other cases with your colleagues.


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