What Is Insight Coaching? (A powerful coaching story)
(9 min read)
Insight coaching is simply coaching, whereas most coaching is not coaching.
Most coaching is consulting, advising, mentoring, suggesting, and sharing ideas. The problem with most coaching is that it does not work well.
That’s because clients don’t respond well to solutions they’ve had no part in creating.
This is true, and you know it is true.
Think about all the advice you’ve been given in your life that was completely useless because it wasn’t from you and therefore didn’t apply to you.
The truth I share about coaching is this:
All coaching is about insight. The distinction is whether you as the coach are sharing your insights, or are you creating the space for clients to access their own.
Let me give an example….
A few years back, I had a coaching call with a prospective client on Zoom. Like many people in the world, she was feeling stuck in life and needed clarity. To begin, I asked, “Are you ready to get started?” Asking this question or a similar one is essential. It’s drawing a line between the small talk and the powerful coaching that is about to commence.
“Yes,” she said, as she sat up straighter and became more focused and present. She also began to recognize that this was going to be different. I could feel that she could feel it. I was present and tuned into her energy. I wasn’t being the same light-hearted, jovial guy she had connected with the day before when we initially talked. I was being professional.
“What would make this call extraordinary for you?” I asked. “What would have to happen for you to look back afterward and think, ‘Wow, that was amazing?’”
She sat with this thought-provoking starting question for several seconds. I didn’t rush her. I allowed the silence to do the work.
She said she needed help with financial fear. She had gotten into a lot of debt and was, in her words, “out of control with money.”
“I want to know everything’s going to be okay,” she added, “and I need to find ways to make more money.”
I listened and then responded with the question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most important, how important is it for everything to be okay?”
Being present, focused, and most importantly being curious to see how much she truly wanted change in her life, this was the question that came to mind. I wasn’t using a script or any kind of prescribed framework.
“10,” she said and then talked more about making bad financial decisions.
As we went on, I continued being empty and curious, listening and gently asking the questions that came to mind. This is the simplicity and the beauty of insight coaching, which is coaching. I never jumped in as the get-your-finances-in-order expert coach with all the ideas and all the answers. That would have not helped her.
“Have you ever gone without financially?” I asked.
“No,” she said and then talked about getting bailed out by a friend and how that only led her to overspend more. “When I get more money I spend more money, and then it snowballs.”
She was beginning to see that making more money probably wouldn’t help. In fact, it might make things worse. This was an insight, her own unique experience of truth. Just a few minutes earlier she had been thinking more money was the solution.
I acknowledged the great work she was doing and then reflected back to her what I had been hearing. “I want to honor you for how you’re showing up here. Getting to what’s true and what’s possible isn’t always easy. You came to the call feeling overwhelmed financially and wanting to know everything’s going to be okay. You also wanted to figure out how to bring in more money, and now you’re seeing that when you get more money, you spend more money.”
It’s incredible what happens when we become mirrors, reflecting back to clients what we’ve been hearing—sometimes in our own words, sometimes in their exact words—and then follow that up with a question.
“I’m curious, what do you think would be a good solution?”
“I don’t know,” she responded
I said, “Good news, I don’t know either” And then I joked that you’d think your coach would have some answers! She agreed. She laughed. This was a turning point in the conversation. Until then, it had felt heavy and serious until suddenly the energy shifted. It was lighter, easier. There was less pressure. Often as coaches we forget that clients come to the conversation with their own insecurities and self-created pressure. “Since we both don’t know,” I said, “let’s work on this together.”
This wasn’t a technique, by the way. This was me showing up empty. This was me showing up completely present to the experience she and I were creating together. This was me showing up unattached to the outcome because there is no outcome. There’s only NOW. There’s only, “What do you want to create, and what’s in the way?” This is the highest level of coaching.
Nearly everything else is coaching the problem. Nearly everything else is offering tools and techniques to solve those problems. When you can bring your clients into the present, the truth reveals itself in wondrous ways. Perspectives shift, and what was the problem is no longer the problem.
“So neither one of us knows a good solution,” I continued. “Imagine that you did know. What would you know?”
By not asking the next question before she answered this one, I didn’t buy into her “I don’t know” story. Lots of people have been conditioned to “not know,” yet usually they do know. They know things they never knew they know. This is the essence of deep coaching.
“I know I don’t want to take the responsibility off my shoulders,” she said.
“Can you tell me more about that?” I asked and then followed up with, “What does not taking the responsibility off your shoulders look like?”
Like the other questions, these came from my sense of curiosity and intuition.
She continued to share her thoughts, and there was a point in the conversation when it seemed like nothing amazing might come from it. I was okay with that. I’ve learned to disconnect from the outcome to a much greater extent than I could earlier in my career. I’ve learned to truly show up empty, not only in terms of my own knowledge and experience, but also in terms of the expectation of what my clients need to get from the coaching or how great they think I am as a coach. This has come from practice, for we are who we practice to be.
Remember that one. We are who we practice to be. I’ve practiced the art of deep coaching by coaching as much as possible.
“I feel uncomfortable, and that’s really comfortable for me,” she said.
I sat there, entirely focused on her, completely silent and completely still, witnessing her innate knowing beginning to reveal itself.
“If everything was going well in my life, I wouldn’t know what to do,” she added. “I’m more comfortable fucking things up. I don’t want to be like that anymore. What I do with money is making my life a nightmare.”
I continued to sit still, staying focused and silent, She started to cry. She was experiencing a shift.
She realized that her financial troubles are a reflection of the chaos she creates in her life. That was a huge insight. Wanting to nurture it, I asked her to share more. She explained that her relationship with her mom growing up was chaotic. I continued to listen. I gave her time and space to think. She went on to talk about how she was always in fear of not being perfect. I kept listening. I allowed for silence. It was beautiful. It was coaching. And then suddenly she said, “I have a deep hatred inside for myself so I keep causing myself pain.”
She cried more. “I’ve never thought that before,” she said. “I’ve never spoken that before,” she said.
Not long after that first powerful gifted coaching session, she signed up to coach with me.
The work we did together wasn’t focused on getting financially responsible, getting on a budget, or getting control of her spending. That’s what a lot of coaches would do. They would jump in at the beginning and coach the problem. But the problem that initially shows up almost always isn’t the problem. Remember that.
As a coach, you have to be patient, curious, and empty. The first commitment of our Insight Coaching Guiding Principles is, “We show up empty and know less.” Let go of your judgments, your wisdom, and your propensity to diagnose or fix things. It’s not helpful, and it usually doesn’t work well.
Your solutions are never as good as their solutions, even if they’re the same. Research has shown that people retain 20% of what someone tells them and 80% of what they tell themselves. Remember that. Get committed to being the best coach you can be, and you will never have to search for clients. They will find you through referral and word of mouth.
The work that this client and I did was focused on how she could love herself and create more joy in her life. Changing her habits with money was the natural result of the immense insight she experienced. As you’re going to learn, insight is the starting point of all change. We cannot change unless we have an insight. Then once we do, change becomes inevitable. Think about that.
Everything you want in this business is on the other side of you changing, and you changing happens when you begin to see more clearly, which is the essence of coaching.
At its highest level, life coaching is not tips, tools, and techniques. It’s deep, internal realization that leads to transformation. It’s the experience that nothing’s changed yet everything different.
It’s, “I can do this and I am doing this. I’m creating my new life in ways I never thought possible with the help of a professional coach.”
❤️ John Strasser