Beyond Good Questions: How the Integral Coaching Method is Different

The Integral Coaching method asks questions, of course. We start with a lengthy intake conversation intended to give us a picture of our client’s world. We ask the client their thoughts and feelings about the issue they’ve brought and what they have tried by way of resolving it. We also make sure to inquire into the client’s broader life to get some information about how the issue might have arisen, and what is sustaining it, what other issues in their life might be related to the one they brought—and what potential exists to shift their overall experience of life.

One of the most important questions we ask regarding the client’s hope for the coaching relationship is: “for the sake of what?” Not simply “what do you want, how are you going to get it and by when?” but “WHY do you want what you want?” So much is revealed by this question. It points to what has meaning for a person and how their life might unfold purposefully.

Many coaching methods espouse the notion that the client has all the answers and the coach’s skill lies in asking the right questions to unlock wells of wisdom within the client—the general framework being “what do you want, and how can I support you in getting it?” This is a great approach, but limited in its transformational power because we all have blind spots—we can’t see what we can’t see.

The Integral Coaching method doesn’t stop at questions

I have found—and maybe you have too—that helpful people are often worried they’re not being helpful enough. Those who are naturally meek become embarrassed if their voices get too loud. High achievers are usually looking to get more done. In other words, we don’t always know what’s good for us. We sometimes think we need to develop what we already embody because it’s all we know to be. However, what will bring more room, balance, ease and meaning to our lives is usually not doing more of the same.

Our clients’ ideas and solutions to problems will only ever come from within their own limited system of habits, relationships, environments, and thoughts. So if we ask them what they think they should do, they will likely [unconsciously] rehash a lifelong way of being. A new insight might give it a different twist, but essentially it is the same approach.

As an example, I was working with a client who has a very healing, nurturing presence, and who makes everyone who knows her feel loved and held. In exploring her life’s purpose, her idea was that she needed to be more curious about people to better know and support them. A lovely intention; however, her entire way of being already supports people. If I as the coach hopped on board with this agenda and we moved forward with the program based solely on this idea, she’d be doing more or less the same thing she always had been: putting her attention on others to the exclusion of her own needs. Instead, we shifted in focus to developing more attunement to what has meaning for her, apart from the needs of others—for the sake of being a more robust presence in the world. From here, she may be able to support others with less effort, and feel more fulfilled herself. The Integral Coaching method has us intervene in ways that will change a client’s relationship with themselves and the world.

We can offer as well as ask

The Integral Coaching method is not merely concerned with helping a client achieve her goals, but rather to increase her capacity to be with what is happening and engage life with greater sense of purpose. The more developed we are, the more fulfilling our lives can be. This means inviting our clients into a bigger world—one they’re not necessarily aware of yet.

To this end, coaches using the Integral Coaching method will always offer some things to the client intended to foster the shifts they want to make. We invite them into new possibilities through narratives, or metaphors that illustrate where the client is currently and what it is possible to transform into.

We offer physical practices to help a client re-shape their body to foster a new way of being. For example, rather than ‘supporting’ an exhausted over-achiever to get more done (which might very well be her idea of what she needs), we might invite her to lie on the ground breathing deeply for ten minutes a day. This will likely feel very strange because it’s not the way she’s gotten through life up to this point. And it’s certainly not a practice she’d have prescribed to herself. However, several weeks or months of this simple practice will start to calm her nervous system, change the pacing of her days, and help her to be more present with others.

We also offer self-reflections. The idea behind this is that can’t know the objective reality of a situation without an intentional study of it. We may invite our achiever client to stop a few times a day and reflect on when she rushed through an interaction, how it felt, how the other people were affected, and then when she was truly present with them, how that felt, and how the other person was affected.

Empowering the client

Can you see how the Integral Coaching method can be a more powerful approach than just asking questions or giving advice? Providing distinctions, self-observations and practices doesn’t mean we don’t trust our clients. If anything, we’re trusting even more that they have the wisdom, courage, and capacity to step into new and unfamiliar territory—an action that has the potential to change their whole life.

You can learn for yourself how the Integral Coaching method works in Foundations of Coaching, our virtual introductory course.

Joy is the Communications Director at New Ventures West.

New Ventures West