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Reframing Disempowering Questions

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation
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One aspect of calling out our clients’ power is bringing awareness to their disempowering language. This language is often habitual and unconscious. Bringing it to the light offers opportunities for clients to see it clearly and choose to change it—moving them to a place of greater personal power.

How do we support our clients to find some comfortable ground and own their language? The beauty of coaching is that we can ask empowering questions that support awareness without making our clients wrong. Over time, they catch themselves and shift their language on their own without prompting from the coach.


Disempowering Language

Examples from the Client

Empowering Questions from the Coach

No Choice

I have to, must, can’t…

What if you knew you had a choice?


I’ll try, could, might…

What will you actually do?


It has to be either this or that…

How can you have both?


I’m lazy; he’s so smart…

What happens when you let go of that label?


It’s my fault, she screwed up…

If no one were to blame, then what?


that, it, those, these, this…

What do you mean when you say, “I’ll do it?”

For each of our light or sunny emotions, there is a darker counterpart. On the other side of joy, there is grief. As a coach, not only can you acknowledge, validate and embrace the full spectrum of your client’s feelings, you have opportunities to work with those emotions in ways that bring your client into alignment and support transformation.

There is tremendous power in all of these emotions that many coaches and clients are afraid to approach. Only in facing the darkness can we harness its energy. Ignoring it will not make it go away, and may well give it license to manifest in destructive ways. This work is addressed in more detail in Chapter 9, Embracing the Shadow.

Questions to Consider

What risks can you take in support of your clients’ full connection with their power?

What can you do with each of your clients to enhance your ability to call out their power?

What support can you request to step into your power more fully?

How will exploring the shadow equip you in calling out the power?

Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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