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As coaches, we have all had moments where our client has had an insight, a realisation, an “aha!” moment. What do we do with that?

Years ago, in a mentor coaching session with my mentor coach, I was coaching her on a real issue and it was going pretty well – well, I thought so anyway. And then, in the middle of a response to one of my questions, she stopped, paused, and the tears started sliding down her cheeks. My response? I did what I thought was the gentlemanly thing: I waited until I thought she had recovered, asked her if she was okay, and I continued coaching.

And then came her feedback! One of the most significant moments in my more than two decades of coaching. She said: “Why didn’t you do more with my tears? You missed a wonderful opportunity!”

The ensuing discussion contained one of my most memorable realisations, my own Aha! moment – but it went further as she skilfully “poured fuel on the little fire”, as Michael Neill calls it.

Neill describes the aha! moment as a pivotal moment of “fresh thinking”, where the client suddenly sees a situation in a new way and gains deeper understanding of themselves or their circumstances. In that moment, he says, their mind quietens, allowing them to tap into their innate wisdom and creativity – they become more receptive to new ideas and perspectives, which can lead to yet more insights and breakthroughs.

It’s a transformative opportunity that I had missed. If only I had poured fuel on the little fire! How? Once again, Michael Neill comes to the rescue – we can use:

  • Clarifying questions – for example: “Can you tell me more about what you just realised?” “What just happened for you?”
  • Future-oriented questions – for example: “How can you apply this insight to other areas of your life?”
  • Possibility-oriented questions – for example: “what else might be possible now that you’ve had this insight?”
  • Action-oriented questions: for example: “what steps can you take right now to start using this insight in your life?

The fact that he added action-oriented questions to this list is revealing. Several coach training schools seem to teach that evoking awareness is learning and growth in and of itself. “Animus curiae”, as the Latin saying goes – “awareness is curative”!

However, schools such as Integral Coaching Canada and authors like Marcia Reynolds believe that the job is not finished when awareness is raised, even after fuel has been poured on the fire. And the ICF would seem to agree with them, for their updated core competency on facilitating client learning requires that coaches add some more questions, such as: “what have you learned about yourself today?” then “what have you learned about your situation?” and then “how can you use what you have learned today as you go forward?”

These learning-oriented and action-oriented questions seem to seal the deal. We have raised our client’s awareness, we’ve ensured that that learning is optimized by pouring fuel on the fire, and we have turned the learning into actions. (Who was it who said a coaching session is not a coaching session without actions?)

I would add one more thing. If our client is replacing an old habit with one that serves them better because of their learning, then mere actions are normally not enough. As the neuroscientists tell us, a new habit will only occur (through neuroplasticity) after repeating the action for 21 – 28 days – that is, until the new habit becomes, well, a habit, their new practice. (Btw, one neuroscientist says it takes 61 days – but we will leave that for another time!)

So, that’s the recipe then: raise awareness, pour fuel on the fire, create a new practice! And this journey all started with me making my mentor cry!

I would love to hear your thoughts and, if you are interested, perhaps we could chat about those thoughts or any questions that arise for you. If you are up for this, here’s a link to my diary – let’s have an informal virtual coffee chat.

Until then!

Best wishes



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