making it count
Mis-Use Coaching

Article by Dr.L.Michael Hall and Mr Shawn Dwyer  

When it comes to doing something right and/or muddling something up, there are many, many more ways to muddle something than there are ways to do something correctly. Mis-use coaching. That’s the way reality is set up. Do you understand why it is that way? Gregory Bateson entertained that question from his daughter in one of the metalogues. On that occasion he offered this explanation. There are lots of ways to mess up your bed, there’s only one basic way that it is properly “made.”

Similarly we can say that it is easier to mess up the Well-Formed Outcome Questions than to ask them correctly. There are many ways to mess them up, and only one or a few ways of asking them correctly. In the following, the proper way to ask the question is in bold. The questions under them are actual attempts at asking the question which I’ve heard.  Some are funny, some are ridiculous, some are redundant, some are boring. While supervising coaching sessions, I have often stopped the coach and asked, “Are you trying to ask question x?”  When I get a yes, I said, “And what is that question?”

If you ask it wrong, you will probably get wrong or at best, unuseful information.

A common problem is losing track of the subject. You begin with one thing and it slowly shifts to something else so that the later questions are on a different subject. That’s failing to hold the frame.


1) What do you want?            

Wrong: What do you want to talk about?  So, what’s up with you these days?

What issue would you like to talk about?  So what’s your problem?

2) What will you see or hear when you get what you want? [For tangible objectives]

Wrong: What does that belief look like?  What will you hear when you reach that level of fitness?  So what will be your emotional state?

3) Why is it important to achieve that? 

Wrong: So, why do you want that?  Why did you do that?  Why are you that way?


4) When do you want to achieve this outcome?

Wrong: When will you start this?  When could you begin?  When does this occur?

5) Where will this goal occur?

Wrong: Where do you want to be a better parent?  When you are at the gym, where do you want to do this? [Redundant]. 

6) With whom will you do this, if anyone?

Wrong: Who is involved in this?  Will they need to sell this to?  Who will your parenting be for?  Who can help you with this?


7) What do you have to do to get what you want?

Wrong: Do you know how to do this?  Can you do that?  How will you reach your goal?

Client says “I don’t know what to do?”  Wrong next question: “Okay, so how do you do X?”  Do you think you can do that?


8) Is this goal within your area of control?  Can you initiate this action and sustain it?

Wrong: Are you powerful enough to do this?  Can you control this?  How much control will you need to do this? 

If given a “no” answer, “Well, would you like to try it anyway?”

9) Can you? Do you have the skill or the capacity for doing this?  If yes, what?                  

Wrong: What skills will you need to do this?

10) Have you ever done this before or something like it before?  If yes, when?

Wrong: When have you done this before?  When have you solved this before?


11) How many things do you have to do?  Are there steps and stages in reaching this goal?

Wrong: How many steps are in your plan? Are you aware that there are 3 steps to X?

12) Do you need or have a plan or strategy?  If yes, how do you best like to plan?           

Wrong: So what’s your plan?  How much of a plan have you got so far?

13) How will you monitor your progress?  What milestones will you set up in your plan?

Wrong: Have you ever monitored a plan?


14) What, if anything, could stop you?

Wrong: What problems do you see with the plan?  When would something stop you?  What will probably stop you?

15) Do you have the external resources?  Do you have the internal resource you need?

Wrong: How many internal or external resources do you have?  How do you feel about those resources?

16) Is it ecological, holistic, and realistic?

Wrong: So it’s good for you to do this?


3) Is it still compelling and attractive?          

Wrong: How compelling is your goal from 0 to 10?

17) Are you going to do this?  Are you ready to make a commitment to this goal?

Wrong: When will you make a decision about this?  How do you feel about that decision?

18) How will you know you have achieved it?  What evidence would convinced you’ve of success?” 

Wrong: How will you know you’re done?  Are we done now?  Can I go home now?

If you are frequently asking these questions and would like to understand how to more effectively communicate, contact Shawn and have a chat on how we can support your best performances

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Article by Dr.L.Michael Hall and Mr Shawn Dwyer  ~


Because meaning is constantly changing, as I noted in the last post, it is unstable. Being unstable, meaning and the construction of meaning allows you to form, unform, and reform it. Meaning is co-created between you as a Meta-Coach and your client engages in the coaching conversation. Because of this, you discover it. Yet it is not discovered in the sense that you happen upon it and, Eureka! you found it, as if it were a thing. It’s not
like that. Meaning is discovered in that you and your client discover your meanings and each other’s meanings in the process of the conversation.

The same thing happens to writers.

As a writer I am often discovering meaning- what I mean and the meaning of my own words- in the very act of writing. I discover what I mean by writing and as I write. I know that sounds strange. But sometimes when I am trying to articulate an idea, I begin writing, then in the process I discover another idea, or an idea that had been on the edge of my consciousness, an idea that I had never fully “thought” before. In this, writing for me is often like a living conversation, as I imagine my readers and consider their thinking,
perspectives, needs, etc. ideas emerge in the process of writing.

It happens similarly to readers.

For the reader, meaning is forever being delayed. You are always waiting for the next word to make sense of the previous. Steve de Shazer wrote that meaning is deferred in reading because understanding itself is an emergent property which arises through a cumulative process. As a reader, it is natural and inevitable that I often create misunderstandings in my mind. Read anything new to you, foreign, challenging, and it will happen to you. Yet by embracing your misunderstandings and continue to read, you will slowly find those
misunderstandings being corrected and new understandings developing. 

Coaching Conversation

And while the ongoing development of meaning happens in both reading and writing, it happens much, much more often in a coaching conversation.
Because the conversation is so dynamic and because we both are trying to understand the client’s wants, desires, hopes, fears, needs, values, etc., the conversation is a joint search for discovery. The way language works in the conversation is one of experimenting with possibilities, testing out hypothesis, experimenting with another possibility, etc. The questions and answers going back and forth co-create the direction that we go and the
areas we explore. 

You coach not only to meaning, but for meaning- to discover and/or to create

The coaching conversation is also both personally intimate and at the same time, a social event. It is inter-communication and inter-action between the players.  If as a coach, you momentarily pretend that you are not part of the conversation., what happens to you? What happens to the other person? Does it not sabotage the entire effort? As a social event, the coaching conversation provides a crucible place where new and exciting
meanings can develop in the dialogue. It is from that crucible that meaning emerges. So welcome the exploratory discovering of meaning that you and your client are engaged in. Give up any and all illusions that you are supposed to know all the answers. You don’t and you won’t. You are an explorer in another’s reality. As you have been invited in, you have the privilege of being a co-creator.

Where To Find Meaning

We order our phenomenal world of meaning with language in all of its forms (linguistics, gestures, movement, kinesthetics, etc.). That’s why we have to look inside, behind, beneath, and within language to discover a person’s meanings. Yet in this there is a tricky element. That’s because words themselves do not mean, people mean. Words do not have strict and precise meaning definitions. Instead they are mired in and dependent upon contexts. It is context as a semantic field which often determine meaning.

Next time you coach, consider how long it takes you to truly come to understand your client’s meanings. Consider also how that the very process of seeking to discover this meaning enables your client to also discover his meaning. Notice how that this discovery process is itself an intervention even though we don’t call it an intervention. Finally, notice how in the discovery process the meaning is or becomes more fluid and unstable and because of that, transformation becomes more likely.

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Vitality Is Natural; Devitalization Is Unnatural


~ Article co-written by L. Michael Hall PhD and Shawn Dwyer ~

If people can and do experience life at too low a level on the hierarchy of needs, then what are people suppose to get and experience at the lower levels? Then if the “lower” needs, driven by deficiency, which when adequately gratified go away, then what? If these D-needs are instrumental and the B-needs are non-instrumental, then what are they the means to? Glad you asked! And the answer is simple and can be describe by a single word-vitality.

Vitality Needs

All of the lower needs are life-needs or necessities (requirements) for being alive. And in saying “being alive,” I don’t mean merely existing, getting by, surviving. I mean being fully alive to the human experience-to the adventure of life. Yet when we ask ourselves the questions about this level of vitality, most people are not fully alive. Are they? Okay, they may not be zombies, yet how many drag themselves through life, through their jobs, their relationships, and the activities of everyday life?

Vitality Complaints

And how many are full of everyday complaints about not being motivated, not having the energy to do things, and feeling that they have no passion about anything. They are bored. They don’t know what to do with themselves. Are they waiting for something. But what? By contrast, the idea of being fully alive to the adventure of life is our heritage. Just look at the life of a small child. Talk about being alive to the mystery and wonder and adventure of life! Talk about vitality! Then of course, we send them to school and they get most of it knocked out of them -all in the name of “education.”

Being Fully Alive

Now this being fully alive is the design of the Neuro-Semantic series, Self-Actualization Psychology. In fact, this is the name of the first module in that series, Unleashing Vitality. That’s where we start. Why?

What’s so important about vitality?

First, vitality is important first of all because we all use and need a lot of energy every day. After all, it takes
a good amount of energy (vitality) to actualize anything that’s important and meaningful to you- whether at home, work, or with some project that’s highly valuable to you. It also takes a lot of vitality to be able to handle life’s everyday demands at home and work. So if at the end of the day, you go home …
and go into your Energy Room and stand on your Joy Meter to see how much life and soul you have at the end of the day, and your Joy Meter is hardly registering- you’ve got a problem.

What is that problem?

You could have a vitality leak. Or you could have a vitality dampener. Somehow you are letting work or friends or family or children or chores or something suck the very life out of you! Even if your Joy Meter is only registering in the middle of the scale, you still have a problem. Something is happening that’s preventing you from living life with passion, and joy, and aliveness, and high motivation. I wonder what that is?

Second, vitality is important because without a strong sense of vitality or aliveness, you will not be feeling good.
You will be dragging yourself through life and work and activities rather than being full of the innate vitality that you were born with. Innate vitality?
Yes, we were born for that and as children we had that. So what happened? Were did our thrill and absorption and passion for learning go?

Wired for Vitality

In Self-Actualization Psychology, as developed by Maslow, Rogers, and others, we think of human nature as innately
wired for motivation- for vitality, energy, being alive, etc. This has tremendous applications. If we are, in our nature, in our biology, in our psychology, etc., wired for vitality, then we do not need for find some great Formula X that will solve our motivational problems. We do not need to add Formula X to our lives.

What’s needed is for us simply to eliminate the things that are downgrading, interfering, sabotaging, and throwing cold water on our vitality. Vitality is natural; devitalized is unnatural. So is depression, feeling demotivated, lacking energy, etc.

Vitality is natural.

And when you are taking care of your body as it needs to be taken care of- you will be beaming and energetic. Nor is this rocket science.  Among other things, it means eating right. If your body and brain is nutritionally deprived or trashed, you will not be able to think very well. It means moving your body. Today we call this experience by the disconcerting term, “exercise.” Moving your body means physical activity- walking, running, swimming, cycling, taking the stairs, dancing, standing up, moving around, sweating. Yes, sweating. That cleanses your body! If the state of being inactive and sweatless attracts you, you’ve chosen the wrong species to be born into. That describes the state of the dead, and you’ll be there sooner than you want. Now is the time to get active.

Sleep Vitality

When you are appropriately active, you will naturally get good sleep.Insufficient sleep reduces concentration and alertness. It undermines your ability to learn, solve problems and remember. Today just as so many people suffer from activity deprivation (exercise) so also many people suffer from sleep deprivation. They stay up too late mindlessly watching TV and then go through the day feeling the need for a nap and so readily able to nod off.


A healthy vitality shows up in not only in your level of energy and activity, not only in your restfulness, it shows up in your passion and ability to learn new things. There’s an innate passion for challenging your brain, for reading challenging materials and exercising your mind.  It will mean you won’t be satisfied with life on the couch flipping TV channels. So here’s to the rediscovering of your vitality- to becoming more fully alive to life’s adventure. See you soon at a The Coaching Centre training!

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Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD and Shawn Dwyer ~

The failure to thoroughly learn the Meta-Model as the basic NLP Communication Model is one of the biggest challenges we have in getting coaches prepared. It is also the biggest problem we have in helping people become truly professional in their communication skills.

As written in the book on the Meta-Model, Communication Magic (1997/ 2001), the Meta-Model is the key to everything in NLP.  And if you do not thoroughly know it, you do not understand very much about NLP. Whatever NLP pattern that you love and use regularly is a result of the Meta-Model. Why then should you memorize the Meta-Model Questions? 

1) Meta-Model first to have access to the most powerful questions in the world and have them at ready access. 

These are powerful questions even though at first glance they do not seem very powerful. What’s so powerful about them? The power is in using them to get to specificity. So it is not the case that you ask one question and that’s it. You use the question repeatedly and you use multiple Meta-Model questions to chase down the reference and meaning of a person. By memorizing the list of 18 questions (as you did with the WFO questions), you will create a repertoire of powerful questions.

2) To have a more complete understanding of how language and meaning works.

We use words to think, to conceptualize, to reason and to both construct meaning and to convey meaning to others. Yet how does that work? How is it that our linguistics enable us to do all of that? This is where understanding the NLP Communication Model comes in – and the Meta-Model Questions summarize that understanding. This is also where “the map is not the territory” premise comes in. What you say about anything- your words, is just that, words. It is a mental map about something that you are referring to in the world. But what?  What are you or your client referring to? Ah, that is the question. If you don’t question yourself or your client- and just assume that you understand (the Understanding Bias), then you will learn nothing.  That’s a great formula for feeling comfortable in ignorance.

3) To facilitate a conversation of precision and clarity.

Because words are loaded and are often false (pseudo-words), you and I can easily be bamboozled by words. We can be hypnotized by sentences that we (or our clients) utter as we assume they are real and fail to question them. Conversely, when you know how to ruthlessly examine linguistics (your own and your client’s), you can create clarity and precision of thought. And when that happens- magic happens.  That’s why the original NLP books were titled, The Structure of Magic, referring to the magical way that Fritz and Virginia and Milton used language.

4) To be able to quickly meta-model the experience of your client.

When NLP began, the Meta-Model was the only tool that they had for modeling. Yet with it, and from it, all of the other NLP models and tools were developed. Think about how amazing that is. This means that as they learned how to truly listen for language distinctions and ask challenging questions about it, they were able to pull apart the structure of subjective experiences. “Coaching as Modeling Clients,” that is precisely what an expert coach is able to do with a client. That, in the information gathering stage of coaching- long before any intervention is attempted- the coach comes to understand the client’s current experience on the client’s terms.

5) To be able to more effectively facilitate the desired changes which your client wants. 

When it comes to detecting, recognizing, and then using the leverage points of change in your clients- it is almost always language that tells the story. That is one thing that Bandler and Pucelik discovered as they were doing “Gestalt” in the early days- they recognized how Perls would like for some of the key phrases that he was attuned to and how that his responses to those phrases would often create the magic of change. Later, the same happened with Virginia. From these John Grinder then introduced Transformational Grammar and so the Meta-Model was invented (for more about that history, see NLP Secrets: Untold Stories).

Memorizing a list of questions may be one of the last things that you want to do. I understand. Most of us have not had a positive experience with regard to memorizing. Yet as you know, when you have memorized a poem, a song, a pledge, a verse, etc., then you have an internal resource inside you that no one can take away- and that’s at ready access whenever you need it.

Here then is my challenge to any and all who want to be truly professional Meta-Coaches –

              * Memorize the Meta-Model Questions.

              * Memorize the Well-Formed Outcome Questions.

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Group and Team Coaching

Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD and Shawn Dwyer ~

Modelling to get to first base? What is it that you’re attempting to do when you work with a client? Think for a moment how you would answer that question…

Okay, here is mine. First and foremost, you are working to understand your client. Now what makes this quite challenging is this- you have to understand your client on your client’s terms. Hence, first you want to understand the person sitting before you in the same way that the person thinks about him or herself. If you don’t do that, you can’t get to understanding’s first base.

Modelling For Real Understanding

In the field of psychology (whether it is remedial, therapy or generative, coaching), to “understand” someone in your terms and on your terms- your models and your theories is not to understand the person. This was one the learnings that came out of the Human Potential Movement and that the NLP developers found in Perls and Satir they started with the person. They went to the person’s model and understanding of the world so that they could speak that person’s language. Today we call that matching or pacing.  I like how Shelle Rose Charvet describes this.  Metaphorically she says, “Go to their bus stop” and meet them there.

Meta-Model Questions

Next, you will want to understand how your client does whatever it is that your client is doing or wants to do. We call that modelling. It is the essential Meta-Model question:

  1. How do you know that?

     2. “How do you think about that?

     3. “How do you understand that to work?

Now the reason you ask such questions is to understand what your client understands currently. If you client wants to enhance her leadership, what does she currently understand about leadership? How does she do what she’s calling “leadership?” If your client is wanting to create a consistent habit of exercising to get to an ideal weight and maintain fitness, then you want to understand what he understands about that. So you ask, “How do you do that?” And you may have to ask that question many times about many aspects as various aspects of the experience are discussed.

In terms of the benchmarks this is the level 3.0 “strategy process” in Listening. When you ask multiple modelling questions and then feed-it-back to your client to check your understanding, you have performed a professional competence skill- you have identified your client’s strategy process. Now this is basic NLP and you may have touched on it briefly in Coaching Essentials. Yet for being able to fully do this, take NLP Practitioner training, and possibly several times.

Now For A Secret

In this process of identifying and mapping out a client’s strategy, there is “magic.” Hence it is the magic of understanding because it so often elicits from the client the “Aha!” response. And that’s because as a client works to explain what he is attempting to do and how he does it, he often will experience a sudden realization and insight. “Oh, that’s what I’ve been doing!” And with that, frequently clients suddenly know precisely what they have done wrong and need to correct. I have seen that happen scores and scores of times. And what’s also happening in that mini-miracle is the actualization of the NLP principlePeople have all of the resources they need to achieve their ecological goals.”

And when that happens, you have an excellent moment to validate the person.

“Ah, so you just discovered something! What?”  “And how good is that realization?” “Well done for finding that within your resources!”

Modelling how your client understands something, how your client has been attempting to do something, how she learns and is convinced, how he motivates and persuades himself to take action, etc. gives you an insider’s view of your client’s reality. Feeding-it-back then enables him to feel understood and amplifies his sense of self-awareness. Therefore doing this also empowers both you and your client in finding those leverage points of change. So as a coach, you use modelling as a tool for understanding your client’s inner world. So that makes you, at least in part, a modeller.

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modelling your clients matrix

~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD and Shawn Dwyer ~

Modelling your clients matrix experience – as you know from your Meta-Coach studies is layered. What you see at the primary level, the performance of actions and words is the outer game. And while you do coach to the outer game, you do more. A lot more. As a Meta-Coach you coach to the inner game.  Yet to do that, you have to model what’s inside- and usually what’s deep inside.

Now even though you know that mind or consciousness is stratified, it usually doesn’t seem that way. And until you are trained to recognize and deal with the stratified layers- everything that you find inside will seem like one thing.  Yet it is not. There are thoughts, and then thoughts-about-thoughts, feelings and then feelings-about-feelings. There are memories about references and old understandings about imaginations, and so on.

A Template For Human Experience

Modelling your clients matrix. This is where the Matrix Model gives you a very usable tool for dealing with something as systemic, complex, and layered as consciousness. As a template of human experience- you can simplify things a bit as you sort out eight significant processes. Beginning with state, inquire about how the person has accessed that state- what is his immediate thinking and feeling, what do they within him? At this point listen carefully for which category is activated- self-value, competency, relationships, time a domain or role, an intention, or a meaning (belief, understanding, concept).

Modelling The Structure of Experience

Modelling your clients matrix. As you fill out a matrix form of the person’s Matrix-you can quickly detect where a problem may be or a lack of a resource. When we model those who stutter, the state was the first dimension activated- one of fear, apprehension, tightening up. Then the meaning dimension of viewing oneself as inadequate and flawed. And then, the Others dimension, fearing others will mock, laugh, and reject. No wonder the very idea of stuttering was so semantically loaded! To stutter activated two fundamental fears- to be personally inadequate and to be socially rejected. No wonder the stutterer would tighten up as if in a state of threat or attack. In a way, he was under attack. Yet in the inner game, he himself was doing doing the attacking with his beliefs about what stuttering meant. When we modelled the structure of that experience, we can see how it works. And that usually gives some significant hints about what to do to win the inner game.

Modelling your clients matrix diagram, you have 15 places for information.

About each aspect of self, there are meanings, intentions, and states. The meaning column enables you to detect where the semantic energy is in your client’s system. You could add a number (1-10) to indicate how much meaning is being activated as you explore the person’s ideas and beliefs. That will give you a lot of highly valuable information.

Behind the meaning column is the intention column and here you find out your client’s purpose, goal, objective, agenda, etc. For stutterers, they all wanted to stop the dysfluency.  And they all tried – mightily. Yet the problem was that speaking is a natural response as is the process of “trying to get your words.” And natural processes are not easily controlled (if at all) by exertion of raw will power. Typically that makes things worse and sets up a paradox- the more I try to control it, the worse it becomes, the less control I have. The state column lets you know the multiple things that your client is feeling- which can involve numerous self-contradictory states at the same time.

State, Meaning and Performance

Grounded is the the state as the overall experience which results from all of the meanings and intentions. After all, it is within the person’s one body that all of the emotions are being processed and experienced. The three-dimensional diagram integrates the meaning- performance axes of Neuro-Semantics. Your focus here is on the quality of the meanings that the person is experiencing as well as the quality of the performances. What kind of meaning is your client constructing and how does it show up in his behaviour? Here’s to your very best modelling of your client’s subjective experiences!

Learn more about modelling in NLP Practitioner

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