~Written by Dr.L.Michael Hall~
As a Professional you can know that we frame the coaching skills in terms of two seemingly contradictory values- compassion and challenge. You also know that an ideal coach, an expert coach, is a person who has developed the skill of compassionately challenging. You know that our catch word for this being able to communicate ruthless compassion. That means, believing in people and their potentials as we do, we take responsibility to awaken them, challenge them, and stay with them through thick and thin so that they do not sell themselves short.
There’s numerous articles on the skill of being able to challenge people. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason for continually coming back to focus on this theme again and again. Why?
Because to coach is to challenge. That’s because people who are clients need to be challenged. Further, on the feedback form that we use to identify and measure your coaching skills, we have “challenge.” We also have “confrontation.” Those are two dimensions of challenge. And there are others. Here are five. Next post- what challenge is not.

1) Challenge as Testing and Questioning.

A small, and yet beginning, place for “challenging” someone is asking someone testing questions. These are closed-ended questions that requires a Yes/No answer. “Do you really want this?” “Are you sure this is truly important for you?” These kinds of questions challenge a person in the sense that they call forth a decision and a commitment. “Will you or will you not?” “Can I depend on you for this?” Actually, there are many, many questions that perform a “challenging” function. Some challenge by getting personal and intimate. Some challenge by asking a person to get real and authentic. In NLP there is a question that challenges people. We call it the relevance challenge. “Jim, I’m not clear about why you are bringing up this subject, how does it relate to the subject of this meeting?”

2) Challenge as in Stretching.

Challenge as stretching means taking on a challenge to what you are doing, experiencing, or achieving. It means stepping up to your next level of development. It means being fully engaged in whatever you are doing, becoming absorbed.
This facet of “challenge” is the very heart of coaching, in contradistinction to therapy, in that it inherently involves inviting people to step out of their comfort zone and to set goals so that they can think more, feel more, be more, say more, do more, have more, and give more. All of this stands against aiming for peace, tranquility, rest, equilibrium, etc. Those are goals that are more fitting for therapy- for healing hurts and traumas and creating a solid base for living. Those ready for coaching are more interested in disequilibrium, rocking the boat, stirring up things, and raising the bar.
When we ask questions about challenge, what are we really asking about?
Stretching, confrontation, or opposition?
I. What are some of the challenges you are experiencing right now?
II. What challenges are you having in your life about your health, finances, emotions, etc.?
What most of us know is that the best moments of life occur in those moments when we stretch our mind, our emotions, our body, our activities, etc. By pushing to our current limits and then beyond, we aim to accomplish something that is inherently difficult, something that is bold and that requires courage. Typically when we do this, we move into the flow zone that is the optimal balance between competence and challenge.

3) Challenge as Disturbing and Upsetting.

In these previous forms, “challenge” as testing, questioning, or stretching all have the potential to disturb and upset. In the sense of disturbing a person’s current status quo or state of mind or state of emotion, anything that can potentially upset or disturb is experienced as “challenging.”
These states could occur by teasing, playing, and joking. These could occur by introducing something very new or different or unexpected. Sometimes a person or a group needs to be disturbed. They are too self-satisfied, too comfortable, too much at rest, and letting both their talents and their opportunities pass by.

4) Challenge as Opposition and Obstacles.

Another way that we use the word “challenge,” is when we mean that we are going to oppose another’s idea or proposal and play devil’s advocate. “Let me challenge you on that idea, I’ll play devil’s advocate to challenge you about the premises that I think you are operating from.” Because opposition and nearly any obstacle upsets and disturbs, they operate as a challenge to one’s resourcefulness and resilience. Can you maintain your focus when a certain opposition arises or does it throw you off-course?
We can also ask about how much of a challenge is any given obstacle? After all, obstacles are challenging. When an obstacle arises, the question then is – what resource do you need in order to handle that challenge? What does that obstacle challenge in you?

5) Challenge as Confrontation.

The term “challenge” is often used in the sense of confrontation. We say, “I’m going to challenge you…” and our intention is to bring up something that is potentially unpleasant. Yet that description is what we mean by the term “confrontation.” We are going to confront (con- with; front- face) in the sense of directly bringing up to someone, present it to his or her face, what might be difficult to face. In Meta-Coaching, we distinguish challenge as stretch from confrontation and use the word “challenge” for the former.
Obviously, when you confront, you are challenging. By identifying something that needs to be addressed, you are exposing it to the person and that could very well invite the person to stretch to a new level.
We also challenge as confrontation when we bring up something that could go bad. “I want to challenge you about the fact that you have not answered by question even though I have asked it four times, are you aware of that?”
Stepping up in life
People who are ready for stepping up to their next level in life enjoy the challenge of Self Leadership, a 3 day internationally recognised program in Orange NSW. Check for our next dates. Are you ready?
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