Center for Executive Coaching

Seven ways to reframe a client’s limiting beliefs

The Center for Executive Coaching teaches a powerful 3-step methodology for coaches to help clients reframe limiting beliefs. This is an important skill for coaches, and requires creativity and mental dexterity. Coaches who do this well can have huge impact, and also use their reframing work to write articles and even books, create new seminars, and develop other forms of intellectual capital.

Following are seven ways to reframe a limiting belief. Note that the client is responsible for coming up with his or her own reframing that works, but the coach can certainly speed the process along by providing ideas.

1. The "if/then" approach. Let's assume a client has the belief, "I can't trust people." You can imagine that this belief would keep a manager or executive from progressing, not to mention the implications on keeping talent and delegating. With the if/then approach, the coach tries to carve out a workable perception that is based on actual behaviors — not a sweeping statement. For instance: "If I give my people the resources, training, and oversight they need, they will get the job done." Notice how this reframing doesn't even mention the word trust. That way, it doesn't compete with an existing belief that the client has probably held for years. Over time, coach and client can help make the new belief a habit using the triple A framework (a subject for another time).

2. Identify a bigger priority. For instance, suppose a client has a belief that he or she needs to be the smartest person in the room. A great coaching question is, "Would you rather be smart or successful?" A reframing of the belief might be, "Achieving my performance goals is my top priority."

3. Respect the belief and give a better way to achieve it. This strategy is related to #2. For instance, suppose the client values being liked, and this is preventing him or her from having tough conversations with employees. We might be able to help the client see that they can be liked — but by doing different things than they are doing now. For instance, "By being truthful with my employees, they can improve performance and advance their careers — and then they will really like me."

4. Reverse. Take the belief in an unexpected direction. For instance, if the client says, "I am too old," suggest that they are not old enough, and cite some famous people who did great things later on in life.

5. Use an analogy. Analogies can be very powerful ways to make a new belief stick. For instance, one coach was struggling because he believed he didn't have anything of value to offer people. It turns out that his parents owned a farm, and sold it for a lot of money. The coach equated value with tangible property like a farm. With some coaching, he concluded that his knowledge and experience were his farm. The shift in his confidence once he had this realization was inspiring!

6. Create a paradigm-shifting distinction. Patrick Lencioni does this well in his book The Five Temptations of the CEO. In this book he provides 5 temptations that leaders face, and offers a new way of thinking about them. For instance, a leader who is tempted to be invulnerable and think instead about trust. This approach is the hardest and requires the most creativity. An easier approach is in #2 above, identifying a bigger priority. That's because the bigger priority is almost always success or specific results.

7. Provide a framework that the client can work on like a practice. For instance, Covey's seven habits could be used as a framework for a leader to develop, so that the client's focus goes towards positive habits and away from past behaviors. When coached well, the client discovers that we all have the power to generate the right frame of mind and perceptions, and choose the beliefs from which we operate.

Note that the above approaches are only one part of our process. There is much more work to do to get a client to recognize his or her limiting belief(s), see that the belief no longer serves him or her, give more power to the new belief than to the old ingrained belief, and make the new belief and associated behaviors habitual.

At the Center for Executive Coaching, we teach both behavioral and perceptual coaching, along with 27 situational coaching methodologies to help leaders, managers, business owners, teams, and up-and-coming talent go beyond their current limitations and improve performance, results, and satisfaction. It is powerful, practical stuff, and the results are wonderful to experience!


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