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Coach the Person, Not the Problem

"Coach the Person Not the Problem – A guide to using Reflective Inquiry” by Marcia Reynolds is a comprehensive guide for coaches and aspiring coaches.


“Questions seek answers; inquiry provokes insight”- Marcia Reynolds


This book is a complete delight and has made a huge difference in my understanding, serving as a very important foundation for my coaching journey. The guidelines for success are very clearly articulated. The book has a natural flow and goes straight into the heart of the matter: being present, honoring the process, finding solutions, and unpacking the client’s thinking for better decisions. This includes how coaches should prepare themselves mentally to be their best selves. The book is written in simple and conversational style with plenty of case studies and real-life examples to deliver the message. It treats coaching as an organic and dynamic relationship rather than a formula to be followed.


The author is focused on helping people see problems and possibilities in new ways as opposed to just sorting through options and consequences with them. She is skilled at using metaphors to help readers fully embrace and understand the concepts she teaches.

She supports us to overcome some natural tendencies such as not wanting the client to be in discomfort or adding our own meaning to what they have expressed. She encourages us to believe in our client’s own resourcefulness and potential. The coach’s role is to thoughtfully help open their perspectives in order to clear obstacles and see their own best path forward.


It goes beyond asking questions in a coaching conversation; Reynolds comes up with reflective inquiry— the objective being to provoke critical thinking and to make coaching feel effortless and more natural. Clearly differentiating between horizontal and vertical coaching, the book talks of reflective inquiry as a powerful way to create disruptions in thinking that lead to transformational change. She brings about the importance of adding reflective statements to questions. Transactional vs. transformational coaching has been clearly illustrated. Transactional coaching is linear and externally focused on the problem. Transformational coaching works from the inside out. Using reflective inquiry, clients see their beliefs as if they were laid out on a table to examine. From that vantage point, they can see holes in their logic or an outdated point of view. Reflective inquiry creates a safe environment for people to explore how they think. 


Reynolds writes, “The best coaches make us recognize we have gaps in our reasoning. The moment we become unsure of what we know learning happens. This is good coaching”.


In this book she draws on learning theory, neuroscience, and her considerable experience in coaching to provide a practical and productive model. 


My favorite chapter is the one where she addresses “Crazy coaching beliefs”.  She writes that there isn’t any set way or written formula to coach— if your practice encourages clients to self-reflect and generate insight, that is all that is needed. According to her, some long held beliefs in coaching have thrown the value of coaching off track: such as it takes a long time to be really good at coaching, or the coach must ask only open not closed questions, or that coaching conversation must always have a clear outcome, or a vision of a desired future are addressed here as myths.


The core of the book, however, is the 5 Essential Practices which are in the reflective inquiry toolbox. They are: 

  • Focus— coaching the person, not the problem

  • Active Replay— playing back the pivotal pieces for review

  • Brain Hacking— finding the treasures in the box 

  • Goaltending— staying the course

  • New & Next— coaxing insights and commitments

These are designed to change the linear transactional style of coaching to a more inside out and reflective transformational style.  

Active Replay, playing back pivotal pieces for review by recapping, paraphrasing, encapsulating, labelling, bottom lining, drawing distinctions, observing emotional shifts— all are perfectly tailored to add them to your coaching skillset. This book serves as a tremendous guide to mastering one of a coach’s toughest challenges by reflecting client’s words and expressions back to enable new possibilities and solutions.

The section on Brain Hacking is intriguing and addresses how the operating system, the frame (identity and reality), the contextual field inside the frame (values and needs), and our stories (shaped by beliefs and biases) dictate our thinking and action.  However, coaching mastery isn’t just about improving skills; mastery also requires that you quickly catch internal disruptions and shift back to being fully present with your clients. 

Reynolds also talks about 3 mental habits one should practice to master coaching, namely aligning your brain— which is coaching presence. Receiving and not just listening, and finally Catch and Release judgement. Using these habits and practices for reflective inquiry, coaches can experience how the power of our presence and our emotional connection is more powerful than any questions we can conjure.

Coaching is not a linear process but an intricate dance with the client, with both learning in this process.


Why is this one of my preferred coaching books? Because it explains the complexity of coaching in a simple way, it unravels the mystery of keeping the conversation moving towards the goal (the fear of all budding coaches), and most of all because this is a guide which will teach you to be brave and curious.

Reviewed by - Rini Adhikari

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