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Updated: Mar 15, 2023

My wish this year for our collective nutrition practices is to get us all out of the cycle of solutionizing our clients. We all do this - hear a problem, aha! I have 14 solutions!

Here’s a scenario - you have been working with a client for 3 months, it’s your 4th follow up and they have yet to increase their water consumption and are still frustrated by their dehydration symptoms. You have given almost all of your tips and tricks, and now, your options and your patience are dwindling,yet, another solution is on the tip of your tongue - FULL STOP!

Insert coaching question of the year, reflective inquiry.

First off, questions seek answers, inquiry seeks insight. How do these differ and why does this matter?

A Question - open or closed - gathers information, data, story, results, behaviors, short-term memory. Think of this as staying above the surface.

Attanasio, F. (2014) Understanding Coaching, Iceberg image.

Inquiry gets us under the water line to emotions, thinking, breakthroughs, a-ha moments, brain rewiring, long-term memory …. the WHOLE ocean of possibility and change.

The best questions make clients realize there are gaps in their reasoning.

What are the best questions?

A question shifts into inquiry when reflective statements are used before the question.

Reflective statements + questions = reflective inquiry.

Summarizing, paraphrasing, and drawing distinctions are reflective statements. These tools are more powerful - and easier to use! - then seeking the (not a real thing) “best” question.

Telling people what to do, aka nutrition recommendation to drink more water, accesses a persons short-term memory, where learning is least effective. If your water recommendation agrees with their current knowledge or affirms what they think to be true they are likely to drink more water. If it doesn’t, it’s out the window, out of sight out of mind, like they never heard it. How many times do you encounter this in follow ups? You discussed it, made a goal around it, it’s on the recommendations that you send to them? Asked about it at the follow up … crickets.

When clients don’t work on the recommendations we so thoughtfully put together our first inclination is to offer another solution.

What if before any recommendations OR another solution we sought reflective inquiry utilizing reflective statements (summarizing, paraphrasing, mirroring, and drawing distinctions) on why they don’t drink water in the first place? What are the questions beyond how much water do you drink?

Client - “drinking water feels like a chore and I do ALL of the chores as a single mother. I want to drink more but when I see my water bottle full at the end of the day I feel so overwhelmed and defeated and out of gas and if I drink it I’ll be up all night in the bathroom”

Practitioner - “So what I’m hearing is that drinking more water feels like a chore and as a single mom you feel maxed out on chores and you feel so defeated by the end of the day. It seems like drinking more water and feeling overwhelmed have gotten mixed up together. Water aside, can you share more about overwhelm, feeling defeated, and out of gas?

Reflective statements help people think about what they are saying.

The client isn’t avoiding water because they don’t want it or know they should drink more. They are avoiding the overwhelm in their life. Can your inquiry help them draw distinctions? Can your use of their words (summarizing) provoke self-reflection and possibility?

The question that follows a reflective statement seals the deal. It creates the shift in awareness that resolves the issue and prompts new actions. Reflective statements prompt clients to think about what they are willing to do now that they better understand what needs to be done.

My offer this year is to lean into reflective statements THEN questions.

Reflective statements + questions generate inquiry.

Inquiry is your ticket to working smarter NOT harder. You do not need to have all of the solutions and answers for your clients. Practice listening, reflecting, recapping, summarizing, mirroring, clarifying, encapsulating, drawing distinctions BEFORE asking another question and let me know if recommendations simplify, client outcomes change, and if you feel the weight of needing to know every solution disappear.


Ps - read the book Coaching the Person Not the Problem by Marcia Reynolds ASAP.


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