3 Coaching Questions That Uncover Bad Rules

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3 Coaching Questions That Uncover Bad Rules

book of rules

Sometimes clients come to you really upset…

…about something in their life…

…their family…

…their business…

…or whatever they’re working on with you.

They go on with their story…

…and despite anything you say…

nothing seems to help.

Why are they so upset?

When this happens…

…the only reason why your client is so upset…

…the only reason why your coaching doesn’t seem to work…

…is because one of your client’s rules has been broken.

Rules about how life should go…

…how their spouse or children should treat them…

…or what needs to happen for your client to feel ok.

book of rules

Rules are so unconscious and automatic for your client…

…that it’s hard to see them.

Your client isn’t going to spontaneously bring up their rules in sessions. Why would they?

The fact is…

Your client’s rules are INVISIBLE.

Invisible to both YOU and YOUR CLIENT.

Yet these rules affect every aspect of your client’s life.

For example:

The other day I was at the grocery store with my son.

I forgot something…

…so I left him in line for a moment…

…and when I came back, the woman behind us was really upset.

She scolded me, “There’s a line.”

“I’m with him.” I said, pointing to my son.

And then, she began a tirade that I won’t repeat…

…but the upshot was “Your son let that man cut in front of him”.

Clearly my son and I broke a few of her rules.

I try to notice and understand my client’s rules.”

In her mind… we were in the WRONG.

And yet, I knew I was RIGHT (according to my own rules)…

But I let her go in front of us in line anyway (which was allowable under ‘my rules’).

Then my son asked me, “Should I have tried to stop the man from cutting in front of me?”

I replied, “It’s okay.”

“But mom, what should I do if someone cuts in front of me again?”

I replied, “It doesn’t make any difference now, honey… it’s all over.”

And finally, exasperated, he begged…

“Mom, what are the RULES?”

“I need to know the RULES!”

And I stopped dead in my tracks.

Suddenly, I realized that my son saw something for himself that I never attempted to tell him…


And, even more importantly, his LIFE is run by rules.

And so I answered him very carefully.

“Honey, the tricky part is that everybody has different rules.”

“I can tell you MY rules.”

“I can tell you when you BROKE someone else’s rules.”

“But I can’t tell you THE rules…”

“…because there’s no such thing.”

“The best you can do is understand your OWN rules, and maybe improve them.”

“And then try to notice other’s rules.”

Then he asked, “Mom, is that what you do when you’re coaching?”

And, of course, again, he was right…

…that’s EXACTLY what I do when I’m coaching.

I try to notice and understand my client’s rules.


Rules that bother them.

Rules that make them rigid.

Rules that motivate them, but stress them out at the same time.

How do you discover your coaching client’s rules?

These 4 questions will help you get started:

Ask your client…

“What has to happen to feel love, happiness, success, etc.?”

This question will help you discover your client’s VALUE RULES… rules that serve as ‘gatekeepers’ to your client’s most valued feelings.

If your client complains that they have no love in their life, then ask them “What has to happen for you to feel love?”

Their answer will be their RULE for the love that they value so much, but aren’t currently experiencing in their life.

Make sense?

“How should people treat each other? How should they treat you? What should people do when _____?”

This line of questioning will help you identify your client’s RULES OF ENGAGEMENT… rules that they use to judge or evaluate other people’s behavior.

This is especially important in your client’s evaluation of behaviour and communication towards THEM.

A guaranteed way to ruffle your client’s feathers is to break their rules of engagement towards them.

“What has to happen for you to feel angry, bothered, frightened, stressed, etc.?”

This question will help you discover your client’s TRIGGER RULES… rules that fire off painful emotions for your client.

If your client complains that they’re feeling stressed, then ask them “What has to happen for you to feel stressed?”

Their answer will be one of their TRIGGER RULES for stress.

“Who/How do you have to be?” or “How do you have to show up?”

These questions will extract your client’s IDENTITY RULES… your client’s ideas about who they need to be (whether they think they are, or are not that person).

As you start to identify your client’s rules, you’ll notice that many of those rules make it really hard for your client to enjoy their life, and make it really easy for them to feel lousy.

Here are a few ways your client’s rules trap them:

“Perfectionist” Rules Make Success Unachievable:

Some rules are not well-founded in reality… focusing on how things should be rather than how they ARE

Here are a few examples of how perfectionist rules make it impossible to win:

  • “My house must always be cleaned up and ready to entertain company.”
  • “I must always accomplish everything on my to-do list.”
  • “I’ll only feel secure when I have tons of liquid cash.”
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“Reactive” Rules Make Clients Hypersensitive:

Certain rules make it way too easy for your client to feel injured or damaged.

Reactive rules can make…

  • feedback from a customer feel like criticism
  • a funny look from a friend feel like hatred
  • a struggle feel like failure

I’ve seen reactive rules push even the most ‘sane’ client to:

  • Assume that someone is out to get them
  • Act like a control freak
  • Get overly upset when they didn’t get what they wanted
  • Be fragile when people don’t treat them precisely the right way
  • Feel like a failure because they don’t have the right job or degree

“Claustrophobic” Rules Tie Clients in Knots:

Some of your client’s Identity rules keep them in a ‘box’, preventing them from…

  • doing what they’d love to do (or even doing what’s necessary)
  • fully expressing themselves
  • being who they truly are

Claustrophobic rules can make your client…

  • tip-toe around certain relationships… “walking on eggshells”
  • stay in a job they hate
  • never get around to a dream vacation or something on their ‘bucket list’
  • avoid telling a friend or family member what they really think

When your client’s rules are violated

…they get upset.

When your client’s rules don’t fit their goals, life, or identity

…they get stuck, or otherwise disempowered.

These rules run your client’s life…

…as if your client was a puppet, and their rules, the puppeteer.

And worse… your client doesn’t even know it.

But when you help your client be AWARE of their rules

Rules don’t have to limit your client.

Rules don’t have to cage your client.

Rules don’t have to trap your client.


Because your client CREATED every rule.

And, since your client created their rules…

They can change them.

They can overcome them.

They can reinvent them.

When you help your client recognize that they have fallen into a disempowering rule trap…

…you give them a profound gift.

Instead of allowing your client to grope blindly for answers…

…they have an opportunity to turn those rules around.

Next week I will show you HOW to help your clients change their disempowering rules.

Colette “Claustrophobia Crusher” Coiner

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