Coaching and Mentoring

Find out more about how a focus on Coaching and Mentoring can help your organisation.

Individuals and organisations often call on coaching and mentoring as the primary tools to heighten their personal performance. Both practices are utilised for development or managing change and are integrated with one another to varying degrees.

Coaching is generally a short term intervention that starts with setting a learning goal and is concerned with the development of a specific set of skills or expertise (Clutterback, 2001). Mentoring tends to be of a longer duration and is more exploratory than focused on a specific development objective (Clutterback, 2001).

We will explore coaching and mentoring from a psychological viewpoint, as well as how to achieve successful coaching experiences, and how the Solution Focused and Cognitive Behavioural approaches can be integrated with Insights Discovery.

Focus of Coaching

The focus of coaching can be broadly placed into two categories – remedial and positive proactive. Traditionally, coaching has taken on a remedial style. In this form, the coach takes on the expert role and gives feedback to the learner in order to fix problems and behaviours, often with a focus on the past. By the learner identifying that they want to change based on the challenges of their past, the coach is able to tap into their internal motivation and set goals for the future.

Coaching traditionally takes on a remedial styleIn positive proactive coaching, the coach and learner set the goals they want to achieve, with a focus on the future. In this role, the coach is viewed as an expert within the learning process and works with the learner to identify how best to move forward and achieve their goals. Rather than a prescriptive teaching-like approach, positive proactive coaching allows the learner to arrive at their own conclusions. Positive proactive coaching concentrates on a learner’s future performance, drawing out what works well and what can be amended to improve situations in the future (Peterson, 2002).

As we explore additional coaching methodologies, it is important to regard coaching as a toolkit and not a ‘one size fits all’ answer. Just like home improvement projects, there is no single tool designed to address every need. Practitioners should push themselves to be able to adapt and incorporate a variety of coaching approaches within a singular coaching context in order to help a learner reach their goals.

History of Solution Focused and Cognitive Behavioural approaches

 “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Not surprisingly, both the Solution Focused and Cognitive Behavioural approaches started out as forms of therapy. Solution Focused coaching was developed by a husband and wife team in the United States named Insoo Kim Berg and Steve DeShaser, in the 1980s. It follows the premise that a coach does not have to understand the problem to find the solution and that any coaching must be developed around what works for the individual. There are a variety of Solution Focused techniques that can be used together or individually depending on the learner and the coaching environment.

Cognitive Behavioural coaching has its origins in the therapy of the same name and is represented through an amalgamation of behavioural and cognitive therapies. Contributing therapists to this approach include Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, David Burns, Michael Mahoney and many others. In its basic form, the Cognitive Behavioural approach is a progression of a method that recognises the need for coaches to evolve and adapt to the multiple aspects of an individual that contribute responds to coaching.

Contrary to what some may think, you do not need to be a trained therapist or psychologist to use these approaches. That said, a coach should always be cautious not to step into the clinical domain and refrain from coaching people who are experiencing clinical and mental health issues. The approaches should be viewed as tools which can be used separately or together and the more they are practised, the easier to use and more beneficial to the practitioner and learner they become.

Solution Focused coaching techniques

“There is nothing wrong with you that what’s right with you can’t fix.” – Insoo Kim Berg

Simply put, the Solution Focused approach is a set of techniques, principles and the careful employment of language (Iveson, 2002) based on the principle that to find a solution, one does not need to know the whole problem but rather what has to be done.

Problem free talk

How a coaching session starts can have great impact on the success of the intervention. If a learner is not in the right state of mind, the work and effort required by the coach is significantly increased. To enable a more positive and motivated state of mind of the learner, a coach may consider a Solution Focused greeting. For example, greeting someone in a coaching environment with ‘what has been going well for you this week?’ rather than ‘how are you?’ can invite a positive response and may start the coaching session in a more productive way.

Problem free questions aren’t always work related.  It is worth emphasizing that problem free questions do not necessarily have to invoke work related responses. A short discussion of what the individual is feeling good about, even in their personal life, is not a waste of time. Greeting the person this way and taking a moment to talk about something that is making them feel good will enable a more positive state of mind that may be maintained throughout a coaching session.


Scaling is a simple yet effective way to talk about a person’s challenges that enables the coach to see how the person feels about themselves in relation to the performance they want to improve. Just about any issue can be framed on a ten point scale simply by asking the individual to rate where they feel they are within the anchors of zero and ten. In a coaching context, a coach might ask, ‘rate how positive you are in your upcoming review on a zero to ten scale’ as a start to a coaching conversation. The coach should always anchor the zero as something which they know the individual will believe themselves to have exceeded.

The rating the individual assigns is not as important as the questions which follow. If the person replies that they are a six, the next question a coach could ask might be, ‘what makes you say six and not four or five?’

By asking these types of questions, the coach is forcing the individual to identify the skills or qualities they already have which should be intrinsically motivating. After this, a coach could ask what it would take for the individual to rate themselves at a seven or eight and by doing this, the coach is enabling a role reversal that now places the learner in the expert/coach role.

Hopes for best outcomes

When starting any coaching intervention using the Solution Focused approach, it is useful to ask the learner what they hope could be the best outcome from their coaching session. By inviting responses around what the learner is seeking, without dwelling on what they don’t have, the coach is able to better identify what the learner’s goals are and can focus on the needs of the individual. Coaches may find that this approach is a great way to start every session, which forces the learner to think about what they want and reminds the coach to
empower the learner by using their own goals.

Preferred future

The preferred future question is a powerful visualisation technique that asks the individual to think of what they want to achieve in their future. Using the learner’s responses, a coach can respond with questions like questions like:

  • How does it feel?
  • What is different?
  • What is the first thing you notice?
  • What do others notice about you?
  • What changes would you need to make to allow this to happen?

As a motivation tool that helps a learner identify what changes need to be made, the preferred future technique enables the coach and learner to establish a clear set of actions – based on the desired outcomes of the individual.


Solution Focused coaching follows the principle that the intensity of problems fluctuate and through the examination of those times of exception, a coach and learner may be able to map out a solution. An example of this principle would be if a learner expresses concern of performing poorly at work, a coach could use the opportunity to ask probing questions around times when the individual performed well. By establishing the differences in the two, the coach is able to work with the learner using the exception as a guide to the solution.

Direct and indirect compliments

Compliments can be a simple way of making an individual feel good about themselves and can also have the power to increase motivation. When coaches use direct compliments, the individual may feel safe to take pride in their improvements and give themselves an indirect compliment.

In the Solution Focused approach, the coach should always be on the look-out for resources that the learner possesses that, when identified, can be turned into indirect compliments. For example, if an individual has struggled with a project but still manages to complete it, an indirect compliment would be ‘what does that tell you about yourself?’ which allows the individual to identify the quality that enabled the achievement.

Time and the ‘what else’ question

We have seen how solution focused techniques enable the learner to reflect, but it is possible that individuals may be unsure or reluctant to engage in exercises like the ones we’ve described based on confidence issues or the novelty of the approach. In these cases, a coach may need to provide the learner with more time to respond and experiment with the length of pauses to observe how adjusting these factors can increase the frequency or quality of the response. One tactic coaches should use often is rather than asking if there is ‘anything else?’, the coach should always ask ‘what else?’ and should ask this continuously until the individual’s answers are exhausted. ‘What else’ encourages further responses and enriches the information gained from the individual during the coaching session.

Cognitive Behavioural approach

“The belief that one’s own view of reality is the only reality is the most dangerous of all delusions” – Paul Watzalawick

Cognitive Behavioural approachIt is estimated that over 70 percent of coaches use Cognitive Behavioural coaching as their sole or major approach to coaching (Sparrow, 2006). The Cognitive Behavioural coaching approach is two pronged in that it tackles both thoughts and behaviours, as its title suggests. This approach has a strong theoretical underpinning and follows a five factor model which can be described as follows:


The situation factors in the Cognitive Behavioural approach equates to the environmental factors which the individual is encountering. In an organisational context this may be a large workload, a domineering colleague or a departmental transition. The situation factor interacts with all the other factors in the model and a coach must consider this element within the context of the additional information they gather in coaching sessions.


Thoughts or cognitions are a central element to the Cognitive Behavioural coaching approach. These are a central focus in a coaching context because the coach must identify the learner’s thoughts in order to challenge them alongside the individual.


An individual’s behaviour is impacted initially by the learner’s thoughts and secondarily by the learner’s physical reactions and feelings. In terms of a coaching environment, it is most likely a learner is seeking to change behaviours.

Physical reactions

Physical reactions come into play in the coaching context if a learner were to experience an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, sweating, stomach pain or other symptoms, which can be negatively or positively affected by thoughts and feelings/moods.


Moods and feelings relate to a learner’s emotions and can include states of anxiety, low mood, anger, frustration, sadness and apathy. These are influenced by the thoughts and physical reactions, but also have a connection to behaviour.

How it works

As the model details, there is a to and fro interaction between many aspects of the Cognitive Behavioural approach, but in coaching aspects it is the thoughts and behavioural patterns that are most focused upon. By addressing these areas, which are key to self-awareness, learners will find there are also physical and psychological benefits.

There are different categories which unhelpful thoughts tend to align within the model, this includes: predicting the future, mind reading, catastrophising, focusing on the negatives, should statements, over generalising, what if statements and labelling (Mood Juice, 2014).

Once the unhelpful thoughts that are affecting an individual’s performance are identified, the coach then helps the individual to challenge those thoughts. Key to this is finding contradictory evidence. For example, if someone thinks that a change programme is going to have a negative impact on their job role, a coach may ask why they believe this. Through engaging in this way, the learner may come to find that comparative change programmes have been successfully undertaken before and see this as evidence to challenge their original thoughts or to take a more balanced point of view.

Solution Focused, Cognitive Behavioural coaching and Insights Discovery

Both Solution Focused and Cognitive Behavioural coaching can be used alongside Insights Discovery as part of an integrated and adaptive coaching approach. As we know, it is not uncommon for organisational issues to arise due to misunderstandings. When using a Cognitive Behavioural approach, Insights Discovery can be incorporated by using the spectrum of colour energies to overcome misunderstandings between individuals who may not understand or value the other’s communication style or approach. By using the colour lens to explore an individual’s thoughts, actions and interpretations, the learner can see evidence that challenges their original interpretations. Additionally, Insights Discovery can be helpful in behavioural changes, especially when used in a targeted way to change specific behaviours during the Cognitive Behavioural coaching sessions.

In a similar capacity, Solution Focused coaching lends itself to be integrated with Insights Discovery because both can be action oriented, with a focus on what has to be done rather than what the problem is. This integration is especially easy when the learner’s goals have been set because the coach can explore how the mix of colour energies can be used to achieve these goals and what colour energies they could use to help them do so.


It is crucial for coaching practitioners to be equipped to facilitate personal growth with a variety of learners through the use of a varied coaching toolkit. The techniques outlined within the Solution Focused and Cognitive Behavioural approaches can be used by coaches as outlined or in modified ways based on the coach’s understanding of the learner they are working with. Tools such as Insights Discovery are yet another part of a practitioner’s toolkit which can be used to accompany a variety of techniques that enable coaches to lead powerful coaching experiences.

Mentoring Infographic