Coaching helps people improve their lives, in ways they’re unable to achieve alone. Through asking the right questions, coaches position individuals to develop attitude or behaviour to achieve desired goals. Individuals may quickly achieve those goals, but some find it difficult to make headway, even though they’re desperate to change. Understanding why positive coaching dialogues fail to produce equally positive outcomes is crucial to the effect and reputation of coaching.

When coaching fails to deliver the goal, a coach will typically revisit the initial conversation about “what’s happening and why it’s happening. Answers to these questions will direct the next stage of the coaching dialogue. An emerging perspective suggests that the speed of response to these questions may indicate the likely outcome of the overall session.

In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman explores a fundamental difference between two types of thinking commonly used. In his model, “System 1 thinking” is fast, focused, instinctive and emotional, working most effectively in areas of the simple and the knowable. Conversely, “System 2 thinking” is slower, broader, deliberative, and logical, typically  best employed in situations of the problematic or unknown.

Society today values “speed of response”, although our environments are characterized by VUCAD (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity and delayed feedback). Consequently , there is an observable over-reliance on “system 1 thinking” , even to the point of substituting an easy-to-answer question for one that is harder, in order to provide a fast response to a question, in effect trading speed for accuracy. This preference becomes habitual or engrained and is often observed within coaching dialogues. If unchallenged it may undermine the effect, impact and ROI of the coaching relationship.

Successful coaches will be aware of the pitfalls attached to their clients over-reliance on “system 1 thinking”, however robust it may appear from the outside. Using mindfulness type techniques it is possible to challenge this preference within  clients. The re-establishment of “system 2 thinking”, particularly when initial responses have failed, will contribute to equipping clients to make meaningful and sustainable changes in both their business and personal lives.