The 3 Chairs Coaching Approach

The 3 Chairs Coaching Approach

The Three Chairs Method of Coaching By Vivien Pau (email: vivienpau@yahoo. com. hk) Case Study- Working with a Client who was unhappy about her job and wanted to quit I asked the Client to work on first about her workload. She had complained that her boss gave her too much work and responsibilities which she does not want or could not handle. Prior to the 3 Chairs exercise, I had helped her built on her self-confidence and positivity by doing the Gratitude Journal and the Achievement Journal for a month – they seemed to have boosted her self-esteem, she had become more positive, cheerful and less emotional.

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In the 3 Chairs exercise, it was interesting that she said in the Positive Chair that actually she wanted all the work because they were new, interesting developmental projects and they helped her and the company to grow! And actually she wanted to do the work herself! What’s more, if she really did not want to do the work, she could any time tell her boss and he would not force it on her! It was such a surprise and a dramatic turn-around! At the end, the Client became much more self-aware and accountable for her own decisions and situation. She did not feel like a ‘victim’ of the environment her boss put her into.

The next is she wanted to act more ‘professional’ with her boss meaning less emotional and more rational and objective. So I asked her to do a 3 Chairs exercise about the issue. In the Negative Chair, it came to light that she acted emotional because she felt her boss was not being a good role model, was kind of a hypocrite – ‘pretending to be democratic’ by asking them to make the decisions but actually wants them to follow his wishes. Her ‘emotional’ behaviour (like showing him her obvious displeasure) was her way to express her disapproval, her way to tell her boss he should not or could not continue to ‘manipulate us’.

When this was surfaced, she could in the Positive Chair tell herself what she could do instead in more professional and ‘mature’ manners. She was very happy with the results. Overall, from the 3 Chairs exercise, the Client turned around from feeling like a victim of her circumstances to seeing her roles in the situation and once she realized them, she felt more in ‘control’ of the situation and started to take responsibility to change them. This was a ‘surprise’ benefit to me as I did not expect that to happen.

I thought the 3 Chairs exercise was just used to reduce the power of the negative thoughts, help people cultivate resources in the Positive Chair and boost their confidence and resolve moving forward. These happened too but having the person take responsibility and feel less like a victim was a happy ‘bonus’ for me. . My reflections and learning on the 3 Chairs Exercise are: 1. When applying the 3 chairs, it is important that we define and frame the ‘issue’ to work on clearly before we ask the Client to sit down on the chairs. Otherwise the Client may ‘wander’ or move from one (related) issue to the next 2.

It definitely builds self-awareness and self-accountability of the Client 3. It helps boost her confidence and internal resources of moving forward/ making the change 4. It definitely has to be done speaking aloud, just staying in the head does not seem as powerful 5. The negative thoughts often seem to date back to early childhood days ( eg. critical parent) – it will help the Client to realize she is now an adult, she does not have to be afraid or be passive victim to the environment as she was a child, remind her she has the power and strength to change the situation now as an adult


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