Structuring coaching sessions with GROW – Part 2: Reality, Options & the Will to move forward

Last time we checked out what the GROW Model is. We also discussed the importance of Goal Setting in helping both coach and coachee look beyond the current situation to establish a clear vision for the coaching intervention, as well as a focus for taking discussions forward.

Following on from that, this time we’ll be looking at the other three components of the GROW Model:GROW

  • checking out the Reality of the coachee’s current context and situation
  • generation of Options
  • ensuring the coachee has the Will to move forward with specific actions


You will already have noticed that the GROW Model places the exploration of the coachee’s current context and situation after Goal Setting. At first glance this may seem counter-intuitive, but to my mind it makes good sense. Why? Because this way, right at the start of the coaching, coachees are given the opportunity to explore and build a compelling vision focusing on what they truly desire.

Coachees may never before have had such an opportunity to let their imaginations fly. They may never have been accorded the level of attention and support provided by a skillful coach. An exercise of the imagination such as Goal Setting will not be as potentially transformative, if carried out after a coachee’s thought processes have become bogged down in describing a current reality with which he or she is most probably not entirely happy.

There’s a subtle point here.  The process of Goal Setting plays a crucial role in providing a focused agenda for exploring Reality – a focused agenda which ensures the discussion doesn’t descend into becoming a general ‘moan fest’ which serves merely to reinforce the coachee’s current thinking.

As coaches, we need to be encouraging coachees towards explorations of Reality which tease out the issues – without plunging them further into what may be counter-productive mindsets. Yes, we listen out for signs of limiting self-beliefs, tell-tale choices of language, and potentially self-defeating patterns of thought. But as we do so, we need to be pressing for objective description, factual answers and descriptive language, steering the coachee away from judgemental evaluations and criticism of self or others.

We’re interested in working towards an understanding of Reality which takes coachees forward and enables the identification of the real issue(s) preventing them from achieving their visions.

Exploring Reality may take time. That’s fine. Using open questions, we’re helping the coachee to probe and see things specifically, to clarify meaning, to strip away assumptions and judgements. We’re encouraging the use of precise language, and the provision of real-world examples rather than assertions. We’re facilitating an awareness-raising process for coachees which enables their reality to be understood.

It’s vital to tease out and describe the current situation before trying to find a resolution. Listening is key to this process, but incisive questioning comes in a close second. The coach needs sometimes to absorb and process large quantities of information to reflect back the coachee’s ‘story’ in a way that she or he may never have perceived it before. Providing that mirror which allows the coachee to see her or himself in perspective, is crucial to generating an accurate perception of Reality from which the coachee can progress towards her or his goals.

Some useful questions to consider at this stage are:

  • What is the present situation? 
  • What actions have you taken so far?
  • What really is the issue here?
  • What barriers will you need to overcome?


Now we understand the Reality, we can turn to encouraging coachees to create a list of alternative courses of action which might help move them towards their desired goals and visions. We’re looking at generating as many options as possible, and at this stage quantity is more important than quality or feasibility. The aim is to stimulate the coachee to open up possibility.

cards with Option written on themIn many ways this is like a brainstorming session. The coachee is generating ideas, drawing out all possible solutions. These don’t need to be new or novel; they don’t even need to be sensible. Initially there should be no expression of preference, no assumptions, no ridicule. No censorship, obstacles or completeness. What we want is for coachees to dig deep into their imaginations to break free from their conventional thinking so that a change in awareness and perspective can change reality.

Once a variety of options has been produced, the process of evaluation can begin. We’re now looking for the best options to take the coachee forward, funnelling down to those with the most chance of success under the circumstances.This is where option hits reality, and where potential practical Action Points emerge.

Initially in the Options stage, we’re asking open questions to open up the coachee’s thinking, before moving on to narrowing options down once the options list has been created. Some useful questions are:

  • What could you do?
  • What would you do if…?
  • What could you do differently?
  • What else?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of…?
  • What are the implications of taking this action?
  • If you could only take the one option you believe would add the most value, what would it be?


Now we turn to converting discussion to decision by concentrating on the Options that provide workable Action Points, before testing the coachee’s Will to take action. What is to be done, when, and by whom…?

If we’ve been rigorous in the previous stages, the actions to be taken may be obvious. Remember, though, that the choice and ownership should be with the coachee – even if the decision is to do nothing. There is no ‘right’ decision. The role of the coach is not to pass judgement on what the coachee decides to do. Rather, it’s to test the coachee’s thinking, to have him or her describe the reason for the choice. Once a final choice is made, we’re looking at agreeing what the coachee intends to do.

words - idea, plan, actionThis is the time to create the action plan which will take the coachee towards his or her goal. Action Points are hammered out which the coachee is convinced can be achieved by the next session. Be sure that these Action Points are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and to be undertaken within an agreed Time frame. Anything short of this, and the Action Point won’t get done. In addition, encourage the coachee to be rigorous about evaluating the implications of the Action Points – including their practicality, any obstacles, and any support that might be needed.

Once a robust action plan has been agreed, it’s time to test and set the coachee’s commitment. By checking commitment, we’re pushing the coachee to move from thinking to doing. Without sufficient commitment, no action will take place.

A simple but effective means of firming up commitment is to ask: “On a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being not at all certain and 10 being absolutely certain), how certain are you that you will carry out this action?”  Such a question causes coachees to consider exactly how much commitment they genuinely have. This is about their own progress, so don’t be shy to press for the highest levels of commitment achievable.

Openness, honesty and non-judgementalism in the coaching relationship are particularly important at this stage. The coachee must feel able to admit to not having sufficient commitment to move forward. If on reflection a coachee reports a commitment level of 7 or under, action is very unlikely to be taken. It’s time to take stock and to revisit earlier stages in the GROW process to dig more into Reality and/or Options. Somewhere you’ll find the sticking point. Having insufficient commitment can provide a discussion point in itself, one which can produce much learning.

Coaches should be vigilant when testing the commitment of coachees who may be driven partly by the need for approval. There may be a tendency for the coachee to report a high level of commitment purely to please the coach. To avoid this, the coaching relationship needs to be calibrated to allow such coachees to feel perfectly comfortable in stating exactly what they feel, rather than trying to find some ‘right’ answer. Much depends on the coach’s skills in building rapport, trust and an ‘I’m okay, You’re okay’ values stance within the coaching. The coachee needs to be encouraged to adopt these him or herself, and to practise them as the relationship builds.

If the reported commitment level is above 7, things are going well. But don’t let it rest there. Push the coachee to find ways of tweaking the Action Point, so that the commitment level can be raised even further. Commitment levels should be genuine, and Actions Points should be achievable. When this is the case, the coachee has the enthusiasm, insight and sense of responsibility to make sure the Action Points are delivered.

At this stage, the most significant contributions of the coach are the quality of questioning and the confidence to press the coachee to achieve the utmost clarity and highest level of commitment. Some useful questions are:

  • What are you going to do?
  • When are you going to do it?
  • What are your success criteria?
  • What obstacles might you meet?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how certain are you that you will carry out this action?

Now we’ve completed our review of the GROW Model – that subtle, flexible, deceptively simple tool for structuring coaching interventions and sessions. As a blueprint for exploring Goals, Reality, Options and the Will to move forward it has few equals. That’s why it’s stood the test of time, and it’s in the toolbox of even the best of coaches, as one of the five basic coaching skills any coach should master.

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1 thought on “Structuring coaching sessions with GROW – Part 2: Reality, Options & the Will to move forward

  1. Pingback: Structuring coaching sessions with GROW – Part 1: Introduction to the GROW Model & Goal Setting | Newbycoach thoughts

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