Most of us are born helpers, meaning it’s in our nature to try to help other people. Yet even though our intentions may be sound, at times we do not feel capable of helping. This is because we don’t have all the answers. Meanwhile, we believe that in order to help someone, we must have the correct answers so that we can advise appropriately. Advising can, of course, be very useful in the appropriate context. However, there are also other ways that you can be of assistance. 

 An additional item to have in your “help tool kit” is what I call the Coach Approach to helping others. In this approach, you don’t need to know the answers. Instead, you create a relationship that allows the person you’re helping to uncover the answers for themselves. 

 Carl Rogers, one of the preeminent psychologists of the 20th century, has shared the following insights about how he changed his approach to helping clients:  “In the early professional years, I was asking the questions:  ‘How can I treat or cure or change this person?’ Now I would phrase the question in this way:  ‘How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?’ ”

 There are two advantages of the Coach Approach to helping others: 

1. Greater ownership. When people come up with the answers themselves, they have stronger ownership of the solutions. Therefore they are more likely to follow through on the necessary actions.  

2. Increased flexibility. The Coach Approach is a more flexible approach than advising. That’s because it works in both types of situations – first, the ones where you do think you know the answers and, secondly, also in those times when you don’t believe that you have the answers. As such, the Coach Approach can allow you to help anyone, anytime, with anything. 



To put the Coach Approach into practice, one of the key abilities you need is the ability to ask the right questions. Constructing the right questions is both an art and a science. However, any question that helps someone make progress is a great question. In my experience, I have found the following set of questions to be effective in a variety of situations: 

To understand the desired outcome: 

1. What is it that you want? 

2. What is the problem you want to address?

3. What is the outcome you desire from this situation? 

To gauge the level of commitment:

1. Why is achieving your outcome important to you?

2. How important is it for you to address and resolve your situation?

3. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = not at all, 10 = completely), how committed are you to achieving your outcome? If not a 10, what would it take for you to be a 10?  

To clarify obstacles (real or perceived):

1. What has prevented you to date from achieving your outcome? 

2. What is preventing you from achieving your outcome right now? 

3. What do you believe are the real obstacles to making progress? 

To develop a Making Progress Plan (MPP):

1. What is one thing you can do that will make the biggest difference right now? 

2. If you had already achieved your outcome, what would you have done? 

3. What actions are you committed to taking?

4. When will you take these actions? 

5. What support do you need, and from whom?

While encouraging the person to make a plan, focus them toward the solutions that feel the most plausible and achievable. You can then offer further help by agreeing on a time to get back together to review progress.