Careful with that coping question

One type of question which progress-focused coaches ask is the coping question. This question is mainly used when coachees experience their circumstances as really hard and more or less hopeless. The basic for of this type of question is: How do (/did) you manage to go on under such difficult circumstances? But there are many different ways in which the question can be asked, such as:
  • What keeps you going under such difficult circumstances? 
  • How do you manage to deal with such difficult situations each day? 
  • What helps you to keep going even though things are really hard? 
  • How can you explain to yourself how you have been able to do so well while the circumstances are so hard? 
  • It is admirable how you have been able to keep on going under such difficult circumstances.... how did you do that? 
  • How did you manage to cope before you gave up?
There is a specific type of coping questions which can also work well but which is, I think, not entirely without risk and should therefore be used with caution. That is the type of formulations which contain a negative component such as:
  • How do you explain that you haven't given up yet? 
  • How do you explain that your situation isn't worse? 
  • What is the reason you haven't given up? 
These questions can work well by helping coachees understand better how they have prevented their situation from getting worse. But there is a certain risk that they may backfire. This may happen when coachees interpret the question in such a way that think that the coach agrees that their situation is very bad or hopeless. Therefore I think it is wise to be careful with such formulations of the coping question.


Good post! I agree with you. Just dedicated a part of my new book "Resource-Oriented Interviewing" to the risks and hazards of coping-questions.
Andreas Langosch