206-299-23605208 Carlton Street  Bethesda, MD  20816

Unearthing Hidden Patterns: How to Help Coaching Clients from Getting Stuck

November 14, 2021

“We can be blind to the obvious and we’re also blind to our blindness.”

-Daniel Kahneman

As coaches, our work often includes helping our clients when they get stuck. The client comes to us with big dreams or goals and just can’t seem to move forward  — something seems to be holding them back. As a result, we may spend significant amounts of time supporting our clients in getting unstuck and helping them to uncover what they can’t see.

So, how do we support our clients who find themselves unable to navigate forward, or caught in a particular narrative that holds them back? 

When it comes down to it, what gets us all stuck at one time or another is our hidden patterns. Hidden patterns are a key aspect of our internal experience, and often include: 

  1. What we choose to focus on. 
  2. The assumptions we make.
  3. The beliefs we hold that become the unseen filters of our entire life experience. 

While we can see the world, we don’t see the filters through which we see it. When our filters are hidden from our view, we have a hard time seeing how we are getting in the way of our results.

What if we could become more aware of our patterns and help our clients become more aware of theirs? A powerful place to look for hidden patterns is in relationships. Relationships provide a rich place to see how our assumptions, beliefs and patterns play out; they are a way of experiencing the world. 

Many clients come to coaching or leadership development with leadership challenges which are often actually relationship challenges in disguise. Daniel Kahneman, the author of Thinking Fast and Slow, says, “We can be blind to the obvious and we’re also blind to our blindness.” Oftentimes leaders can’t see that their leadership challenges are truly relationship challenges. 

Three Steps to Uncovering Client Patterns

How do we help a client with a pattern they can’t see and help them emerge to be the leader they want to be? Here are three steps to help our clients forge strong relationships and get out of their own way: 


Step #1: Use the Proud Vow to create the context of who the client is at their best. 

A Proud Vow is a solemn promise someone makes to himself or herself to live a life they’ll be proud of. A Proud Vow is essentially the vision of who the client wants to be as a leader or as a human. What makes a Proud Vow important? When we’re under stress or in conflict, our instinctive, inborn tendency is to preserve ourselves. And to feel and act out of that instinct is natural. We all do this as humans and we can find all kinds of ways to justify our actions to others and ourselves by acting instantly on that natural instinct. When we act on that instinct to protect ourselves, we often create results we’re not proud of in the long term. 

The Proud Vow is created from the mosaic of answers that are taken from big, broad questions of the client like: 

  • How are they at their best? 
  • What are their proudest leadership moments? 
  • What leadership qualities do they seek to embody? 
  • What difference do they want their unique leadership to make?
  • When they’ve achieved that ideal, how will others experience them? 

It’s introspective, and long view questions like these that help the leader we are working with to get in touch with the essence of who they want to be as a leader and as a person. The Proud Vow embodies this vision. It can serve as a beacon when the client is under stress by helping them disconnect from their innate survival instinct and make choices in alignment with their higher vision.

Step #2: Start the client on the Question Path to help them see the perspective they’re missing. 

Asking specific questions to help our client see their missing perspectives will improve both their results and their relationships over time. One of the predictable ways we tend to err under stress is by either focusing too much on ourselves or too much on others. We call this Self/Other orientation. This perspective starts the chain reaction of how we filter information when we are in conflict. 

During a stressful interaction, the Self-oriented person will tend to focus too much on themselves. A client immersed in this perspective may become self-absorbed and tend to take too much responsibility for the conflict in relationship and they’ll likely act quickly to repair it. The self-oriented person may miss how the other person might be responsible and will tend to take more responsibility for the conflict than is theirs to take. 

An other-oriented person would do the opposite, placing focus on the other in relationship, possibly missing out on what they themself are responsible for. 

In this step, we ask intentional questions to help our clients see the perspective they are missing and begin to reveal the hidden patterns that are getting in their way. 

Step #3: Incite actions that align the client with the best version of themselves using the Proud Vow.

That brings us to step three: to incite actions that align the client with the best version of themselves using the Proud Vow. After we’ve gone through the previous perspective setting exercise, these questions will help us help our client divine the road ahead:

  • Who is the leader they want to be in this relationship? 
  • What could they do that would support their ability to be that?
  • What’s the relationship they want to have? 
  • How do they create that relationship? 
  • What’s the action they want to take (and by when) to resolve this situation?

Instead of feeling stuck and unable to move forward, this process grounds the client in the Proud Vow by designing action steps that help them clarify what’s most important and ultimately overcome their relationship and leadership challenges.


As coaches, it’s our goal to establish lasting and deep relationships with our clients and help them see the hidden patterns that might be preventing them from being the leader and human that they want to be. The Proud Vow serves as a true north for our clients during stressful times by reminding them of their best selves. Asking specific questions to help our clients see the perspectives they are missing will improve both their results and their relationships over time.


Are you ready to create awareness for your clients and give them the ability to see what they can’t see about themselves?

Going deep and doing transformative work in the time you have with clients, can be challenging nearly impossible without specific training and tools.

That’s why we want to invite you to our EQ Certification training that will significantly impact the way you connect and dive deep with your clients.

Instead of struggling to find ways to help your clients see how they are getting in their own way, you can develop the ability to help them bust through the internal obstacles that are keeping them stuck in their patterns and accelerate their progress towards life-giving relationships, aligned purpose, and reaching their goals and dreams.

Learn more about becoming a Certified EQ Practitioner »

Posted in: Learning in Action

Leave a comment