Tools for Coaching Mastery

This column is provided by an IAC Coaching Masteries®-Licensed School or Mentor.

Coaching for Change: 7 Steps to New Behaviors
by Joseph Liberti

To have something different you must be different and do something differently.

You have no doubt heard the humorous definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over, hoping to get a different result.” While we may chuckle at that, it is what people do when they are stuck. When folks are finally motivated to change, they need support and a method that assures their success at letting go of old unproductive habits and adopting new behaviors. The following seven steps are what I use with my emotional intelligence clients and coaches to develop emotional skill and new habits of behavior.

  1. Chunk it down: This means breaking the learning, the behavior and the change down to small bite-sized pieces that are more easily accomplished. This advances the client step-by-step and builds a growing foundation of success. Most of the adult learners I have worked with fall victim to the “just do it” myth. They say, “Now that you have helped me see what it is I am doing, I’ll just do it differently.” Good luck with that. That approach rarely works, especially when learning to use emotional intelligence or changing behaviors. Instead, identify a chunk of learning and/or practice. For example, the first “chunk” with some of my EQ clients might be to simply observe their physical reactions to a common situation for a week, before moving on to the next piece.
  2. Use a trigger: Connect the skill development practice and/or new behavior to a life or workplace event. Triggers I have used successfully with clients include: “Every time the phone rings,” “When I head out the door to the staff meeting,” “When I feel that familiar flush in my face.” Without some kind of a trigger, clients frequently fail to adopt a new behavior. When I ask them, “How did you do with that new behavior we talked about?” they say something like, “Oh gosh, I got so busy I forgot to do it.” For some clients, I have them make an appointment with themselves and put it in their calendar on specific days and times. Just as unproductive habits are usually activated by some kind of trigger, e.g., “I saw someone else doing it and so I joined in,” why not use triggers for new productive behaviors?
  3. Journal activity and results: Journaling one’s thoughts, feelings and experiences and reflecting on them has long been recognized as an invaluable tool for personal growth. The practice stimulates insight and acknowledges success. Clients can look at the pattern of their writing over time for valuable clues as to what is working for them and what is not. Getting a client to journal regularly is often a challenge, so I was delighted to discover an online journal tool that allows me to post and read my journal entries in my email account. Since my clients use email a great deal, the tool easily fits into their lives and habits. Some clients who prefer audio keep a journal with a simple audio recorder. Find what your client relates to and will use.
  4. Debrief: Debrief the practice/behavior experience in your next coaching session. Ask: What was your experience of doing the practice? What worked for you? What did you learn? This can open a very valuable dialogue. For example, if the client couldn’t or didn’t do the behavior you can investigate where they got stuck. If they had insights about themselves in that situation or got a particular result, you can explore that to great benefit.
  5. Support self-acknowledgement: Support the client to acknowledge themselves for whatever success they had in doing the practice or behavior. IMPORTANT: When they report some success with a new behavior, spend some time helping them recognize and acknowledge each little piece they did so that they are clear that THEY actually made it happen and so that they can replicate the experience. (Don’t tell them—ask them!)
  6. Correct or refine: Make corrections or refinements in the practice or behavior. You might ask them to correct the practice to make it more effective or easier to do, or to accommodate their lifestyle. You can refine it to include the next “chunk” that you want to support them to learn.
  7. Repeat for 28 days: Learning theory suggests that it takes 28 days to form a new habit of behavior. What my experience has taught me is that repetition and reinforcement work wonders to build new behaviors, while building confidence and competence in the client.


Joseph Liberti, founder of EQ At Work is an EQ Mentor who certifies coaches and trainers to facilitate a process of development using emotional intelligence to achieve positive change of behavior. Joseph welcomes questions and comments at or 888-EQWORKS (379-6757).

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