Using objects as an aid in a coaching conversation

by Richard Fox

In a coaching session where the coachee's
topic contains several distinct elements, simple everyday objects such as a
pencil, pen, cup, saucer or spoon can be used to great effect. Using objects in
coaching can help to regain momentum with a fresh perspective or help a client
who is a more creative thinker.

Benefits of using objects in

  1. An opportunity to unravel a problem,
    identify its separate parts and to see the relationship between them (spatial
  2. The ability to look at the whole
  3. A way to get the issue or problem out of
    the coachee’s head and onto the table. This usually helps the coachee look, see
    and feel the situation more objectively and as an observer (disassociation
    and/or 3rd position)
  4. More scope for the coach to detach and to
  5. The ability for the coachee to see how the
    situation is now, and how he or she wants it to be
  6. A process that should appeal to people
    with a strong visual or spatial preference or a strong bodily (tangible)
    kinaesthetic preference.
  7. A method for the coachee to reveal the
    root cause of an issue on a deeper level. The objects can represent intangible
    as well as tangible things, e.g., the component pieces regarding an issue around
    using time effectively might be: (i) love of variety, (ii) No time for myself
    and (iii) I never do anything properly.
  8. An emphasis on awareness and insight,
    gathering and testing data or unblocking an issue, rather than on creating an
    action plan.


The coach needs to start with some
coaching questions focussing on the issue before inviting the coachee to work
with the objects. Until you become experienced in using objects, I suggest that
you restrict the total number of objects to between three and five. For example,
one object could represent a work team, rather than having individual objects
that represent each member of that team.

You can use the process at a variety of
levels, and an object does not have to represent a tangible person or situation.
For example, the coachee could use one object to represent his or her diary and,
at a deeper level another object(s) could represent a fear, guilt, a belief,
lack of self confidence.

Suggest to the coachee that they be open
to anything that shows up and assure them that they can end the process at any

As in any coaching situation, use your
intuition and sense where the energy is flowing and what is working or not
working. Also give the coachee the space and time to think and feel into the


  1. Clear a table and sit opposite, alongside
    or at 90 degrees to the coachee, whatever is more comfortable for the coachee.
    The coach should not touch the objects on the table at any stage in the
  2. Ask the coachee to focus on the current
    situation. Let the coachee choose the first object from what’s already in the
    room, e.g., a pencil. Ask the coachee to place the object thoughtfully on the
  3. Ask the coachee the following type of
    questions as appropriate:

    1. In which direction is the future, the past?

    2. In which direction do you want your object to face?
    3. Is there anything that springs to mind?
  4. Repeat the above process with the other
    components or objects. With each object the coach should check what the object
    represents, e.g., my boss or my low self-esteem and ask questions like:

    1. Where do you want to place [the object] in relation to the existing
    2. How far apart?
    3. Which way is it facing?
    4. What’s happening in that space?
    5. What, if anything, is missing in regard to your issue or question?

  5. Once the current reality is in place check
    that the coachee is happy with how the issue is represented.
  6. Now ask the coachee to "let each of the
    objects have a voice and an emotion and let each piece talk to you and to each
    other." Ask the coachee to take each object in turn. For example, a work project
    might say, "I would like to benefit more from X’s expertise."
  7. Ask the coachee questions like: What is
    the overall system telling you? What are you experiencing in your body? What do
    you notice that you were unaware of before?

The coach may comment on anything that may
be significant to the coachee, e.g., "I notice that your deputy is standing in
front of you and is facing you. What are the messages regarding

  1. The next stage is to ask the coachee one
    or both of the following types of questions:

    1. What object(s) would you like to move to help shift your
      perception/feelings about the current situation?
    2. How would the objects need to be arranged for the situation to be
      more satisfactory to you?

The coach could then deepen what this
might mean in terms of the steps she or he could take, and then end by asking
questions like: How do you now see, feel, or think about the issue? What has
changed for you? What insights have you had? To what extent has this process
been helpful?


I would like to thank and acknowledge
Meike Buegler, Constellator and Organizational Development Consultant at
Syngenta Crop Protection AG, for introducing me to Organizational
Constellations, using people as well as objects. Thank you also to Lesley Pugh,
an executive coach and NLP colleague, for contributing to this paper and to the
case study.


Richard Fox, ACC, qualified as a coach in 2001 to complement
his role as an experienced business mentor. He works mainly with executive,
middle management and team leaders, helping them create and sustain an
environment in which they can express themselves, optimise their potential, and
lead purposeful lives and purposeful organisations. For more information or to
review a related case study, you may contact him at or

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