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The Presenting Problem


Disciplines > Coaching > Process > The Presenting Problem

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



The 'Presenting Problem' is that with which you, the coach, are first presented by the client. Surprisingly often, this is not the real problem. What you are presented may be what the client thinks is the problem, or it may be a distraction away from an embarrassing or painful problem.

An early job of the coach is therefore to discover the real problem. It does not mean dismissing the presenting problem out of hand, as this is likely to get you dismissed. Take them seriously and explore the problem as presented, whilst also digging further afield and seeking a broader understanding of the person and their contexts.

Confronting them with the real problem is something to do with care. First, your Identified Problem may not be the real problem. Secondly, they may not recognize it as the real problem. A useful approach can be to present it speculatively, saying you think this may be a problem and asking them to consider it (deferring an answer can help here). Depending on their response and further information, you may change your tack or press the point further.


A coach is presented with a problem of a manager who is difficult to work with by an HR professional who is managing a corporate coaching program. In early conversation with the manager, the coach finds that he does not like the HR department, which makes the coach wonder if the HR person has got it right. Further exploration, however, shows that the manager does not particularly like quite a few other people. More digging leads to the conclusion that the manager is impatient when others do not understand what he is saying, leading to friction.

In feeding this back, the coach first talks about how problematic others are and how this is causing the manager problems. They then move on to questions about how this can be resolved, subtly framing context as where two people are in conflict, the more intelligent one is better equipped to help the situation.

The coach then develops a successful program to help the manager increase their communication and patience.


We all have a deep need to explain. We also have a deep need for things not to be our fault. The result is that if you talk about problems faced by other people, they will seldom say 'it is my fault.'

Even when they do hold their hand up, they may well not be telling the truth. One reason for this is that they are cleverly hiding the real problems behind something far more innocuous and far less scary. Another reason can easily be that they themselves do not know what is going on. We are mostly subconscious creatures and can have a significant blind self.

See also

Listening, Questioning techniques, Argument


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