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Cognitive methods in coaching


Disciplines > Coaching >Schools of thought > Cognitive methods in coaching

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Cognitive psychology has a focus on how people think and what goes on in the mind.

A particular concern of cognitive approaches is where our thinking is less than effective in some way. Thus we use faulty thinking such as the 'ABCDEFG' of:

  • Anchoring: We base understanding and thinking on what we already know and remember.
  • Bias: We do not make balanced decisions using clear criteria and best data.
  • Certainty: We convert hope into certainty.
  • Distortion: We internally change what we perceive.
  • Emotion: Our cool thinking gets driven by emotions.
  • Filtration: We remove things that are not helpful.
  • Guessing: What we do not know, we may guess.

We also think a lot about people, basing what we say and do on what we think others are thinking and what we want them to think. Social biases are at the root of many behavioral problems.

Cognitive approaches can be very helpful in coaching as they enable conversations about how the client (and maybe other people) are thinking and how well this is working (or not). In this way you can help them monitor and so modify their own thinking.


An executive whose decisions have been questioned seeks help in improving her decision skills from a coach. The coach asks her to talk through her thinking process around several sample decisions, noting where bias and other cognitive effects are occurring. He then teaches her about bias and they go together through the old thinking process, spotting where it is limited and discussing how to think and decide in different ways.

The coach then sets the executive tasks in using the new thinking in some identified decisions coming up. They review the outcome together after, making some further adjustments to help embed the process.


Cognitive methods work well in coaching, particularly in comparison with the more dramatic and distressing interventions of psychoanalysis or manipulation of  Behaviorism. Rational discussion fits well in business contexts, where decisions are important and discussions about how people think are quite legitimate activities.

There are several sources of models and methods that can be utilized in cognitive therapies, such as Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational-Emotional Behavioral Therapy (REBT).

At its best, cognitive coaching can be very effective, very quickly, at least giving the client thinking tools they can use to good effect. If this approach works well, a broader psychological education can add further value, perhaps staged over a period of time.

At worst, it is difficult to use with people who are more intuitively driven and who are not good self-monitors.

See also

Decisions, Theories about decision-making, Theories about decision errors

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