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All too often, when someone in the workplace says “I can’t do this”, the response from a well meaning other is to say, “Of course you can” or “It’s easy, I’ll show you how”. The response comes from a well-intentioned place, but the helper hasn’t really understood what is preventing the individual from being able to do this thing. For example, “I can’t write this report”.

There can be a range of reasons why someone feels unable to write a report. Those reasons might link to:
• a broken laptop (which relates to an environmental factor)
• it is the first time they have ever attempted such a report (they don’t have the strategy or skills needed)
• they doubt they have the ability to do so and lack confidence (it’s a belief issue)
• they don’t want to drop colleagues in the ‘proverbial’ because the report will contain damning evidence (in which case it’s a moral dilemma and is therefore about values)
Understanding the level at which a blockage is happening is crucial to coaching them through it without rescuing them and therefore disempowering them.

Here are the two magic questions to use:

1. What specifically can’t you do?
2. What is stopping you?
The responses to these questions will determine the level at which the problem is operating, ie is it:

Environmental eg their PC doesn’t work
Strategy eg they need help with a process or structure to the report
Beliefs eg they have a lack of confidence in their ability to write reports
Values eg they need to explore the moral dilemmas before they can write the report.

If you would like to explore more approaches to coaching your team, we are running our prestigious Level 2 Advanced Coaching Skills Programme soon. Email us for details at

Thanks go to Vicky Ross of for her references in this article.