I’m occasionally questioned about why the need to spend an hour or two finding out about a person’s life when I commence a coaching program. “Can’t I just coach around the presenting issue, achievement of a specific goal, or just go straight to debriefing the data from a 360 feedback profile? Can we fast track this?”

The answer is yes of course we can, but it probably won’t provide the opportunity for the kind of insights I’m keen to ensure my coachee develops. You see, it’s all about the context.

Late last year I had the good fortune to hear renowned neuroscientist Dr Beau Lotto speak and he confirmed what I know to be true: the importance of understanding the context in which the person is operating; the backdrop to their lives. As Lotto says, context is everything. ‘The brain has evolved to see relationships rather than absolutes. Context relates the current information to your past experiences; it creates meaning. Every time we open our eyes we access our biases and assumptions’.

It’s why I ask questions about where a person is positioned in their family, the role they now play, what school was like, how did university go for them? What are their hobbies and passions, key moments or events in their life? All this creates context. All this informs the habits of thinking, the biases and assumptions we make, the stories we tell ourselves and others about how we expect life to be.

Once we have insight into this we can better understand why we do what we do, and what specific shifts in our thinking might open new possibilities personally and professionally.