The Rule of the 5 Whys

One of the aims of any life coaching session is to draw up a course of action to help reach a goal by creating several milestones in the process. As ideas are brainstormed, often a plan is formulated which can look more than a little suspect. It is at this point I suggest introducing the “Rule of the 5 Whys”. Picture of a large black question mark

When trying to get a coachee to formulate their own plan of action, it is essential that their coach helps them remain realistic. The “Rule of the 5 Whys” can help focus a coachee by questioning their thought process and helping them crystallise what it is they hope to achieve simply by asking the question “Why?”. For example:

During a coaching session, Jim says that he wants to leave his job as an accounts clerk and retrain as a teacher. From what the coach knows of Jim, his attitude and temperament may not be best suited to the classroom. To get a better understanding of Jim’s decision, the coach naturally asks “Why?”

Jim goes on to explain that he believes the job prospects and benefits of being a teacher are better than his current position. “Why do you believe that?” asks the coach.
Jim elaborates, saying that he has been reading about a shortage of secondary schools and according to the publicity he has the skills required. He then goes on to admit that although he likes the idea of the job, he has never been terribly comfortable with children. “Why do you think teaching is the right career for you then?” counters the coach.

Picture of a large black question mark

When put on the spot, Jim realises that this is not perhaps the best career move for himself. Careful questioning has helped Jim avoid a potentially disastrous decision and provides a platform for further discussion which can help Jim consider alternatives and make better plans accordingly.

The irony of the ‘Rule of 5 Whys’ is that the coach rarely has to ask all 5 questions. The coachee gains a solid understanding of their thoughts and decision making process which in turn better equips them to take action. Obviously anyone can apply the Rule of the 5 Whys themselves, but we can also fool ourselves with smart answers.

Next time you are facing an important decision, have a friend keep asking “why?” to check how sound your reasoning is.

If you would like to find out more about how life coaching can help you achieve more personally and professionally, please get in touch.

Written by Ben Lloyd


Ben Lloyd has worked in the IT industry since 1996, covering a number of roles from helpdesk support to network management and everything in between. Tech Write is built on this experience, offering outstanding technical copywriting services to agencies and clients across the world.

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