Beginner’s Mind: Coaching With A New Point Of View

I love this message: “Being as curious as a two-year-old about why clients behave as they do is one of a good coach’s greatest gifts. Boundless curiosity helps both coaches and clients drill down until they reach bedrock.”  (Source:  Adaptive Coaching:  The Art and Practice of a Client-Centred Approach to Performance Improvement” by Jess R. Bacon, PhD and Laurie Voss, PhD)

Curiosity is vital to coaching and powerful questions (exploring what, how, why, when, who and where) can help clients uncover transformational answers below surface thoughts.

Holding curiosity is what we do as coaches and, in my experience, the mindfulness attitude of “Beginner’s Mind” is how we can maintain and cultivate curiosity, in and outside of coaching.

In “Full Catastrophe Living,” Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, shares: “Too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ prevent us from seeing things as they really are…we need to cultivate what has been called ‘beginner’s mind,’ a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.”

This month’s blog contains two stories plus a request, which you can accept or not: As you read further, I’m inviting you to shift into “beginner’s mind.”

This involves letting go of anything else you’re dealing with and any thoughts you might have about this topic or blog. Just give yourself the gift of space to ponder, enjoy and be curious about these stories and messages within—do they speak to you?  Or not?

Try experiencing this blog through a different lens—mindfully shift to feeling less tired, less rushed, more interested­—whatever is new or different from how you’re feeling right now.

The first story outlines a coaching experience in which “beginner’s mind” helped connect to curiosity:

I was coaching a woman, whom I’ll refer to as Jess. She was feeling challenged in applying for a promotion to a managerial position because “diversity appreciation” was listed as a job requirement. Jess started sharing how much she HATES that term and what it represents.

What happened next is very uncoach-like, and I’m not proud of it. It’s shared in the spirit of helping others avoid what I did. To that end, here’s how my internal self-talk played out, at light-speed, in reaction to Jess’ sharing:

“WHAT!? … How can anyone hate appreciating diversity in others!?  That’s CRAZY!   She’s going to have to find another coach…EVERYTHING she’s saying is against what I stand for…I’ll try to coach her through this, BUT if the conversation keeps unfolding this way, I’ll refer her to another coach after because…OMG, what am I doing!? <insert big breathe> I need to get over myself…and get into beginner’s mind…NOW!

With that millisecond inner dialogue behind me, beginner’s mind launched instantly (thanks to regular practice of that mindfulness attitude.) As Jess continued, I listened with true curiosity as if I was hearing everything for the first time, totally free of any thoughts or feelings of judgement or emotional reaction—I was back in coach-mode.

While the outcome could have been different, Jess had a light-bulb moment as to why the term “diversity appreciation” caused a charge for her. She walked away embracing how much she’d always been aligned with appreciating differences in others.

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience and now mindfully stay in curiosity by bringing “beginner’s mind” to coaching.

The next story touches on diversity appreciation and maintaining curiosity in conversations in a life situation.  It also speaks to the power of reframing,  which I view as facilitating beginner’s mind in others.

On arrival home from my Grade 2 class, mom was greeted with uncontrollable sobs as I cried out, “I HATE my hair!” She asked what upset me and I shared that, for weeks, all the other girls in my class wouldn’t play with me. They’d been teasing and bullying me because of my hair color!

The combination of my First Nations ancestry on dad’s side of the family and Irish from mom’s heritage resulted in my jet black hair. The other girls in class had either blonde or brown hair and I was considered different because of mine.

Mom pointed out that her hair was also jet black and that we were the only ones with the same hair color in our family of eight—I’m one of Jack and Katie’s six daughters. That made me feel a bit better, though, not enough to face criticism by the mean girls at school the next day, or beyond.

Sensing that, mom got curious and asked what was really bothering me about their teasing. My response was that I didn’t feel pretty or good enough to play with the girls in my class.

Mom briefly left the room, returning with a newspaper, which she placed on the kitchen table. It was open to a full-color page movie ad, featuring a gorgeous woman dressed in gold from head to foot.

Pointing to it, mom said, “This actress is considered the world’s most beautiful woman—her name is Elizabeth Taylor—she has jet black hair like us! She’s starring in a movie as Cleopatra, the great Egyptian Queen, who also had black hair. So you see, our hair color is special­—not everyone has jet black hair like the most beautiful woman in the world and a famous Queen!” I recall instantly feeling strong, beautiful and confident.

Mom’s curiosity got to the heart of the matter and the reframe that she facilitated using that newspaper image was brilliant! The resulting new point of view—beginner’s mind­—had powerful, positive lasting effects.

No words or taunts could change the fact that I had something in common with mom, Elizabeth Taylor and Cleopatra! My feelings of strength, beauty and confidence remained solidly in place the next day at school and are still with me today, as strong as ever­—thank you, my sweet Mom!

What are you taking forward from your beginner’s mind reading experience?

Carolyn Hamilton-KubyCarolyn Hamilton-Kuby, PCC, CEC, is a coach and public speaker known for her vibrant spirit and calming presence. She’s the owner of Morningstar Leadership Development, a part-time business in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Carolyn holds a Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching from Royal Roads University. She also graduated from St. Francis Xavier University (Diploma & Certificate in Adult Education and Diploma in Ministry) and St. Lawrence College (Certificate in Human Resources Management.) Carolyn is a Certified Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®.) She’s also a licensed trainer for Coaching Out of the Box® and an Official Partner of World Business Executive Coach Summit (WBECS). Carolyn invites you to visit her website at or connect with her on LinkedIn.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.