Self Coaching with IBIS

When I try to understand a complex issue in my head I often end up in a “rabbit hole”: I follow a chain of questions until I forget how I came to this particular follow-on question. Or I lose the context of the question, and look at a minor aspect of the issue – maybe without even realising that it is minor. Or, while the way to the question was clear, I cannot see whether I work on the most important question. Is short, I am simply not able to think a complex issue fully through in my head. 

Over time I might work complex issues out in my brain, but there is no guarantee that I see all options and that I don’t already start looking for evidence instead of searching for new aspects. 

f you don’t these kind of issues then please let me know how you manage (reflected input only, please). If you have similar issues then this post might help you, too. The topic is “self coaching”.

What is Self Coaching?

Self Coaching is a term that describes methods that apply two-party coaching methods to a single party. In short, you become coach and coachee in one person. I typed in “self coaching” into my browser’s search bar and Google told me it has about 420 million hits for me. So, it seems to be a big thing. 

As a coach, you generally don’t give advise, instead you listen and ask. The coachee needs to deliver all answers him/herself. The clue is to ask the right questions and let the coachee find the way forward. Questions should be void of any judgement and open up new ways of thinking for the coachee. Often enough the best questions are very simple. My favourite is “What else?”, a simple question to trigger more answers. 

I tried self-coaching in my head, with moderate success as I tend to end up in the rabbit hole as I already mentioned. But having a visual representation of the questions and relevant answers did help me to overcome this and other issues. 

How Self Coaching works for me

Now, I am drawing IBIS diagrams (see example) to support my self coaching. IBIS diagrams are consisting of 4 elements:

  • Questions
  • Answers or Ideas
  • Pros (comments supporting an answer or idea)
  • Cons (comments that show negative sides of answers or ideas)

Questions are answered by answers, answers can have pros and cons. In addition, questions can be attached to any element. You can question a question (“why is this relevant?”), or an idea (“is this realistic?) or pros and cons (“do we have data for this?”). These four elements are used by a method called Dialogue Mapping in order to map out full dialogues between a group of people. See IBIS Domain for more details on how Vithanco is supporting self coaching and read the example graph below for a quick understanding of IBIS.

Example of an IBIS diagram
Use visuals to help you during self coaching

How self coaching works (for me)

I use this simple notation to map out my thinking, just as a good coach would do with me. I will still provide the answers as in a normal coaching session. So, with me as my own coach will I explore paths, I will challenge my thinking, and I will improve the picture (pun intended). The previously mentioned question “What else?”, is useful to trigger more  answer/idea to a question node (even if I don’t note it down on the IBIS diagram). This way I can easily trace my thinking, I can explain it to others, I could even ask others to improve my thinking by adding to the map – the notation is so simple that anyone will understand the gist of my thinking (assuming that I expressed my thoughts well enough). They can ask questions, which might be added to the diagram. 

Eventually, I will have reflected enough and my  inner coach stops asking questions. I will conclude the matter at hand and can be sure that I did a reasonable good job. And I can come back to the topic after a few days or after years. 

Bonus Thoughts

  • It is impossible to always replace an outsiders opinion. You will most likely not challenge all your assumptions. It takes training to even see a few of your own assumptions. Hence, a coach is always a good idea in an important situation. But you can easily shore your train of thoughts with the coach via the diagram. 
  • No article should be written touching the topic of decision making without mentioning the book “Decisive” from the Heath brothers ( One of the lessons I took from that book was to always have more than two options to choose from – “What else?”. Try this video as a summary.

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