Helping Adults Experiment to Change Behaviors

by Jul 9, 2019Coaching, Education, Goals, Reflective Practice, Wikipedia / Wikimedia2 comments

I have been focusing on just-in-time learning recently, with a post about a direct experience I had with this yesterday when I literally wrote the article on it. However, I have been thinking about one of the findings in one of the articles I cited in that, The Role of Coaching in Student Teams: A “Just-in-Time” Approach to Learning by Michele Kremen Bolton.

In this article, she reported:

The student-coach relationship involves a true learning partnership. The student provides the willingness to experiment, alter behaviors, and strive for improved performance. The coach provides assistance before, during, and after the performance. Like executives, students must experience consistent success over time to change behaviors, adopt new practices, and truly internalize learning (pg. 244).

What struck me about this is how the author found this behavior useful in student work, yet the portion about executives (and by that I am inferring adult learners and adults in general who seek or receive coaching) really hit me. The author exhorted teachers or professors to engage in these coaching behaviors, yet somehow when people become adults they are often expected to already be successful, or otherwise not as much in need of experimenting and in so doing exploring ways to alter behaviors to achieve the successful performance they often want for themselves.

Expressed another way, if we do not create a safe and trusting environment, then experimentation may not occur, and as a result the behaviors themselves may not change and the expected outcomes may not be met. We often do not think of adults as experimenting, yet the fact is that if it were clear what changes were needed to adjust behaviors more directly toward the desired outcomes, then they would not need coaching support — they would do it themselves and be done with it.

As I see it, the question is more about, “What can I do to establish and support a safe space to allow for the experimenting that my coaching clients need?” I cannot assume they already know the answer, as if it were that simple, they would likely not need my help. It is ok to help others through the process to experiment and find their way, as that is part of the process.

Now, to find that language that helps to establish this from the beginning of the relationship!


  1. Cherry Jeffs

    I love the idea of experimentation for adults. Too often, we often prescriptive solutions when we’re coaching as opposed to a “try this and see what happens and then we’ll review” approach.

    • Jeffrey Keefer

      I know exactly what you mean. In some ways, people come with problems that they want us to help them “fix,” yet to really do that takes work, and if it were an easy magic wand then they would have done it themselves and would not need help.


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About Me

Jeffrey M. Keefer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, institutional researcher and accreditation officer in higher education, professor of research methodology, nonprofit capacity building and strategic planning consultant, talent development coach, spiritual life advisor (chaplain) at New York University, spiritual director, and Wikipedian.