029 - Coaching Questions for Passive Styles

Published on 28 Nov 2018

A powerful question has a longer standing with an individual than a statement. Even if they can't answer it, that's not a bad thing, that question remains lingering.

Liana was asked about what kinds of questions a coach could ask someone being debriefing to help prompt that person’s thinking about their own styles. In this show Liana and Dominic discuss what questions you could ask when debriefing someone high in Passive/Defensive styles (next episode we do Aggressive/Defensive styles).

Listen to the full discussion here:


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Key Takeaways from this Episode:

At a Passive/Defensive Cluster level:

Typically, Passive/Defensive styles are characterised by self-doubt and a willingness to give away to others and neglect your own needs. Visually it’s like turning your back on yourself. Below are some ideas for questions you can ask people high in the various Passive/Defensive styles. These are thought starters and ideas. They might not all land, and they don’t apply to every situation or all the time. Use them to build ideas and then judge in the moment what might be the best question to ask. In asking questions, try to raise awareness for the individual around how the style shows up in their pattern.


While the desire to be approved of is natural, problems occurs when approval-seeking becomes a need, and ultimately our standard way of interacting with others. Those high in approval tend to please everyone but themselves.

Some questions you could ask to prompt the thinking of people with this style are:

  • How often do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ without even considering if it is something you want to do?
  • How often do you find yourself disagreeing or putting a contrary view forward?
  • Have you given any thought to what’s important to you? What would you really like to do?



While some conformity is necessary in life, too much can be restrictive. This style represents a pre-occupation with adhering to roles and established procedures, maintaining a ‘low profile’ and ‘blending in’ to avoid calling attention to ourselves. While reliable, this style can reduce creativity and achievement.

Some questions you could ask to prompt the thinking of people with this style are:

  • How do you feel in new and unfamiliar scenarios?
  • What does it feel like when there isn’t an established rule or process?
  • What’s your approach when there are no rules or processes?
  • How do respond when things change last minute?
  • Where or when can you 100% be yourself?



Dependent people can feel like their efforts do not count. They typically feel they have little control over their lives. Dependence is used as a defence against feeling threatened or being rejected by others. This style can erode self-esteem over time.

Be wary if you’re a solution orientated coach and debriefing someone with this style. You’re going to want to provide the solution and thereby actually reinforcing this thinking pattern in the person you’re debriefing. Instead, hold the space of getting the individual to connect and build with awareness of how dependence shows up for them.

Some questions you could ask to prompt the thinking of people with this style are:

  • What are the condition upon which you feel confident to make decisions?
  • How do you feel to operate independently at the moment? Do you feel like you can step forward and make decisions without requiring support from others?
  • If you had no barriers, what would you choose to do in this situation?


People high in Avoidance tend to use the defensive strategy of withdrawal. We do this by hiding feelings and shying away from threatening situations. We might use this when facing something new or different: a new environment or problem. We prefer to stay well within our self-imposed comfort zone by playing safe and avoiding risks. Continuous use of this style can lead to self-doubt and reduced confidence.

Debrief Avoidance with a degree of caution. It’s probably not one to go at too directly and trigger more avoidance. Typically, alongside high avoidance you would see a lack of trust and individuals might be going through a very challenging or traumatic time. If you're starting to unpick that you want to build up to them feeling comfortable sharing. So, start general before being more specific is a good ‘go-to’.

Some questions you could ask to prompt the thinking of people with this style are:

  • What’s going on for you right now?
  • Is there anything that is causing you to feel a lack of confidence or a lack of self-belief right now?
  • Is there anything that you feel is holding you back from being the best version of yourself?
  • What could good look like for you twelve months from now if we don’t want to stay in this space too long?
  • How would it feel different to be operating in the constructive space?
  • What are you really avoiding right now? (pick your moment with this question!)

What else would you suggest? Let us know in our LinkedIn discussion group.

Go a question you'd like us to discuss on the podcast? Email podcast@human-synergistics.com.au

Listen to previous Culture Podcasts:

001: Kick Starting a Passive Team
002: Dealing with Delegation
003: Telling Someone They have a Blind Spot
004: What's Wrong with Being Competitive?
005: I have a Competitive Teammate – Help!
006: What is a Toxic Culture?
007: How Leaders Impact Culture
008: Is Culture / Climate / Engagement the same thing?
009: My Manager is Resisting Culture Change
010: How the Banks got here
011: Myth Busters: If I’m not Aggressive then I must be Passive
012: How Culture Works Pt1 – Overview
013: How Culture Works Pt2 – Mission, Philosophy, Structures
014: How Culture Works Pt3 – HR Systems
015: How Culture Works Pt4 – Job Design
016: How Culture Works Pt5 – Leadership
017: Rebecca Kardos, CEO Aurora Energy
018: Is Conflict in Teams Good or Bad?
019: Does Teamwork Work?
020: Tips and tricks for LSI Debriefs
021: Can you use the LSI for Recruitment?
022: Dear C.B., My Manager is Cold
023: Passive LSI Action Tips
024: Aggressive LSI Action Tips
025: Breaking Down Silos
026: SuperMind Neuro Science of Creativity
027: Conference Highlights
028: 8 Keys of Team Effectiveness

029: Coaching Questions for Passive Styles

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