Acknowledging your coaching client

As professionally trained coaches, we learn the important coaching skill of acknowledging the client for their “work” in the coaching process.

However Acknowledging as a Coaching Skill has broader application, as defined in five of the ICF Core Competencies which include wording of “acknowledges,” “notices,” or “celebrates.

In this article I present broader definitions of acknowledging based on these three coaching behaviors. As well as explore the role of acknowledgement as feedback. Plus provide extensive examples.


ICF Core Competencies

Below are the core competencies which include wording of acknowledges, notices, or celebrates;

#2.1. Embodies a Coaching Mindset – Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices.
#4.3. Cultivates Trust and Safety – Acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process.
#6.4. Listens Actively – Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors.
#7.6. Evokes Awareness – Notices what is working to enhance client progress.
#8.3. Facilitates Client Growth – Acknowledges and supports client autonomy in the design of goals, actions and methods of accountability.
#8.7. Facilitates Client Growth – Celebrates the client’s progress and successes.


Definitions of Acknowledges, Notices and Celebrates

A search of the internet provide insight about definitions including;

Acknowledges is to;

  • Recognize the fact, or importance, or quality of
  • Take notice of
  • Recognize or favorably notice an act or achievement
  • Accept that something is true or exists
  • Recognize as genuine or valid

Notices (as it pertains to a coaching context) is to;

  • To comment on
  • To observe

Celebrates is to;

  • Honor or acclaim one for a remarkable action or achievement
  • Acknowledge (a significant, or happy day, or event) with an enjoyable activity
  • As coaches, we learn to become competent at coaching skills which demonstrate acknowledges, notices, and celebrates.


Some examples

#2.1. Embodies a Coaching Mindset – Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices.

A very valuable aspect of being coached, is the client has dedicated time to focus on themselves; to pause from other activity, to be heard, be asked questions, and offered observations so the client can reflect, feel, experience, and consider.

With insights and awareness, the client has more clarity that most often allows them to be effective in designing their path forward (their actions, further reflections, further considerations, further explorations…).

To acknowledge the client is responsible for their own choices, means we as coaches believe that through the coaching process, the client will discover (or reconnect with) a lot about themselves and their circumstances.

We recognize and accept each client is a unique individual, who has their own beliefs, thoughts and emotions, which might be very different to what we believe, think or emotionally connect to.

If a client asks their coach to tell/advise them, coach could reply with something like;

I understand you want my advice, however I’m not you. I can give you my observations based on what you have shared and what I’m sensing, and it’s up to you to decide what you do after hearing my observations.


Examples of this coaching skill/behavior that demonstrate client is “at choice;”

Hearing how important it is for you to make decisions (choices) about your career, that put your family first.

I can hear your values of honesty and transparency, as you choose what to share with your team, without crossing a boundary of confidentiality with management.

When you say the road ahead is going to be a challenge, I hear you approaching with confidence in your ability to navigate roadblocks that might emerge.


#4.3. Cultivates Trust and Safety – Acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process.

Examples might be:

You sound confident when you said that, which sounds different than how you began this session.

Your ability to connect the dots through metaphor seems very powerful for you, and wondering if you want to continue to explore using your metaphor?

It seems as if there’s lightness in your energy now, different than earlier in the session.

That seems like a shift; that you now see the important role you have in the project.

From being “lost in space,” to you are at the center; that felt powerful when you said that.

I want to acknowledge you for the changes you’ve made over the course of our coaching engagement. There’s a confidence in knowing you can trust your instincts, that wasn’t there at the beginning of our engagement.

Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable, and really trusting the space and our connection and our relationship


#6.4. Listens Actively – Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors.

Mentoring Tip: Coaching is a professional relationship, a human to human conversation. At the beginning of the session, once client has initially shared whatever they want to, acknowledge you heard what the client just shared with a customized “human” response.

Presence comes first; Process comes second. A “present” human response might be: Acknowledging I’m hearing your frustration with the lack of progress made, and that you feel your concerns aren’t being heard. (then allow client space and opportunity to respond instead of coach continuing on).

A non-present response example might be going straight to a Process question such as: What do you want to achieve by the end of this coaching conversation today?


Further examples of Behavior #6.4 might be:

Hearing how frustrating this is for you; what more would you like to share about the frustration?

Your energy changed as you shared that, you seemed to become more energized. What are you noticing?

Sounds like it’s important for you not just to maintain quality, but also to increase quality as you go; is that so?

Noticing you drew a big circle in the air with your hands and arms; what is your body communicating?

Noticing your courage to say what didn’t work for you to your manager; what else would you like to say to them, if you could?


#7.6. Evokes Awareness – Notices what is working to enhance client progress.

Examples might be:

Observing how connected you to your metaphor of seeking a new business venture being like climbing a mountain, then seeing a whole mountain range you didn’t realize was there.

Certainly, please take as much time as you need to write or draw; let me know when you’re ready to continue.

Noticing that you seem to be getting information from your body, the way you are swaying back and forth, and relating it to what you are saying.


#8.3. Facilitates Client Growth – Acknowledges and supports client autonomy in the design of goals, actions and methods of accountability.

Examples might be:

Now that you have the awareness that you need to expand your network, what do you want to do next?

As you shared you have sadness about that, what might support you to be with or explore your sadness further after this session?

Given you want to reflect more after this session on what you are now aware of is really bothering you , what is your best way of reflecting?

Okay, so you want to remind yourself that you’re responsible for your intention, which is to grow and to help. And you want to practice more of that, reminder, would that be correct? — How could you do that moving forward?


#8.7. Facilitates Client Growth – Celebrates the client’s progress and successes.

While similar to #4.3, this coaching behavior often includes a deeper level of appreciation for what the client has done, become, or is becoming.

To celebrate the client is going to depend on what the client is exploring. Energetically, coach most often seeks to be where the client energy is. If a client is exploring a life or work situation that is “heavy” for them, then to celebrate is going to be a more subdued energy to “be with” the client.

If a client becomes excited about their insights and awareness in a coaching session, coach can match the client in a more energetic way.

Examples might be:

Oh my, I can see the change in you since last session. I’m seeing it in your big smile, your eyes seem very lit up. I’m seeing it in your happy body movements. And you seem to have this glow about you.

I acknowledge you for feeling the experience of the validation from your manager. It sounds like and it feels like you’re being with it and allowing it. Is there anything more you want, or need around that to really feel it and absorb it?

I’m present to you and I’m connected to quite a different person in front of me from when we started. And you seem more at peace and lighter.


Acknowledgement as Feedback versus Judging, Criticizing or Assessing Feedback

Acknowledgment is a positive form of feedback. When a coach acknowledges their client, they are deliberately paying attention to what the client is doing well, improving, or accomplishing.

The opposite of acknowledging is judging, criticizing or assessing someone against standards of a particular person, group of people, or expected standards of behavior, or performance.

In personal and workplace settings, people most often receive more feedback that is judging, criticizing or assessing and less feedback that is acknowledging, noticing or celebrating.


Coaching Approach to Offering Feedback

In the coaching process, we may provide our coaching client with non-judgmental feedback in the form of “offering” observations about what the client is expressing. By offering, we are giving the client their right to consider the resonance of the feedback for themselves, and perhaps in their own timing.

Besides offering observations, a coach may ask the client questions which allow the client to further explore their beliefs and behaviors. Again, questions are offered without judgment, usually crafted in an open-ended format, so the client can explore their beliefs and behaviors for themselves.


Authentic Acknowledgment versus Cheerleading

As coaches, we want to be articulate in offering specific acknowledgement (feedback) which may include how they are thinking or expressing themselves, their depth of personal exploration, or vulnerability/courage to examine for themselves what may be occurring in their behaviors.

Cheerleading is surface level positive expression. Examples of cheerleading words often used include, Awesome!, Wow!, Amazing!, Incredible!

Instead of cheerleading words, consider what you are saying (awesome) to and express that instead. For example, observing client energy changes, a shift in perspective, behavioral awareness, emotional changes, and more.

Examples might be:

Your energy seems so much lighter than when we began this session!

You have a big smile on you face, like you just discovered something really important!

I acknowledge your courage for going deeper into why you are really feeling unhappy at work.

Hearing how important it is for you to be honest in your relationships.

Acknowledging you for the clarity you’ve come out with, the plan you’ve designed!


In Closing….

Acknowledging is a powerful coaching skill to master, along with noticing, and celebrating in authentic ways that match the client energy. We can practice in everyday life noticing the people around us in personal and professional situations. Perhaps you want to acknowledge someone in your life.

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC


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