Coach the Human Being of your Client not just their Content

Coach the Client not just their ContentOne of the best gifts a masterful coach can bring to their client is a different perspective, without interpreting through their beliefs. We don’t live in our client’s skin, think their thoughts, believe what they believe, or have the exact same upbringing, life or work experiences as they have.

We all have our interpretations of events that occur in our life. Sometimes those interpretations serve us, and sometimes they hinder us.

One of the most liberating ideas (at least for me!) is knowing that almost everything I experience is likely to be only one interpretation of events that occur in my life. And there are likely to be other perspectives from which I can view my circumstances.

Which brings me to one of the biggest missed opportunities I observe in my role as an ICF Assessor and Mentor Coach who listens to a lot of coaching sessions for MCC, PCC and ACC skill level. And that is to reflect back what you are hearing, sensing and observing, without interpreting what that might mean (because you don’t live in your client’s skin….).

Let the client make any connections and interpretations for themselves

When we leave that to the client, it may lead them to have a different perspective on their situation, which might in turn open up new awareness, new thoughts, and access to different options for taking action.

The way to offer a different perspective is firstly to notice the human being who is your client, rather than act as a problem-solver. Shift attention from the content the client is telling you, to noticing how the client talks about themselves in their circumstances, and what they think or feel. Notice their shift in energy, tone or pace of speaking first, and their content second. This is all the ‘human being’ of your client.

An Example

For example, your client sighs then says, “I have to put in long hours just to get through all my work each day. I have an open-door policy and that is both a good thing and a bad thing.” Their energy goes down and their tone of voice goes lower and trails off.

Notice what you tend to gravitate to. Would you notice the sigh, or their energy going down? Would you notice their tone of voice trailed off? Or would you notice the words and want to know more about the situation?

Observing both is good…. yet I invite all coaches to first pay attention to the human being who is in front of them, followed by attention to the person’s content.

Here’s an example of noticing the human being first

Using the example above: “I notice you had a big sigh of breath out before you spoke.” Or “When you said that, I noticed some emotion in your voice.” These are examples of “pure observations” because you aren’t then adding your opinion or interpreting what you think that means.

If you were noticing the content first you might say, “Why do you say it’s a good thing and a bad thing?” Although you may think you know why it is, you want to closely listen for the client’s response, paying attention to their way of responding (energy, tone, pace…) as well as the words they use.

Some Markers to Pay Attention to

In the new PCC Markers that were released in June by the ICF, the core competency of Coaching Presence,Marker 3 is, “Coach notices and explores energy shifts in the client.”

In the core competency of Active Listening, Marker 3 is, “Coach inquires about or explores the client’s emotions. Marker 4 is, “Coach inquires about or explores the client’s tone of voice, pace of speech or inflection as appropriate.” These are examples of coaching the human being of your client, not just their content.

Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential?


Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants.

One of those offerings is an extensive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching sessions for our participants to listen to, evaluate, debrief, and learn from, along with The Target Approach to demystifying the ICF core competencies. These are incredibly valuable learning tools, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions.

Here’s where you’ll find more about The Mentor Coaching Group

Carly and Karen also offer other mentoring options which you can find in the Store