As Professional Coaches, we have a unique opportunity to work deeply with a wide range of people, with different domains of expertise, from different cultures and life experiences.
Clients may have technical expertise, be project managers, engineers, or be managing other people such as in the financial sector or tech space. Some have direct authority to lead a team of people, while others have the opportunity to learn to work effectively with others in their organization without having direct reporting lines. Others are business owners, or have a desire to be more entrepreneurial, or want to improve or change work or life situations.
Every client has self-knowledge and life-knowledge just by being a human on this planet.
A Professional Coach has developed specific expertise through coach-specific training and education. We apply that expertise through being in the Presence and Mindset of a Coach while applying coaching skills for maximum client benefit.
Professional coaching skills include understanding how to;
- structure a coaching conversation
- partner to confirm client-driven outcomes
- develop highly attuned listening skills
- craft customized discovery oriented questions
- skillfully offer observations for client consideration
Educate your client on what coaching is
ICF core competency #3.1: Establishes and Maintains Agreements, says,
“Explains what coaching is and is not and describes the process to the client and relevant stakeholders.”
As coaches, we are responsible for continually educating clients on how to use us well as a coach. We are in the people development business and are often seen as a role model for how to communicate well and while coaches are not perfect people 😊, we do our best to be models of authentic, open and clear communication. This begins with conversing with potential and new clients on what coaching is and how to use us well as a coach.
There are a number of aspects to contracting with a client for a coaching engagement. If you are a global member of International Coaching Federation (ICF), login to your account, click on your name top right of page. Click on the tab called “Member Toolkit” and scroll down to “Sample Coaching Agreements.”
For this article, I’m focusing on two aspects of educating our coaching clients;
- What is coaching
- How to respond when a client asks the coach for advice
What is Coaching?
The ICF definition; “Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
I further define coaching as a process of supporting a client with forward movement, to support them from where they are now (current), to where they want to be (future/different), and to help remove any real or perceived obstacles to getting there (in the gap).
Therefore, a coach may work with a client on;
a) clarifying their vision or desired outcome,
b) determining where the client is now in relation to their vision/desired outcome, and
c) helping their client to become aware of mindset and emotional (internal) considerations which will then support to determine (external) ways to move forward with more clarity.
An output of the coaching is most often actions such as further reflection, specific strategies, more research, experimentation, and defining support, further resources and self-accountability structures.
A client often has a lot of self-knowledge, yet haven’t had a way to effectively reflect on what they know or learning from their experiences.
A Professional Coach provides a valuable listening and reflection space, something that’s often in short supply in the way we engage with life.
The coach may ask about successful or unsuccessful experiences in order to bring awareness that could help the client to determine successful ways forward.
Essentially, coaching works from where the client is now (present) to where they want to be (future/different now), honoring there are things the client knows about themself that might be important to consider.
How to respond when a client asks the coach for advice
I’ve worked with more than one client who explains their situation and then says to me, “So what do you think I should do?” This is my choice point as a coach. Do I give them my answer based on my beliefs or experience? Or do I first elicit what they know and see what’s there before I add any of my own ideas?
I also have to be aware of any ethical lines I may cross by giving advice in a domain I’m not qualified to.
I explain to clients in our intake process that if they do ask me for advice on how to approach something or someone, first I’ll ask them what they know, have tried, or are thinking about. I listen and learn. And only then if it seems that it would be of benefit to still add any observations or offer ideas, will I do so.
I find that it’s rare that I need to add anything more, because the act of coaching the client elicits knowledge from them they may not have been aware of knowing. If I did add my ideas or suggestions, it would be for my ego, and I do my best to keep my ego out of my coaching 😊.
The first time in a coaching session a client asks me for my advice, I’ll remind them such as, “You may recall in our initial conversations, I shared the approach I take. Giving you my ideas of what you should do, may not be best for you and your situation. I can use my knowledge to ask you questions, and to support you to become aware of what you already know, have tried, or are thinking about. Then if I feel I can add something of value, I’ll can offer you some observations.”
In the next session the client again shares their situation and asks me, “So what do you think I should do?” Now I can be playful with my client and say something like, “Well you know how I’m going to answer that. From last session, you demonstrated that you know more about people/the situation than you thought you knew. What have you tried and what are you thinking?”
By the third time a client asks, they usually correct themselves such as, “I know you’re going to ask me first what I’ve tried and what I’m thinking.” And then they begin to share without me having to say anything more (except to smile in agreement).
If a client says they have no ideas on what they’d try, I might then ask them about their experiences in a different context, such as outside the work environment when they’ve navigated a difficult conversation with a friend or family member. Perhaps their spiritual beliefs provide some insights. I view all of my client’s as whole people who have knowledge across their whole life. If they do want to consider other life contexts, the client may realize they can transfer some of their ‘personal life’ skills to their business environment.
If a client asks for advice, determine if they are asking for feedback on what they’ve shared, which is different than the client asking coach for advice on how to approach something or someone.
It can be very valuable for a coach to offer their observations of how the client spoke about their approach, which is very different than giving advice.
Coaching clients often expect to be given advice and answers to their unique situations. This likely comes from their own consulting or expert mindset, as clients are required to be the expert in their role, which often includes informing or telling others what to do. While it may be easy for a coach to give the client advice, it’s even more satisfying for a client to realize how much they do already know, with the expert questions and observations by a Professional Coach.
Consciously decide when to give direct input
On occasion, it’s clear that the client wants more direct input, and as the coach, I have to determine if I continue to elicit from the client what they know, or if it’s going to be of service to offer the client some direct input.
If a client asks for resources, my recommendation is to clarify what specifically they are asking for. And if you have resources, offer to follow up by email with such, after the session.
As Professional Coaches we have an opportunity to empower clients by connecting them with their self-knowledge and learning. We do that through a powerful set of coaching skills, based in authentic Presence, that is in service of the client.
We need to continually educate our coaching clients on how to use us well. I’m here to support my clients to build their capacity to work through their challenges and opportunities, and to gain clarity builds their confidence and empowers them to move forward. Yet to do that alone is most challenging. Having a trusted coach who can listen deeply and support self-awareness and self-discovery is a beautiful gift we give to our clients.
Written by Carly Anderson, MCC
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