Listen for your client’s learning style to build deeper trust

Teamwork conceptBuilding trust with our coaching client is a critical skill to master. For those familiar with The Target Approach, you know that I consider building trust and intimacy to be an ‘Output’ competency, because trust is built as a result of how present you are, how you listen, and how you respond with questions, comments, observations and intuitions.

One of the sub-points under the ICF Core Competency of “Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client” is the following; “Demonstrates respect for client’s perceptions, learning style, personal being.”

Showing respect for client perceptions is usually a no-brainer for coaches, as we want to hear what our client’s think and feel. However, the ability to listen for the client’s learning style and personal being requires a shift in how we listen and what we pay attention to.

Shift What You Are Listening For

We have to shift some of our listening off the words the client is speaking and onto the way the client is expressing themselves. For example, one client might use a lot of visual language and concepts such as, “I want to build a bridge between our departments. It feels like we’re never going to be able to do that unless one of us compromises.” This indicates the client is likely a visual learner, and the overwhelming majority of people easily relate to visual languages and metaphor. Yet the client also uses ‘feels’ which might indicate being a kinesthetic learner.

Sample Comments/Observations:

The coach can create maximum trust in the coaching relationship by crafting comments, reflections and questions using the client’s learning style. (The skill of moving into metaphor and analogy is a sub-point under the core competency of Direct Communication.) Here are some sample comments/observations, and questions:

I notice you’re talking about building a bridge. What a nice metaphor!

I feel there is something important that you are seeking to build between your departments. What’s your feeling about this?

It must be a challenge to feel one of you has to compromise.

Sample Questions:

If we use your metaphor of building a bridge, what is currently compromising the strength of your bridge?

What materials do you need to build this bridge?

What’s the feeling you’d like to build between departments?

What would you need to do differently in order to build a sustainable bridge?

When imagining your role in this bridge building endeavor, what feels right for you?

If neither of you compromised, what type of bridge would you need to build?

Trust can lead to Intimacy

A client knows the coach is really listening to them when they use their language and learning style. This is one critical way you build trust with your client. Intimacy is possible when the coach allows space and silence for the client to explore and experiment with different ideas, thoughts and feelings, without being judged or having the coach tell the client what they think they should do.

At higher levels of coaching mastery (high PCC and into MCC skill level), the coach is fully partnered with the client, and allow themselves to be affected by their client without pulling the focus away from the client. An example might be, “I’m really touched by the honesty you have brought to our coaching.”

If you want to build your awareness about learning styles, do a Google search of, “what are learning styles?” and you’ll find some great articles. The more you become attuned to the way a client expresses themselves, and use that information to craft your reflections and questions, the deeper trust you can create in your coaching relationship.

With trust comes a deeper level of truth telling from your client, which in turns leads to the possibility of transformational coaching taking place, not merely transactional coaching.

Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential? Or do you want to “Sharpen the Saw” of your coaching skills?

The next Group Program commences

September 8, 2015 – only 2 places remain!


Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants. Both have been trained by the ICF to assess using the new PCC Markers.

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