Own your faux pas with coaching clients

Own coaching faux pasAs coaches, we may sometimes inadvertently say things to our client that we then realize is not the best thing to have said. We model being authentic and human when we own our faux pas.

The coach who is confident in themselves, and their coaching skills, has more capacity to show humility….. and let the client know we are just as human as they are.

We are not perfect; there is no such thing as perfection when dealing with human beings; just a perspective shift to see that everything that happens may be perfect in the moment, even if we don’t like what’s happening (including our faux pas!)

So what is a Coach Faux Pas?

A faux pas occurs anytime we say something that we then realize is not being in full support of our client. For example, let’s say the coach asks their client a question with an edge in their tone of voice that could be the coach’s agenda rather than the clients. Or maybe the coach has an expectation that a client will complete all their stated actions by next session and when they don’t, the coach has a tone of questioning that communicates ‘you aren’t able to keep your commitments….’ and comes across as parental or judgmental.

Another example may be when a client is newer to a senior position in a company, and is having difficulty with being micro-managed by their superior. Through the coach’s questions they communicate that the client needs to do what their boss says, instead of supporting their client to practice ways they might have a difficult conversation and express their experience to their superior.

A faux pas can be more subtle at times. As a mentor coach who listens to a lot of coaching, one example I often hear is when the energy of the client goes down. This often occurs when a coach takes the client off track from the outcome the client said they wanted from their coaching session and is asking them questions on things they might be interested in, but it’s not adding value to the client.

In our next Mentor Coaching Group which commences in May, we bring in real clients so our coaches can practice their coaching skills and we listen for how the client responded to the coach, and whether trust and intimacy was deepened. We use The Target Approach to debrief the coaching against the ICF core competencies, starting with Coaching Presence and Establishing the Coaching Session Agreement. We have conversation about what needs to be present in each of us so we can be fully human with our clients.

What to do when you make a Faux Pas?

If you recognize in the coaching session that you have said something that felt ‘wrong’ to you, then simply own it. Apologize to your client. If you notice the client’s energy going down and you recognize you have taken the client away from their desired outcome, simply state that. For example, “I notice your energy has gone down and I may have contributed to that. I notice I’m asking you about x when you wanted to talk about y. I apologize for doing that. I’d like to regroup and ask you where you’d like to go from here.”

If you only recognize something was ‘off’ after the coaching session, reflect on that. Then reach out to your client by phone or email and let them know your thoughts such as, “I was reflecting on our coaching session yesterday and realize I may have inadvertently communicated in a way that wasn’t empowering to you. I just wanted to check in with you and see if there was anything that I could have done differently?” Even if the client doesn’t recognize it, it’s good that the coach picks up their faux pas and corrects it, and it also demonstrates being a human being who is aware that their way of thinking and their behavior affects their client.

You’ll be demonstrating how to communicate difficult and challenging thoughts and feelings, and in my experience as a leadership behavior coach, this is often one of the things our clients want and need to gain more experience doing for themselves. By modeling how to have that challenging conversation and own your behavior, you are being a masterful coach and being of service to your client beyond measure.

Being Real Builds Trust

If a coach is sensitive and conscious to their Coaching Presence, they will recognize when they have said something that may lessen trust. This level of vulnerability in a coach builds Trust and Intimacy, which is ICF core competency #3. Trust is built when we have an open and honest relationship with our client, and show we are as human as they are. So turn your faux pas into perfect opportunities for learning all round.

Are you preparing to apply for your MCC, PCC or ACC credential and need 10 hours of mentor coaching that meet ICF requirements?

Or do you need core competency CCE’s to renew your credential?

Registration for the next 3 month Mentor Coaching Group is now open, commencing May 6 from 2pm-3.30pm Eastern. Space is Limited.


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