Refrain from giving unsolicited suggestions

It can be tempting for a coach to believe their “value” to a client is in the sharing of resources, such as a framework, model or book suggestion for the client.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that our answers are what matters, which likely comes from earlier childhood in school, being required to answer the teacher out loud, and quickly. The student with the “right” answer and who is first to answer, is deemed to be “smart” and rewarded. Yet we know that isn’t true; introverted, less vocal, or more considered students are as smart as any student who answers fast.

Likewise, a coach who answers “fast” with resources or solutions is not necessarily providing the best value for their coaching client. The real value comes when a coach provides a listening space for their client to be able to pause, reflect, verbalize or express in other non-verbal ways, what they may be thinking and feeling.

What a Professional Coach is seeking to do is to masterfully apply the coaching process and their coaching skills so the client has the opportunity to connect with more of their self-knowledge, to gain more self-clarity, to formulate their own best solutions.


Expert / Consulting Mindset

When a coach automatically suggests resources to their coaching client, especially when the client hasn’t asked the coach for suggestions, the coach has now placed themselves in the leading position or expert mindset. This leading mindset can train a client to become or remain dependent on outside resources, or approaches used by others.

While all resources can be useful, consider these are consulting or training tools, rather than coaching tools. Resources includes suggestions of books, articles, frameworks, assessments and models.

It’s easy to fall in to the trap of suggesting assessments and books, especially as many coach training programs train coaches in assessments, frameworks, tools and models. What’s needed is discernment to distinguish these as training tools for coaches to be equipped as coaches, and then also to provide training and instruction on how to use those tools, using a coaching mindset / approach.

All debriefs of assessments for example, represent a consulting approach, because the person debriefing holds expert knowledge of the assessment. After such a consulting session, the client can determine the value to them of the output, which could provide guidance for formulating coaching development plans and outcomes. The coach can ask questions or offer observations, yet it’s the client who is responsible for what’s in their development plan.

If the client asks for resource suggestions such as books, videos, models or assessments, ask more questions to determine exactly what they are wanting to accomplish and therefore what type of resource might be most useful. Then follow up by email after the coaching session with any resource you might recommend.

If the coach asks more questions to determine what the client is seeking to understand, that might be a coaching opportunity in-the-moment.

If a coach suggests resources without invitation from the client, the coach is now demonstrating a leading, directive mindset such as teaching, training or consulting. It’s highly probable the scoring of a coaching session by an ICF Assessor will be scored lower due to mindset confusion. When applying to ICF for an ACC, PCC or MCC credential, the way a coach responds to a client asking for resources, indicates the development of a coaching mindset, or not. It also reveals what the coach believes their value is to the client.

While what other people think or do can be of benefit, self-discovered answers to our challenges can feel more empowering.

What the client comes up with as solutions to their presenting opportunities, are unique and meaningful to them. The endorphins of discovery and insight can carry motivation and sustainable follow through in ways that suggestions and ideas of someone else might not.

In Closing….

Refrain from giving suggestions, offering tools, resources, or other expertise without being invited by the client to do so. Instead, trust your coaching skills and educate the client on how to use a coach well.

If the client asks for such, then inquire further to seek clarity about what specifically they want to achieve. This is setting the coaching session agreement for the session, including desired output of the session.

Sometimes a client might want to understand a model, framework or assessment, and asks for that to be the focus of a coaching session. In which case, this is a great test for the coach, if they are also an expert in that model, framework, etc. to use their coaching skills to respond. For example, what does the client want to accomplish by understanding a specific tool? What are they seeking to understand?

If it’s determined between coach and client the best way is for coach instead to be in a consulting, leading role, then agree to do a consulting session, rather than a client-led coaching session.

Written by Carly Anderson, MCC


Are you ready to upgrade your coaching skills, and prepare for your next ICF credential?

The Mentor Coaching Group Program is an ICF approved individual / group program for 30 ICF Core Competency CCEs if you complete all program components, including 10 hours of mentor coaching.

I offer a rich, experiential mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for participants. You can read some testimonials from real people, FAQs, or find out more about The Mentor Coaching Program here

I’m a long term (since 2005), experienced and active MCC Assessor. I’ve been trained by the ICF to assess using the PCC Markers. Since 2005, I regularly assess for ICF MCC, PCC and ACC credentials. I keep up-to-date with the latest ACC, PCC and MCC credentialing criteria and do my best to communicate such to all my mentoring clients in a simple manner.

One of the unique offerings for my clients is access to an extensive, exclusive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching session recordings, many of which have passed the ICF credential exam process. These are an incredibly valuable self-learning tool, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions at each skill level.

I offer other products including The Upgraded Target Approach: Clarifying the ICF Core Competency Model, as well as Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level. And a very unique opportunity to hear 15 consecutive coaching sessions with one of my clients in the Butterfly on the Wall Coaching Series.

4 thoughts on “Refrain from giving unsolicited suggestions

  1. Great inquiry Karen. First, as the coach, we need to be conscious of our intent for suggesting a resource. For example, we may have loved a book, and the client talks about something and we go, “Oh, they’d love that book.” But is it really in the best interests of the client to suggest it to them? Maybe it would add pressure, and add to their information overload (I have to read the book because my coach suggested it….). Maybe all they need is 3 pieces of information from that book, which you may be able to skillfully bring in to the coaching through your messages or questions.

    Instead, ask the client what they need in order to move forward. What information would support them? Or maybe it’s a person they know or want to be in touch with. Ask them what they want to be able to do as a result of having a resource. Probe further with your questions as to what they are seeking from a resource before suggesting one to them.

    1. Thank you Carly. I can see the mastery of the coaching skills in your approach. The distinction is not just subtle, it’s actually quite obvious. In our desire to help and support our clients, we can so easily with good intention step right into their process.
      As alway, thanks for sharing your brilliance. Karen

  2. Yes Joan. It seems helpful at the time, and we may not even realize it’s not the best way to be helpful for the client. If a client does want us to recommend a resource, then we can still use our coaching skills to understand what they want to accomplish, and their learning style, before recommending one of our favorite books. Some clients do better with articles, some with a checklist, some with a book. And others do best by researching it themselves.

Comments are closed.