Simplify Simplify Simplify

As coaches, we are oriented to helping our clients to become the best version of themselves, to believing in their capabilities, and to support in their confidence to achieve what it is they are seeking to.

One of the temptations is we may overstep our role as a helpful person. We hear what our clients are facing and we want to help them to alleviate any pain or minimize their learning curve. And especially if we’ve experienced something like what they are going through, then we may have a lot of ‘helpful’ learning we want to share.

Except this isn’t necessarily helpful to our client! When we take on the identity of being helpful, we may in fact take away from our client’s own resourcefulness, and of letting them find their own way through their presenting situation.

Refrain from adding more to your question

As a mentor coach for the ICF MCC, PCC and ACC credential levels, I notice a common thread. The coach who wants to be helpful will add more to their question after they’ve asked it. For example, let’s say your client is considering if they stay in their position at a company, or if it’s time for them to seek a position in another company. The coach might ask something like, “What criteria will you use to assess if moving to another company is the right move for you at this time?” This is a good question that can stand alone. And yet many coaches will immediately add more before the client has had a chance to respond such as adding, “Because earlier you said x and so I’m wondering if y is a good idea.” Now the coach has complicated what was a good question.

At other times, the coach will ask two different questions back-to-back, which is often referred to as ‘stacking’ questions. An example of stacking might be, “What’s the best case scenario that could happen if you stayed? And what’s the worst thing that can happen if you left?” Now the client has to decide which to respond to, and could become confused.

Reduce small words and sounds

Sometimes we want to let the client know we are listening so we add small words and sounds while the client is speaking such as, “Hmm, hmm. Yeah, Ahha, Great. Okay.”

Doing this on occasion is okay, yet when it’s constant throughout a coaching session, it can have the impact of taking away from the client thinking space. It can also be a way for the coach to take control of the coaching session, even unconsciously, because at any moment the coach can interrupt the client with a stronger, AHHH, or WOW, THAT’S GREAT! This puts the focus on the coach instead of keeping the focus on the client. Simplify so that small words and sounds are occasional and in the background.

Take the 15 second challenge!

One way we can minimize the temptation to share what we know with our client is to simplify our questions, and especially to simplify our comments. The longer we speak, the more likely it is we are moving into teaching, sharing our knowledge, or tying all the pieces of the conversation together for our client.

Experiment with speaking for no more than 15 seconds at time. Make a comment or observation that is succinct. Ask your question in a succinct manner.

If you find yourself speaking for 1 minute or more at a time, it’s likely you’ve moved into sharing your opinion or adding your commentary to what the client said.

In Closing….

Sometimes we want to tie all the threads together to make sense of them, when that is the client’s job. When the client comes up with their own aha or awareness, it’s much more powerful and likely to have an impact on what they do next, than if the coach ties all the pieces together for the client. We could also be leading the client to our thinking rather than allowing them to think things through for themselves.


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Carly Anderson will be ‘flying solo’ in 2017 as Karen Boskemper goes on to work on other projects. I will her miss her wisdom and support, and yet wish her all the best in her next endeavors.

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One thought on “Simplify Simplify Simplify

  1. Great Blog Carly – and a good reminder for me to keep my language simple since I have a tendency to “rattle on”. 🙂


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