Strategies for coaching verbal processor clients

I’m pretty sure every coach has had a client who speaks a lot. And then speaks a lot more. And then some. You may have heard the term ‘verbal processor’ used to describe such people.

I understand there may be learning styles and brain wiring that is at play. I’m not going to address that in this article. I’ve had many amazing clients who identify as ADHD and I find them to be incredibly smart people and very quick to learn. At least for those I mentor or coach, there’s self-awareness, and I work with them to find strategies to support their communication, both in being understood, and understanding others.

My general observation is we live in a world of overload, and as a result most people are living in a state of constant overwhelm.

There is so much data, so many expectations and ‘stuff’ that we are aware of. Even with the best self-organization approaches, it’s hard not to feel the pressure to do more, know more, perhaps even to ‘be’ more as we see how other people present themselves through social media and compare our life experience to theirs.

One thread then another and another…

Now to take it more specifically into the coaching relationship. For the coach who is listening, it can be a challenge to know how to ‘be’ with a verbally processing client. There are so many words, concepts, visual language, ideas, and jumping to different ‘threads’ as something else comes to their mind.

The client might start with one ‘thread’ then intertwine another thread. All of a sudden there are so many threads. For the coach listening, it can be a challenge to follow their various threads. The coach asks a question, and the client responds with 5 minutes of speaking that started with a thread, and then went somewhere else. I’ve heard such clients often then ask, “I’ve forgotten what your original question was. Can you repeat the question?” Or “Does that make sense?” Hmmmm. How to respond?

Some approaches to coaching verbal processor clients

Here are some of my offerings on different ways to coach a client who says a lot of words.

Examine your (Coaching) Presence for beliefs

As I mention in The Target Approach, our Presence informs our Listening. What we are present to, and what we believe we need to do to be a successful coach has a causal effect on the approach we take. There’s also how we are taught to coach a client. All these and more influences are at play when listening to a client who verbalizes a lot.

Consider the following: What do you notice you say to yourself about the client when a client is speaking for a longer period of time than you feel comfortable with?

For some coaches, it might feel like there is no point them being there, because it seems the client just needs someone to listen to them as they hear their thoughts out loud. And perhaps they do, so partner with your client to inquire such as, “What would you like me to listen for as you process your thoughts verbally?”

How about interrupting the client?

Over my 20 years (and counting!) of coaching, my approach has changed 180 degrees about interrupting a client. First, I want to listen and learn about my client. Listen for patterns of speaking. Not just what they say, but how they speak. Are they brief and to the point, or more verbose. What is their way of processing their thoughts and feelings. Are they self-reflective. More internally or externally focused. Positive. Negative. Self-critical. Other critical. Metaphorical, visual, logical, linear, conceptual.

I take a ‘bird’s eye perspective, which is ‘being with’ the client in the moment, while simultaneously noticing how the client’s ‘way of being’ is flowing through me. I’m just silently noticing.

Interrupting a client has possible consequences, which the coach should be conscious of before doing so. One of the aspects of being a coach is to provide a safe, supportive space for the client to speak without judging them. Interrupting a client to give your opinion, may lower trust that the client has in the coach.

Bottom lining?

Perhaps you can ask the client to bottom line the most important thing they want to convey. Okay, so that’s my bottom line on that 😊.

Back to interrupting….

The bottom line 😊 – be conscious about what you are doing, especially interrupting. Know you may create a hierarchical relationship, where coach is now controlling the client and how they speak.

If you do interrupt, do so consciously. Perhaps even partner with your client around interrupting, and how they feel about that. This is so much better than unconscious interruptions because you’re feeling impatient, lost, or think the client is doing it ‘wrong’ in some way. You can lost the client trust, or create client dependency to defer to the ‘coach.

Be totally okay with the client speaking for long periods of time

As an ICF Assessor, I have the honor of listening to many recordings for MCC, PCC and ACC coaching. One impressive thing I’ve heard in some coaches, is a level of patience, calm and spaciousness when they have a verbose client.

What the coach instead focuses on is hearing the essence or deeper “Who” of the client. The coach doesn’t reflect back long portions of what the client said. Nor do they ask the client to bottom line. Instead they ask the deepest question they can, in the most succinct way. This takes a lot of trust in yourself, and the coaching process. Trust is one of the Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level I’ve written about.

It’s a beautiful thing to hear a coach who really does trust themselves, and responds to the Who or deeper part of what the client has shared.

Let the words filter through you

One of the listening strategies I’ve developed over the years is to let the client energy and words flow through me. I have learned to trust my sensing more. What is the client saying. Not saying. How is their energy as they speak. What’s beneath the words. Do they speak fast, slow, or just right (I couldn’t help it…thinking about the Goldilocks principle makes me smile 😊).

Once the client stops speaking, I can respond to the overall energy or sensing rather than the words. For example, “As you spoke, I observed your energy shift. The longer you spoke, the softer your voice was.”

I’ve also had the following occur:

The client speaks a lot and then asks me, “What do you think?”

Me: About which part?

Client: Well, all of it.

Me: You said so many things that I’m a bit confused and feel a little overwhelmed.

Client: Really! Don’t you need to know all the details to coach me?

Me: No. It’s okay if you give me only a little bit, then if I don’t understand, I’ll ask you more.

Client: Oh!

Note: One particular client I had this dialogue with says it was the most impactful part of our coaching, and had her realize why their team were often not following their direction; they were overwhelming others with information. Their new motto became, “Less is More. If they need more clarity, let them know they can ask me and that’s okay.”

In Closing……

A main ‘task’ of every coach is to create a coaching environment that feels safe for the client to fully express themselves, without judgment. Perhaps the client doesn’t have the experience of being fully heard. Or they are so busy ‘doing’ that they don’t make time to pause, reflect, think, feel, consider.

I offer this quote for consideration as well: “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are indistinguishable.” David Augsburger

Consider the depth of question you can ask, in the most succinct way. Or offer an observation, in a concise way. By modeling simplicity in speaking, spaciousness in listening. Perhaps your client will learn more through your behavior and ‘way of being’ than anything else.

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