The coaching skill of requests


A skill that coaches often use with clients is making a Request, which is based on the coach hearing or perceiving something that would be of use for the client to consider doing. The ICF core competencies of Direct Communication and Designing Actions are engaged when the coach works with requests.

A request can often come across as a demand or sounding parental if it isn’t offered as something for the client to consider. Coaching is a co-creative partnership, not a parental or teacher relationship. Therefore any request you make has to have the option for the client to say no without the client feeling they will upset their coach if they don’t comply. When we offer a request as an option for the client to consider, we honor the client’s inner wisdom and demonstrate good coaching skills.

My experience is most requests I make are on the Being level of the client, and are based in what I hear as potential opportunities to shift in their way of thinking, or what they believe about themselves, or how they perceive their circumstances. With some good coaching, most clients will gain clarity about what to do next, but often that’s not what will help them transform and move to where they want to go. It’s a different way of thinking that they often most need in order to move to a new realm of possibility.

For example, I work with a lot of technical managers who are very smart and brilliant, yet they often don’t have good relationship or communication skills. As they progress in their career trajectory, this can become a roadblock to being promoted. Often they will see peers or superiors as the problem, and not their communication approach. They may be great about being strategic and planning their technical work, so I may make a request such as;

“You have great strategic and planning skills that you apply to your technical work. I ask that you consider how to apply those same skills to strategizing and planning how to have this important conversation with your peer. What do you think?”

Notice that this request is building on strengths the client already has and how to apply those skills to their perceived challenge. The request is offered without attachment to whether the client does it, as there is the question at the end that gives the client the opening to consider it and further discuss with the coach. Out of this conversation may come a different action, one that the client feels more ownership about. But the act of making a request often helps the client to gain new awareness and create actions that they might never have considered.

A less skillful version of this request would sound like, “I request that you use your strategic and planning skills to plan how to have this important conversation with your peer.” Notice the energy associated with this statement? It feels more demanding and parental, rather than empowering and offering the client an option for how to think about their situation in a different way.

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