As coaches, we have two key categories of coaching skills we engage in every coaching session; one primary “tool of trade” is asking questions, and mostly open-ended questions to allow for client self-discovery.
Another set of “tools” is the variety of ways a coach can share a statement. I’m defining “shares a statement” as anytime a coach says something other than as a question. There is a “period” or “full stop” at the end the sentence, rather than a question mark.
Sidenote: Why did I choose two lizards for this article graphic? Because I like it 🙂
For reference, the ICF Updated Core Competency Model competencies covered in this article include:
Core Competency #6 – Listens Actively
6.2. Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding.
6.4. Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors.
6.5. Integrates the client’s words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated.
Core Competency #7 – Evokes Awareness
7.11. Shares observations, insights and feelings, without attachment, that have the potential to create new learning for the client.
Here are a variety of ways a coach has at their disposal for how to share a statement with the client:
- Reflecting back verbatim what the client said
- Summarizing what the coach heard the client say
- A comment formed in response to hearing what the client said
- An intuition, insight or feeling the coach has in response to listening to the client
- An observation about how the client expressed themselves through use of language; including feeling language, visual language, metaphor or analogy
- An observation about how the client expressed themselves through their voice tone, energy changes, facial expression changes, or other body expression/language changes
Below is a deeper examination of each of these ways a coach shares a statement.
Reflecting back verbatim what the client said
This type of statement has a place in a coaching session and is usually most effective at the beginning of a coaching session when partnering with your client to clarify the client-desired session outcome.
The beginning of a session is a critical time for the coach to demonstrate they are really hearing what the client is saying, and to build trust with their client.
For example, let’s say your client says they want to, “feel confident about their ability to speak up and contribute in meetings.” Reflecting back verbatim would be, “You want to feel confident about your ability to speak up and contribute in meetings.” Then you could follow up by asking, “What’s stopping you from feeling confident to speak up and contribute?” This is starting to open the “gap” of where client is now, to where they want to be, and formulate an outcome for this coaching session.
Besides the initial reflecting back, there might be further exploration by the coach, and the client may express deeper concerns (more on that later in this article). Yet start with where the client is, rather than leap to your own thoughts and conclusions about what might be a deeper concern.
When to reflect back verbatim?
There is often limited value in reflecting back verbatim beyond clarifying a client-desired session outcome. This is because reflecting back verbatim keeps the client in the present. There’s only so much value to hearing their own words repeated back to them time and again.
Newer coaches tend to reflect back verbatim more often throughout a session than experienced coaches, mostly because they aren’t yet confident in their listening abilities. It takes practice and effort to build listening capacity. As most of us coaches soon discover in coach training, the act of listening deeply and broadly requires effort!
Each session, the coach needs to be determining when it might be of value to the client (not to the coach) to reflect back verbatim what their client just said, or when another coaching skill or tool is better.
Summarizing what the coach heard the client say
The skills of reflecting back and summarizing are often used interchangeably by coaches who will say, “Let me summarize what you I just heard you say.” Then they speak almost verbatim what the client has just said. Whether you call it reflecting or summarizing, know when to be succinct, and know when to reflect back verbatim.
And really consider why you are reflecting back extensively. For who’s benefit is that? For the coach to feel comfortable they heard everything? Or is it for the client benefit?
From long time experience now of mentoring coaches (400+ coaches and counting), it’s often for the coach to feel comfortable, and not of great value to the client. Of course, there are always exceptions!
As my mentoring clients often hear me say, “Every coaching skill is valid; it’s a matter of how, when and how often you use it.”
The bottom line; Be discerning about how much you reflect back verbatim. Consider that summarizing is a succinct summary of what you heard the client say, offered for the client to correct you if you didn’t summarize “correctly” for the client.
By the way, I chose to include reflecting and summarizing in this article as they are specifically named in the Updated Core Competency Model, Core Competency #6 – Listens Actively, 6.2. Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding.
As a coach becomes more confident in their ability to listen and retain more of what they are hearing, then the less the coach tends to rely on reflecting and summarizing as primary coaching skills. There is a natural evolution for growth-minded coaches to an expanded range of options of how to share a statement.
A comment formed in response to hearing what the client said
A definition of a “comment” is, “a verbal (or written) remark expressing an opinion or reactions.
This definition highlights one trap coaches often fall into when sharing a comment (or statement); they default to sharing an opinion or reaction as if what they are saying is a fact.
Again, there is skill involved in how you share a comment. For example, saying, “Wow! That sounds fantastic!” is a comment, yet it’s an opinion and a reaction that is very ‘light’ in terms of acknowledging the client. Sometimes, this is referred to as a “cheerleading” type comment.
An alternative example of a comment might be, “Seems you are really excited about that idea!” Okay, so that could also be in a category of sharing an observation based on a shift in client energy. Read further below.
An intuition, insight or feeling the coach has in response to listening to their client
Some coaches gravitate to sharing their intuition, insight or feeling with the client. The key is to offer what you have to say, without any attachment that what you’re saying is true for the client.
Back to the example of client saying, “I want to feel confident about my ability to speak up and contribute in meetings.” Coach might offer the following, “My sense is there’s some fear of being accepted. Or what is true for you?”
It’s important that the coach allows silence and plenty of space for the client to fully reflect on what the coach just said, especially if client is reflecting on the internal realm (such as their emotions).
Whenever you sense how the client might be feeling, make sure you offer, not tell. I don’t know about you; I certainly don’t appreciate anyone telling me how I’m feeling. Yet a skillfully offered intuition or feeling by my coach, that gives me complete freedom room to consider the truth for me; can be of great value.
An observation about how the client expressed themselves through use of language; including feeling language, visual language, metaphor or analogy
I’d say almost every person speaks using visual language or in metaphor. At the most basic, a client who wants “an action plan” is using visual language. What does “an action plan” look like? Consist of? There’s a sense of moment with the word “action” and so many different definitions of what a “plan” is.
If a client wants “some next steps,” they are using visual language. How many “steps?” Now if you want to be creative, you could ask something like, “Where are your steps leading to?” “What type of building or structure are these steps part of?” Once your client catches on to use of metaphor and visual language, you’ll be surprised how often the client will start noticing how they are using certain words or concepts.
The most fun part of still being a coach for me is using client-specific language to craft customized questions. Equally fun is using client metaphor in an observation.
It’s so much more powerful to work with client visual language or their metaphor, than the coach substitute their own. However, it may be appropriate to do so. Just a word of caution to remain focused on the client “world” rather than the coach “world.”
An observation about how the client expressed themselves through their voice tone, energy changes, facial expression changes, or other body expression/language changes
These are statements based in observable behavior. Even a shift in energy can be observed in a shift in behavior.
Here is a slight variation to the example I gave earlier:
“It seems you are excited about that idea as your voice tone and energy just shifted to being faster.”
Here are two more examples:
“Your whole body seems more relaxed than when we began this session and your shoulders have dropped a little.”
“As you said that, you made a circular motion with both hands.”
The “dark side” of a coach sharing a statement
Here are some common cautions for coaches:
Refrain from sharing statements about the client or their situation as if what the coach says is truth. Coach opinions may often be sought by the client, yet it is up to the coach to skillfully respond so the coach opinions don’t become facts the client must follow.
Coach having insights or awareness (aha moments) about the client or their situation and excitedly telling the client about them, and right now! This is the gift we reserve for our client; let them have the endorphin rush of making connections and having awareness emerge. Just because the coach has in intuition, insight, feeling, sensing; that doesn’t mean now, or ever, is the right time to share it. Coach needs to discern what is best for the client, and keep the “spotlight” on the client, rather than shift the spotlight to the coach.
Consider the longer the coach is speaking at any given time, the more likely the coach has shifted to telling the client their opinion about the client, or their situation. This can shift the coach to consultant, mentor, teacher, or other role. A rough “rule of thumb” is if the client is speaking more than the coach, and the client is thinking (or feeling) more deeply as the session progresses, the “spotlight” is on the client. The client may become more reflective, and by end of the session they may feel excited, or clear, on what happens next. They have the endorphin rush of awareness!
Coaches often change client words to their own interpretation, which could be a very different meaning than the client intended. Refrain from doing this.
The more a coach reflects back verbatim, and extensively summarizes in a session, the more the coach is modeling verbose speaking to their client. Practice being more succinct every time you speak. I have a 10 second Challenge to my mentoring clients, which isn’t a real thing! Consider if you are speaking for longer than 10 seconds at any given time, you may now have moved to another role, or confusing the client as to what is most important for them to respond to. And training your client to be verbose in response.
The intent of this article is to tease out the various ways a coach can make a statement.
Consider your default ways; what is it that has you gravitate to those?
Consider where you feel your growth edge is in ways to offer a statement, and practice.
And of course, never underestimate the power of a well constructed question!
Written by Carly Anderson, MCC
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