When a Coaching Session Really Begins

Puzzle of blue and red color. Object over whiteA coaching session is a structured conversation so both coach and client know that this is a coaching conversation that has a purpose, versus just having a nice conversation.

There’s a definite beginning and an ending to a coaching session, then there’s everything else in the middle. In this article, I’ll explore the beginning.


From the first breath….

The coaching commences from the very first breath the client takes whether you are in-person with them, or on a call. You notice how the client arrives and are very present in your listening to everything about them, especially their energy and then their words.

Sometimes the client will reveal things that may be important at the very beginning, and yet the coach ignores because in their belief system, they haven’t officially started the coaching session yet. Or they feel its personal sharing they shouldn’t inquire about. Here are just a few examples of what a client might say when they first speak:

  • I’m feeling really tired
  • I’m a bit teary about the loss of my dog
  • I’m dealing with something happening with my child
  • The client sounds really rushed – they are speaking fast and may sound out of breath

This way of listening to the client often deepens Trust and Intimacy with the client because the client knows you are fully present and deeply listening.

Some ways a coach listens that are limiting

As I listen to coach’s I’m mentoring toward their first or next ICF credential, and in the work with do with The Mentor Coaching Group, I pay attention to how the coach is paying attention. Here are two limiting ways I notice a coach listens at the very beginning:

  • The coach asks a general question such as, “How are you today?” and the client responds. The coach may say, “Great!” or something similarly short. There is no further inquiry about what the client has shared, nor any indication the coach has actually heard anything the client just said.
  • The client shares from an emotional place. If it’s excitement or happiness, the coach finds those easy to acknowledge. But what if the client indicates through their words or energy they are upset, frustrated, angry, sad, scared, or anxious? Sometimes the coach is present and acknowledges they are hearing the client’s upset, and other times the coach completely ignores any emotional content.


When do you start being fully present?

Coaching Presence is the ICF Core Competency most at play because it involves the coach’s mindset and beliefs about when a coaching session begins. Coaching Presence is the pivotal competency in The Target Approach; Demystifying the ICF Core Competencies.

Depending on what you believe coaching is, and when a coaching session begins, will impact how you respond to your client. If you believe coaching starts from the ‘first breath,’ then the coach will listen for client language and inquire differently than if the coach believes that coaching only starts when you ask for the topic and outcome (Establishing the Coaching Agreement).


Ways to respond to the client from the very beginning

If you agree that everything the client says from the very beginning is important, and even before you know what they want to accomplish in today’s session, then here are some options for how to respond:

  • You’ll listen to the client’s energy and words as they show up to the coaching session and genuinely acknowledge you have heard what they said.


  • You will inquire if there is anything of what they are experiencing that they’d like to talk about in this coaching session (even if it isn’t what you think you should be talking about based on the bigger coaching plan and goals).


  • You’ll ask the client more about how they are feeling right now, and you may offer what emotions you are hearing. This often helps a client to stop and feel rather than roll over their emotions and just get on with it. And emotions are where our energy is either rejuvenated or depleted, and may be valuable information for other parts of your coaching.


  • Just because the client is feeling upset, or sad, for example, and you inquire further, you are not being therapeutic by doing so, unless you discover the client wants to go back and talk extensively about their childhood. If that occurs, then you can ask your client who they can speak with on that topic, as you are not a therapist.


  • If you do inquire further into what the client said, or the emotions present, you do so without being attached to if the client wants to say more. If it’s a no for them, it’s a no.


  • Listen for and notice patterns of thinking and feeling in your client, including how they deal with their upset, frustration or anger, or how they take care of themselves, or how they express their excitement or happiness.


Coaching really does begin from the first breath your client takes when you are with them, physically or remotely. If you would like to take your coaching skills mastery to the next level, please consider joining us in our next mentor coaching group.

We 100% know that you will gain confidence in your coaching skills and application of the ICF core competencies. And you can gain core competency CCEUs’, coach training hours, or mentor coaching hours toward your credential.


Registration for our last 3 month Mentor Coaching Group of 2014 is now open.

Commencing September 9 from noon-1.30pm Eastern/NY time. Registration is limited to 7 people on a first come, first served basis.


Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants.

One of those offerings is an extensive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching sessions for our participants to listen to, evaluate, debrief, and learn from, along with The Target Approach to demystifying the ICF core competencies. These are incredibly valuable learning tools, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions.

Here’s where you’ll find more about The Mentor Coaching Group

Carly and Karen also offer other mentoring options which you can find in the Store

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