Why direct communication is an essential coaching competency


free willyOnce upon a time when coaching was still very new as a profession, there was the belief that asking curious questions was the only real coaching skill.

While asking questions that are potentiallly powerful for the client is still very important, it is by no means the only thing that is required to have a coaching session be impactful for the client. There is the conversational flow that occurs when the client engages in what the ICF calls “Direct Communication.”

You will stand out as a masterful coach that the client goes ‘Wow!’ how did you do that…when you effectively use forms of direct communication correctly.

What direct communication is

If you read the overarching definition of Direct Communication by the ICF, it doesn’t really tell you what this means (“ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.”) You have to read the sub-points to get the real meaning, because direct communication skills are everything other than asking questions. It’s what provides the flow in a conversation while adding value to the client.

For example, direct communication includes “reframing and articulating in a way that helps the client to understand from another perspective what they want or are uncertain about.” This includes messages, reflections and observations, and use of visual or sensory language in the form of metaphor and analogy.

The intent of direct communication is to help the client to see other perspectives and possibilities about their situation, that is not in the form of a question.

Here are some examples:

“Real change often starts with being open to thinking differently about our circumstances.”

“You may not be blocked around this issue. It may be that there is a different way to view this situation that you haven’t thought of yet.”

“Maybe it’s about not judging things too quickly as being right or wrong.”

“It sounds like there is a distinction between being cautious and paying attention, versus allowing fear to stop you from moving forward.”

What direct communication is not

Often I hear coaches say that they have been given feedback by a mentor coach that their direct communication sounds like they are putting words into the client’s mouth, and comes across as if they know what the client is thinking or should be doing. It will often sound as if what the coach says is a fact or the truth. This may sound like, “I hear you want to take action but you have too much fear to do anything. What you need is to get over your fear and do it anyway.” This type of direct communication is ‘unclean’ and makes too many assumptions.

Even if the client has expressed fear at doing something, there is cleaner language that can be used to give the client more choice and find the answer for themself. Cleaner language might sound like, “I get that you really want to take action on this. Something seems to be holding you back and maybe there’s a good reason why you’re not following through.”

Notice how different those two forms of direct communication are. When you are able to step back and expertly offer the client a different perspective through your observations, reflections and messages, you are adding value to the client in more ways than just asking question after question after question. You will stand out as a masterful coach and the client will say, “How did you do that? How did you get me to think about that situation like that?”


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