When a client asks you for your perspective, and you withhold or respond in a way that's not client-centered, that can seriously compromise the partnership and erode trust. Early in my coach training program, it was drilled into us that coaches don't tell their clients what to do.
When a client asks you for your perspective, and you withhold or respond in a way that’s not client-centered, that can seriously compromise the partnership and erode trust.
Early in my coach training program, it was drilled into us that coaches don’t tell their clients what to do. I took that very seriously, and when clients would ask me for my opinion, I felt paralyzed. I didn’t know the right way to respond.
Fast forward to today; in the six-plus years that I've been a coach, I’m often asked this question in some form or fashion.
What role should helping professionals play with their clients when it comes to giving advice, sharing strategy, or just flat out telling their clients what to do?
Today I’m talking about best practices for sharing thoughts and ideas with clients, the four common pitfalls coaches make, how to course correct in a way that centers the client, and my six tips for successful sharing.
- Why this topic falls in a gray area
- How my internal critic was keeping me small on social media
- Distinguishing between the role of a coach and a consultant
- What we can learn from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) Core Competencies
- Sharing client-centered observations, insights, and feelings
- Why a mindfulness practice can help us become better coaches
- Inspiring growth in our clients
- The power that comes from creating new learning for yourself
- Why practicing non-attachment is a valuable skill for coaches
- What to do when a client asks for your perspective
- Six tips for successful sharing in a coaching relationship
- Coach with Clarity on TikTok
- ICF Core Competencies
- Coach with Clarity Podcast Facebook Group
- Coach with Clarity Collective Waitlist
- Connect with Me on Instagram
- Email Me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now it’s time for you to show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity! Screenshot this episode and tag me on Instagram @coachwithclarity and let me know what you’re more excited to explore in future podcast episodes!
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Well, hello, my friend. Welcome back to another episode of the Coach with Clarity Podcast. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough, I'm your host, and I'm so happy you're here with me today. Because we have something very important to talk about today. And that is whether or not coaches should be telling their clients what to do. I will be honest with you in the six plus years that I've been a coach and then the 15 years before that, that I was a therapist, this question repeatedly comes up in some form or fashion. What role should helping professionals play with their clients when it comes to giving advice, sharing strategy, or just flat out telling their clients what to do? In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I made a video for TikTok, and then I shared it as an Instagram Reel, all about the issue of coaches telling their clients what to do. And that short video, it was like 15 seconds, but it received more comments, more engagement, more feedback than almost anything I've ever created on social media. So clearly, this is a hot topic. And I knew that a quick 15 second video would not be nearly enough time to go into the nuance behind this question. Because that's the thing even though I phrased it as a bit of a yes or no question for the purposes of today's episode title. It's not really as simple as it being a yes or no question. There is some gray area around this. And so that's why I wanted to take an entire podcast episode to talk about it.
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And I want to thank all of you who commented or messaged me after seeing that video on TikTok and Instagram, because your questions and your thoughts have helped inspire today's episode. So yes, I am over on TikTok, I have been creating videos now, for about three weeks, as of the time I'm recording this. And I have to admit, I was a little intimidated by creating these types of videos for TikTok, and for Instagram on Reels. I had really resisted this for a very, very long time. I didn't think I was funny enough or clever enough, I didn't think I was experienced enough in making videos to actually create content that mattered. So you can already see how my own messaging, my own internal critic was getting in my way of putting myself out there. But then I spent a little time on TikTok as a consumer, as someone who was watching the content, responding to it. And what I realized specifically about TikTok is that it is a very casual environment, it really is come as you are, it does not have to be perfectly polished. Even the editing doesn't need to be perfect. It's actually a very forgiving platform. And once I saw that, I gave myself permission to just have some fun with it, to experiment. 2022 is my year of experimentation after all, so why not bring that spirit of curiosity and fun into TikTok. And so that's what I've been doing. I have been doing one video a day on weekdays for a few weeks now. Some do really well, some don't, I've yet to have one go viral yet. And that's totally fine. Because I'm actually really enjoying it. It's a different method of creative expression. And it's a lot of fun, it's actually really challenging to try to get your message into a succinct 60 seconds, 30 seconds, 15, sometimes even 5. I do have a 5 second TikTok video out there. And it's allowing me to stretch some creative muscles in a whole new way. So we'll see how this goes. I'm really enjoying the experiment so far. So if you are on TikTok, if you're not already following me, I would love to connect with you over there. My handle is @CoachWithClarity, so I'm really easy to find. And I would love to connect with you over on that platform. I'm also really interested to know what questions, thoughts, insights you have around coaching. Whether it's the practice of coaching, how we become powerful, masterful coaches, or whether it's about the business of coaching and how we build thriving businesses to support ourselves and our families. I want to hear from you. Because nothing inspires me more than you. Every email, every comment, every interaction we have, gives me new ideas of ways that I can serve you through my content. Whether it's a long form podcast episode like this, whether it is a short TikTok video or Reels, you name it, whenever we are connecting – I get inspired. So yes, come follow me over on TikTok @CoachWithClarity. If you're not on TikTok, but you are on Instagram, I'm over on Instagram at the same handle Coach With Clarity. And come join me in this grand experiment that I'm doing with short form video content.
All right, so let's dive into today's topic, which is all about whether or not coaches should be telling their clients what to do. Before we develop an answer to that question, let's first explore why this is an issue in the first place. And I think there are a few factors at play here. Number one is that the term coach is used so frequently now, particularly in the online space. And oftentimes, people who call themselves coaches or say they provide coaching, or people who are looking for a coach are actually looking more for a strategist or a consultant. They really are looking for someone who can tell them what to do, who can give them a framework and outline some strategies. And they are looking for someone who is intentionally directive in what they say and what they share. I view this as being one of the main differentiators between coaching and consulting. With consulting, the consultant is the expert, they are invited into a person's business or relationship or life in order to assess the current situation, see what's working, and what's not working, and provide some targeted, individualized suggestions for improvement. And that is with the client's consent, a good consultant is not going to provide unsolicited guidance or advice. And I really value the role of consultants, especially in business, I've worked with several myself, I attribute a lot of my business growth, to working with some very talented, very skilled consultants who have been able to step inside my business, helped me assess what's working well, what needs to be tweaked. And then they provided me with a really solid approach to making those changes. But the ideas, the structure, the how to do, when to do, all of that came from the consultant. And that is the difference between consulting and coaching. Because when we take a coaching approach with our clients, we are not coming in and providing the solutions for our clients to implement the way a consultant would. In fact, when we look at the International Coaching Federation, or ICF, Coaching Core Competencies, we see the word partner or partnership throughout this document. And it's because in coaching, we really are creating and maintaining a relationship of equals, it is a true partnership. And we honor and respect that the client is the expert in themselves, their work, their life, their business. And as the coach, we are the expert in creating the container in which change can occur. So both the coach and the client bring their own expertise, their own knowledge into the relationship. And we truly partner together in such a way where the client often is the one, not only identifying the issues, but also coming up with the solutions. The ICF Core Competencies are really clear that as coaches, we start from a place of having the client identify the agenda. So the client is the one talking about what they want to achieve, both in a given session and in the overall coaching relationship. And then our role, first and foremost is to ask deep, powerful questions, and then invite the client to reflect or share their thoughts and insights. So as coaches, we always come from the perspective that the client is the expert and the client knows best. That is where we start. And and this is where the both and comes in. And there are times where clients may not necessarily know the next step they should take or how to take it. And they may look to their coach for guidance, support and even advice. So that's where it gets tricky. If as coaches we're not supposed to be telling our clients what to do, and yet our clients want our feedback. How do we serve them? Well, fortunately, the ICF Core Competencies do give us a little bit of insight into how to do that. They acknowledge that there will be a time and a place where the coach may share their own insights or thoughts with the client. It is a partnership after all, this is a reciprocal relationship. And so there is space for us to share our perspective on the situation as well. But we need to be very careful when and how we do so and that's what we're going to really look at for the remainder of today's episode.
The Core Competencies do say that coaches can share observations, insights and feelings without attachment that have the potential to create new learning for the client. So right there inside the Competencies, it acknowledges the fact that there will be times where it is appropriate for coaches to share that kind of information. But let's break that down a little deeper. First, let's look at what it is we're sharing. We are sharing observations, so these are things we are noticing. It's not necessarily new data, it's perhaps reflecting what we have observed, the client has said or expressed or felt. We're sharing insights, so if we have a thought about something, if our observations are what the client has shared, has created a little insight in us, we can share that. And then we're sharing feelings as well. So we're noticing and then commenting on emotions and physical sensations that we have in response to what the client has shared. So these three things that we're sharing observations, insights, and feelings, they are in direct response to something the client has stated or shared. So again, they are still client centered and they are responding to that, not necessarily coming up with a new tangent, or a new topic to explore inside the session. We are also invited to share these things without attachment. And let me tell you, my friends, this might be the hardest part of all. I have talked about attachment for years, especially in the context of ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, because part of mindfulness is observing our own thoughts without attachment. So we're not judging them, we're not grasping them, we're not owning them, we're merely noticing those thoughts come and go. That's a part of mindfulness practice. It's also why I think mindfulness practice can help us become better coaches, because we can take that concept of non attachment and apply it within the coaching session. Because when we share our insights, our observations and our feelings, we're asked to do so from that place of non attachment. That basically means we have no stake in the outcome, whether the client accepts what we share, whether they modify it, whether they outright reject it or ignore it, we are unattached to the outcome. And I will be the first to admit that this is a huge ask, if we feel like we have an amazing insight, or a really good idea, the thought of sharing it and not wanting someone else to be equally as excited or inspired by it, I'm just going to say it, that's a big ask, it's normal for our egos to get involved. It's human nature, to crave validation, to want to feel important or special or loved. And so when someone rejects or changes, something we share, that might sting a bit. And that's okay, that is part of being human. So I would say that, yes, ideally, we are sharing these things without attachment. And we have a process in place for working through our own feelings that come up when we are attached to the outcome. And of course, we're doing that outside of the coaching session, we're doing our own work with our coach or with our mentor coach, or we have our own process for self reflection.
So the third part of this statement is about sharing things that have the potential to create new learning for the client. So again, the purpose of sharing an observation, an insight, or a feeling is to inspire growth in the client. And that growth comes from their opportunity to develop a new insight or a new learning. So this suggests that we're not simply telling our clients what to do so that they can go do it. Instead, we're engaging with them and sharing in such a way that it furthers the conversation, and creates additional opportunities for the client to come up with their own strategies and their own solutions. So this one single statement inside the Core Competencies that coaches share observations, insights and feelings without attachment that have the potential to create new learning for the client. There's a lot baked into that one little sentence isn't there. And so that's why as coaches we need to be mindful of how we approach these opportunities to share our own perspective with the client, and that we do so from a place of non attachment and in a way that centers the client.
Now, there's more about this topic inside the Core Competencies. In fact, later on, there's a statement that talks about how the coach partners with the client to design goals, actions, and accountability methods that integrate and expand new learning. So again, we're coming back to this idea of partnership. And in here, it suggests that developing those goals and actions and accountability strategies, does not have to rest solely on the shoulders of the client. There is an opportunity for the coach to be a part of creating these goals and measures.
And the very next sentence in the Core Competencies, state that coaches acknowledge and support client autonomy in the design of goals, actions, and methods of accountability. So yes, this is a partnership and the client maintains their autonomy. They can and are able to do this on their own, we believe that about them as their coach. So we are coming in to partner with them, if and when they request and require our support. So we can see just how nuanced this is. And that sharing our thoughts and our ideas with our clients, certainly is not expressly prohibited. But there are ways in which we should do so that center the client, prioritize their needs and ensures that everything we share is in the spirit of helping the client gain new understanding and to deepen their learning.
So now that we know what we should be doing, when it comes to sharing our thoughts and ideas with clients, let's talk about some pitfalls that come up. There are four that I want to share. And I have seen these firsthand, through mentor coaching privately with clients, and also working with students inside the Certified Clarity Coach training program. My students inside the certification program have numerous opportunities to practice their coaching, both outside of class sessions with their peer coaches and peer clients, but also within our coaching labs, where they're able to try out new techniques with me present, observing, so that I can provide feedback. And so I've seen these four issues come up with my students, and with my mentees. And yes, also with myself, because even though I am an experienced coach, I still fall into some of these traps. And that's why being aware of it and then knowing what to do to course correct is so important.
So the first pitfall I see coaches fall into is that they provide their input too soon. And this typically comes from a place of very good intentions. And it also often speaks to just how smart and intuitive the coach is. Because oftentimes, they are able to see the outcome before the client does. And that's the benefit of having that external outside perspective. But because they get to that point before the client does, they kind of rush the process, and then they share their reflection, or they share their insight, or they provide a strategy before the client has had a chance to get to that point. And when we provide input too soon, we actually rob the client of their ability to have that aha moment on their own. And if you think back to the last time, you had an aha moment, do you remember that feeling of just like, “Oh! Oh my goodness, I never thought about it that way before.” or “Wow, I see things in a whole new perspective!” that is a powerful moment. And that is far more impactful than having someone else give that to you. When we are able to come to that realization on our own, it sticks. And that's why we want to give our clients the opportunity to create and integrate that new learning on their own, versus us giving it to them. And so that's why when we provide input too soon, we actually take that opportunity away from the client. So that's pitfall number one.
The second one that I see a lot. And honestly, this is what I struggle with too, is that we get attached to the outcome. When we share an idea, a story, a strategy, we are doing so because we want to help our client. And we really believe that the idea we have could help them. So it's understandable that we get attached to that outcome. Because we think, “Oh, if you do this, it may actually help you. Let me help you.” And that's where we get attached to the outcome because we want our clients to be successful. And we want them to take our idea and run with it. And so it often comes out by saying, “Well, I think you should do this.” or, “Well, I've done this before, so maybe you should too.” It becomes more directive and it's not coming from that place of partnership. When we get attached to the outcome, we also get really fixated on the idea that what we are sharing is the one way or the right way to do something. And then we cut off the client's ability to brainstorm or generate other ideas, or even if they do generate other ideas we may not be as open to them because we're so fixated on the idea that we've shared because we are attached to the outcome. So this is why practicing non attachment both inside the coaching relationship, and also on our own. In our own life through mindfulness practice in our other relationships. Practicing non attachment is such an important skill for coaches, because it allows us then to introduce these new ideas and concepts, while still leaving space for the client to come up with their own ideas and for the client to provide feedback on what we shared without us taking it too, personally. So that's the second pitfall is that we often get too attached to the outcome. And please know my friend, I'm speaking as much to myself as I am to you right now on this one.
The third pitfall I see and I kind of alluded to this in the last one is when coaches don't provide a space for client feedback after they've shared something. So they might share a strategy or a thought, and then they move right into, “Okay, so how are we going to implement this?” rather than opening up space for the client to comment on that feedback to respond to it, to modify it or even reject it. But to maintain a client centered session, we have to follow every contribution we make with an opportunity for the client to reflect and respond to it. When we don't, when we rush forward, again, we take that opportunity away from the client to build on it, to modify it, and to make it work for them. So that's the third pitfall not providing time and space for the client to respond to your input.
And then the fourth pitfall, this one is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum. So far, we've talked about what happens when we share too much. Let's talk about what happens when we don't share enough, I have seen coaches who are so worried about telling their clients what to do, that they go in the opposite extreme, they don't provide any sort of feedback at all, even when the client is asking for their input. And I really get this tendency, I think back to my own experience in the coach training program I attended. In those early classes, it was drilled into us that coaches don't tell their clients what to do. coaches don't tell their clients what to do. And so I almost felt paralyzed when a client would ask me, “What do you think I should do?” I didn't know how to respond. Now, to be fair, later in the program, when we were exploring more advanced coaching strategies, that's when we looked at, “Okay, here's what to do if a client really wants your feedback.” But I have to tell you, it would have been kind of helpful to have had that information earlier on. And that's one of the reasons why I'm doing this episode for you today. Because when a client asks you, for your perspective, what do you think? Or do you have any thoughts about something, and you withhold that it can actually compromise the partnership. It can erode trust, because the client might feel like either, you know, and you're not telling them, or you don't know and that's a problem, too. The fact of the matter is, on some level, you are a subject matter expert in the niche that you are coaching in. And that is probably why your client came to you to begin with, they value your knowledge, your experience, your wisdom, and they want to receive the benefits of that. So when we withhold that, we actually do them a disservice. And that's why the fourth pitfall is not providing any feedback at all, for fear of telling the client what to do and being too directive. So if we're not careful, the pendulum really can swing too far in the opposite direction. And so as coaches, we're looking for that middle ground, we're looking for that third path. So it's not telling them what to do without argument. It's not withholding our input, our thoughts, our ideas. Instead, it's finding a way to contribute our thoughts to the relationship because it is a relationship it's give and take, while still centering the client and giving them the opportunity to determine whether our input serves their needs. So that takes us to the real question for today's episode. It's not should coaches tell their clients what to do? But I think the real question is, how can coaches provide guidance and input that centers the client and the clients agenda, while prioritizing the partnership and respecting the client's autonomy? But that's a long question that makes for a tough podcast title. So hence why we went with the “Should coaches tell their clients what to do?” but you and I both know it's more nuanced than that, we've explored all of the factors to consider. So now I want to share with you six tips for successful sharing.
So if you have a thought and idea a strategy that you want to share with your client, these are six tips I encourage you to follow. Number one, more often than not behind a good idea, is a better question. So if you have a great idea that you want to share with your client, take a moment and pause and ask yourself, rather than coming up with this idea, or making this bold, declarative statement, is there a better question behind it? Is there are a way that I can ask something of the client that will inspire them, so that maybe they come up with their own idea. It might be the same as my idea, it might be even better. So just remember that in coaching, more often than not behind every good idea, behind every good statement is an even better question. So if you can dig for the question that will serve your client in the long run.
Tip number two, before sharing something, ask yourself, How does sharing this serve my client? Let's make absolutely clear that when we are sharing a story, a thought, a suggestion, a strategy, we are doing so with the client's agenda and the client's best interests in mind. This is the heart of client centered coaching. So always ask yourself, if I share this story, how is it benefiting my client?
Which leads me to the third tip, as part of that we need to evaluate, what benefit do I receive if I share this? This is where we invite the non attachment piece into the conversation. Am I sharing this story because I want validation? Do I want my client to agree with me? Do I want my client to think I'm smart, or savvy or brilliant or the best coach they've ever had? Again, all of those desires are normal, they're human, and they're understandable. And if we're not aware of them, they can actually get in our way of providing powerful coaching. So when you're asking yourself how sharing something would benefit the client, we also need to evaluate how sharing this might benefit you. And can we tease that out? Can we acknowledge “Ah, there's my ego again, okay, I'm aware of that.” And then come back to the question of, is this still something that will serve my client? So these first three tips I've shared with you, this is what happens before you share something. You're making sure there's not a better question to ask, you're checking in with how sharing would benefit your client, and you're also doing a gut check and just acknowledging any sort of benefit that may come to you by sharing this story or idea.
The final three tips I have for you are actually about the process of sharing. So tip number four is to ask permission. Before you just go and share your thought or idea with your client, ask permission to do so first, make sure they're on board, ready, and receptive. It can be as simple as saying, “Hey, I just had a thought, may I share it with you?” and then pay close attention to their response, both verbal and nonverbal. Because they may say yes, but if their body language or tone of voice suggests that maybe they're not so open to it, maybe take a beat, and even reflect on what you've observed, just to check in to make sure your client truly is open to receiving your contribution.
Now, once you've asked permission, and assuming your client is on board, tip number five is to keep it brief. Whatever it is, you're sharing, do so as succinctly as possible. You don't need to go on a five minute monologue as to what you have to share, why it matters, why it's so important. Nope, keep it brief. Succinct. In, out – done.
Then tip number six is to circle back and create an intentional space for the client to respond to what you've shared. So you might be asking them, how does that resonate with you? Or what are your thoughts about that? Or even more specific, what of what I've shared would work for you, and what might you want to modify. So again, we're giving them permission to critique what we've shared to change it, to accept it. But we are carving out that space to allow for their reflection. That is one of the best ways that we can promote that new learning and insight as guided by the ICF Core Competencies. So those last three tips are all about the actual practice of sharing your thoughts with your client. You want to ask permission first, you want to keep it brief, and then you want to circle back and create an opportunity for the client to comment on what you've shared. So now that we have fully explored the question of whether coaches should tell their clients what to do, I think now is a perfect time for this week's Clarity in Action moment. For this week's Clarity in Action moment, I want to go back to those four pitfalls that I mentioned earlier. And as a reminder, the four pitfalls I see coaches make when it comes to sharing their thoughts with clients, is they either provide input too soon, they get attached to the outcome. They don't provide a space for client feedback, or they don't provide any feedback at all, even when the client asks because they don't want to tell their clients what to do. So of those four pitfalls, I invite you to ask yourself, which of those do you find yourself experiencing most often? And as I've been pretty honest about for me, that's pitfall number two, but for you, it may be one of the other ones. Whichever one it is just know, you're not alone. And now based on our discussion during today's episode, you have some strategies that you can put in place to help you overcome that pitfall. So once you've identified your personal pitfall, now it's time to make a plan. Which of the six tips might support you in overcoming that pitfall? Maybe for you, it looks like asking, what's the better question behind this statement? Maybe it's recentering the focus on your clients agenda, or perhaps it's coming to terms with the benefit you wish to receive by sharing something. Or if you're someone for whom sharing your own thoughts and ideas in session is a bit of a struggle, you may find the tips around how to provide feedback, asking permission, keeping it brief, and circling back, you might find those to be really integral in creating your own personal process for sharing your thoughts with your clients. So that is your task this week, identify the pitfall that you tend to fall into, and then see which of those tips can help you work through it. Once you've had an opportunity to do that, I want to hear how it goes. So again, come find me over on TikTok, or on Instagram – I'm @CoachWithClarity and let's keep the conversation going. And don't be surprised if you see a few elements of our conversation today showing up on TikTok. That's one of the great things about that platform is it's so easy to take your existing long form content, pull out little pieces and have that inspire a new video.
Well, my friend that is it for me this week. But I will be right back in your feed next week with a brand new episode of the Coach with Clarity Podcast. So if you are not already following or subscribe to the show, be sure to do that on whatever podcast platform you use. There should be a little button that says subscribe or follow or maybe it looks like a plus sign. Just go ahead and hit that that will allow you to subscribe to the show for free and then all future episodes will automatically wind up in your feed and we can continue our conversation together. Until then, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough, reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.