9 Ways we Communicate as Professional Coaches to support Transformational Change

Joseph Grech Coaching Psychologist
Effective communication is key in coaching. Mastering these nine essential processes such as active listening, utilising silence, not focusing on the right questions, fostering transparency, and encouraging client participation, enhances the coach-client relationship. These methods build trust, facilitate deeper insights, and empower clients to achieve their goals. Read on and answer the reflective questions that follow to explore your own coaching sessions.

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Coaching is about communicating and connecting with your client, building a relationship; a partnership as the ICF rightly state in their definition of what coaching is. 

How we communicate— invitations through words, tone, body language, and silence—plays a pivotal role in fostering this connection. This blogpost by Joseph Grech, Become’s Course Leader for ICF Coaching Certifications, is inspired by one of our recent Group Mentoring sessions with trainees from our Level 1 Diploma in Integrative Coaching where a question was raised about the different ways that we communicate.

If you’re at the start of your coach training journey you might focus a lot on ‘asking the right question’ as the key way to communicate… which can bring in a lot of pressure for you, as what is the right question?! Instead as you develop in your practice we invite you to focus more on how you communicate at large and the way you build connection with your client to enable transformational change.

1: We communicate first through Active Listening & Noticing
Our ability to sense and notice is a fundamental communication skill that every coach must master. It involves listening with the intent to understand, not just to respond. This means setting aside our own thoughts and judgments to fully absorb what the client is expressing (and this is where the work on most ICF Coach Training programmes is – noticing ourselves in the coaching process and how to bring the client more fully).

Reflect on a coaching experience: Are you truly listening to understand, or are you preparing your next question or response?

2: The Paradox of Communicating by Doing Less
In coaching, less can often be more. This principle encourages us to refrain from over-directing or leading clients with suggestions. Instead, we focus on facilitating their self-exploration and decision-making processes. By stepping back and allowing clients to lead the conversation, we empower someone to find solutions that work for them, fostering a greater sense of ownership and commitment to their goals.

We can communicate less by focusing on holding the space for the client rather than filling it. Holding space is about creating a safe, supportive environment where clients feel comfortable exploring their thoughts, feelings, and goals. 

Consider this: How often do we provide our clients with a truly non-judgmental space where they can openly express their vulnerabilities? As coaches, our ability to hold space effectively can profoundly impact the coaching relationship, enhancing the client’s journey towards self-discovery and growth.

Reflect on a coaching experience: Are you comfortable with silence in your coaching sessions, allowing your clients the space to think and process?

3: Navigating Different Philosophies on Intervention
Coaching philosophies vary widely, particularly when it comes to intervention (the coach inviting the client through a question for example). These range from philosophies where coaches might lean into a more directive approach, offering specific solutions. On the other end interventions can be through a non-directive style, focusing on facilitating the client’s self-discovery. Understanding these different philosophies and reflecting on our own approach of where you coach on this continuum will help you refine our practice to better serve our clients. 

Reflect on a coaching experience: Do you find yourself leaning into suggestions because it feels like you have the answer for your client? Do you resort to providing answers because it feels uncomfortable for you to be in a space of unknown with your client?

 
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4: Using Questions without the Pressure of the Right Question

One way to communicate as a coach is through asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions. These questions would ideally challenge clients to think deeply and explore new perspectives. Think about the questions you ask though: Are they designed to elicit deeper insights and reflections? 

Questions should be designed to challenge assumptions, encourage reflection, and promote deeper understanding. Questions not only helps clients uncover underlying issues but also stimulates their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Reflect on a coaching experience: What types of questions have you found most effective in your coaching practice and why? What is it about that question that supported the client?

5: Communicate and Build Connection through Empathic Responses
By actively demonstrating empathy, coaches convey genuine understanding and validation of the client’s experiences and emotions. This builds trust and creates a safe space where clients feel heard. This level of emotional attunement encourages clients to delve deeper into their personal and professional challenges, facilitating more meaningful insights and breakthroughs. 

Reflect on a coaching experience: How do you express empathy and understanding in your coaching conversations?

6: Providing Clear and Objective Feedback
Feedback can be an essential component of the coaching process. Effective feedback should be clear, objective, and delivered in a way that encourages growth. It’s important to frame feedback in a client-focused manner, its aim on what you are observing and noting (objectively rather than your subjective opinion) to support them improve.

Reflect on a coaching experience: How do I provide feedback that is both honest and encouraging to my clients?

7: Adapting Your Communication Style
Every client is unique, and effective communication requires us to adapt our style to meet their individual needs. This involves being attuned to their emotional state, learning style, and readiness for change. By being flexible and responsive, we can provide more personalised and impactful support.

Reflect on a coaching experience: How did you adapt your style to meet your client’s needs? How do you tailor your communication approach to align with each client’s preferences?

8: Balancing Support and Challenge
Communicating effectively as a coach involves finding the right balance between offering support and providing challenges. While it’s important to be supportive and encouraging, we also need to challenge our clients (and ourselves to invite the client…) to step out of their comfort zones and explore new possibilities.

Reflect on a coaching experience: How do you balance being supportive with pushing your clients to achieve their potential?

9: Transparency in how you Communicate

Transparency in communication builds trust and strengthens the coach-client relationship. This involves being open about your coaching methods, setting clear expectations, and maintaining congruence  in your interactions.

Involving clients in the coaching process enhances their engagement and accountability. This includes co-creating goals, developing action plans, and evaluating progress together. By actively including clients, we empower them to take charge of their own development, leading to more sustainable and meaningful outcomes.

Reflect on a coaching experience: How transparent are you with your clients about the coaching process and their progress?How do you involve clients in the decision-making process during coaching sessions?

Communicating in coaching is an art that requires continuous learning and practice. By focusing on presence, empathy, and adaptability, we can create a transformative environment for our clients. As we refine our skills and deepen our understanding of the coaching process, we contribute to the growth and success of those we serve. 

In your coaching practice, how will you integrate these principles to enhance your effectiveness and impact?

If you’re interested in training as an ICF Accredited Coach feel free to explore our Level 1 and 2 ICF Coaching Certifications in Integrative Coaching.

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