Non-Directiveness in Coaching. What actually is it? And Why is it so Important?

Woman listening to a client
Generally speaking you don't just develop 'non-directiveness' as a skill in itself. There are a number of other skills and behaviours that we would encourage you to focus on which in turn will help you be less directive in your coaching sessions. These are key coaching skills such as active listening, summarising (that is, using the client's actual language, rather than paraphrasing what they say), building trust with your clients, asking curious questions, and developing accountability.

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Non-directiveness is at the core of Transformational Coaching. It supports our clients tap into their own expertise on the issues or opportunities that they’re experiencing without relying on our suggestions or advice.

Here are some key questions and answers around non-directiveness, including ways how you can develop it in your coaching practice.

Why is being non-directive important?

There’s many ways to answer this question, but in essence a non-directive approach builds confidence in our clients, allows people to dig deeper, and in turn develop and change in ways that they want to. Being non-directive helps clients carry out a coaching session (and actions) in line with their values, personality and preferences.

And ultimately coaching is about the client, their needs, their agenda and their solution. Telling, giving suggestions or leading the client takes that away from your client. Directiveness in coaching puts forward the idea that the coach knows better or has the solution that will unlock the coaches problems, which is of course not true and can lead to ethical issues such as an over-reliance on the coach.

How do you develop a non-directive approach with your clients?

Generally speaking you don’t just develop ‘non-directiveness’ as a skill in itself. There are a number of other skills and behaviours that we would encourage you to focus on which in turn will help you be less directive in your coaching sessions. 

These are key coaching skills such as active listening, summarising (that is, using the client’s actual language, rather than paraphrasing what they say), building trust with your clients, asking curious questions, and developing accountability. 

If you have followed an ICF Coach Training programme such as our Diploma in Integrative Coaching then this language might resonate with you as they’re covered in the 8 Core ICF Competencies. 

Another tool that greatly supports the development on non-directive coaching are reflections. Keeping a reflection log, identifying areas that you find yourself become more leading will help immensely. In addition, having mentoring and supervision will also help you identify those blind spots and provide you with concrete and specific feedback.

Can you be completely non-directive in a coaching session? 

Definitely not! Even silence, or the choice of questioning will show some elements of directiveness. What you can do instead is to focus on how you can be less directive rather than non-directive. So if a question comes to mind, think about ways how you can make that question a little bit less directive. 

For example if you are thinking of the question ‘I wonder if the client can ask for support from her sister about this issue?’ You can stop, reframe and ask that question in a less directive way (for example, ‘who else can support you with this?’)

Why is being non-directive in coaching hard? 

We find that most coaches know, and have experienced, that being non-directive pays off. That’s where the magic tends to happen; where someone gets their ‘AHA!’ moment; where the client builds their motivation to change. 

However, developing skills that support non-directiveness (as outlined above) take time and effort. This is even trickier for individuals who work (or have worked) in roles which require them to provide solutions. As a L&D professional my role was to identify learning gaps and provide solutions. Many of our roles in fact focus on solving the problems of others or the business. So what can happen is that we revert back to our comfort zone – that of providing solutions.

In addition, providing solutions and being slightly directive might make some coaches feel that they are providing ‘better value’ to their client or make us feel good about ourselves. But ultimately the coaching session is not about making the client feel good, but to support them to find solutions to their challenges. 

Are you looking for an ICF Coaching Certification or a Coach Mentor? 

Perhaps you are in the process of applying for your ACC or PCC application? 

We have number of ICF Coach Training Certificates including our Diploma in Integrative Coaching

Become also offers bespoke mentoring programmes to help you develop your coaching skills. Our mentoring is available on a 1-1 basis or as a group. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

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