As life and relationship coaches our primary goal and all of our coaching skills are focused on empowering our clients.
Why? Because playing the role of expert consultant by giving our clients advice and opinion of what we think they “should” do as well as other directive activities is dis-empowering, we refer to them as “non-coach-like,” and they just don’t work when applied to helping a client with their life and relationships. If being directive worked, we would. If helping a client to be successful was as simple as telling them what we think they should do, we absolutely would as who doesn’t love giving advice?
Other specialties can be directive and advice oriented, but doing so just doesn’t work for life and relationship coaching. For each unique individual there is never a “right” answer (more on that here) and our clients typically know what they “should” do, they just have tremendous challenges doing it. Finding or deciding upon the answer or solution is the easy part, getting into action, leaving your comfort zone, taking risks, and overcoming internal and external obstacles is the hard part and where coaches shine.
So we prioritize “empowering” our clients rather than playing “expert,” even if we ARE truly an expert and strongly believe we know what they “should” do.
Here are some other ways we empower our clients:
• We assume our client is whole and fully able to accomplish their goals as they are, flaws, fears and all.
• We go through great lengths to remove our ego from the coaching relationship, to the extent we even avoid saying the word “I.”
• We acknowledge that when it comes to humans and especially relationships, there is no “right” answer, only what works for each unique person.
• We know that we are helpless to “make” anything happen for our client because they have 100% control over their actions, and that the only thing we have 100% control over is our Coaching Superpower, which is what we choose to focus on with our next coaching question in each moment of a coaching session.
• We honor our client’s agenda 100%, but we know that as the coach we are 100% responsible for what happens in each coaching session, the PROCESS of coaching, and our ability to help our client is dependent upon our coaching skills and how we manage and focus each coaching session.
If we honor our client’s agenda 100% but the success of coaching depends upon what we do in each coaching session, part of empowering our client means that we ask permission to intervene when we judge it necessary. The client will almost always say “Yes,” but asking permission is empowering, and taking charge by jumping in without doing so is dis-empowering.
When might you need to ask permission?
Here’s a partial list:
1. To interrupt if they are taking up too much session time telling a story.
2. To record the session unless permission is already established in the coaching agreement and routine.
3. To share a story, metaphor, or analogy that might enable a positive reframe.
4. To shift attention or direction at any time, such as when the client’s stated agenda during the session (what they are focused on or talking about) doesn’t seem to align with their higher agenda (the big picture reason they hired you).
5. To stray or deviate from your empowering “coaching lane” to engage in a “non-coach-like” activity such as making a suggestion, sharing a personal story, etc. (more about this below)
Asking Permission to Engage a “Non-Coach-like” Activity
As coaches who value and put so much effort into empowering our client, we are loathe to invoke ego by talking about ourselves or telling them our opinion about what we think they should do. However, we are also willing to do (almost) whatever is needed to help our client be successful, even if it means straying from our coaching lane to do something “non-coach-like.” This would need to be an exceptional situation when it’s really needed in service of our client, such as once in an entire coaching relationship, NOT a regular practice.
To be clear- asking permission does NOT mean you can engage a “non-coach-like” activity, such as providing your advice or opinion, whenever you want. It is a rare, pressing exception that might occur once in an entire coaching relationship.
For example, sharing a personal story takes the focus off your client and onto you, a very dis-empowering and ego-centered thing to do unless your professional judgment tells you that it is an intervention that is needed for an exceptional situation, such as when your client is in a deep emotional funk, feeling like a failure, low self confidence, low self esteem, to the point they fear taking action because they are sure they will fail. Sharing your own experience in this context might help them not feel so alone, might give them hope and make it easier for them to allow you to support them into action because they trust you and your coaching more by knowing that you have been where they are.
In the above example, how often do you think that might come up and be needed? How about “once in an entire coaching relationship?” If you attempt this intervention and it doesn’t work, you don’t do it again, instead you try something else or refer for a higher, more specialized intervention than you can provide.
Asking Permission for a “Coach-like” Activity
As mentioned above, during a coaching session when you initiate focus off your client’s stated agenda as an intervention to get on track, move forward, solve a problem, identify a strategy, to empower your client you would ask permission rather than just jump in and do it.
Here’s a few examples:
Introducing Reframes: In the list above we mentioned getting permission to use a story/metaphor/analogy to enable a reframe, etc. Let’s address this to highlight how to effectively ask permission to introduce reframes as a coaching strategy.
First, when asking permission “May I share something with you?” is maddeningly vague, weak and patronizing. Be specific in asking permission for anything- what is it you propose sharing, and why are you bringing it up?
For example, “I just thought of a metaphor that might help your clarity about this, would you like to hear it?”
[And yes, sharp readers will note that this question starts with the word “I” that as mentioned above we avoid using, but remember the context here- the COACH is asking permission to do something in the session, so using the word “I” is appropriate and OK in this context. This is an example of one of the many fine lines and nuances of coaching. A mindful coach could find a way to ask permission without using the word “I,” such as “Would you like to consider a metaphor that might help your clarity about this?” Either is fine.]
Of course the client will assent, but getting permission is important. Then you share your metaphor or analogy or story, followed by “How might that apply in this situation?” which empowers them to identify their own meaning rather than “telling” them what you think it means for them.
The best metaphors are commonly known, so you can ask “Are you familiar with the parable of the blind men and the elephant?”
If so, you can ask “How might that apply in this situation?”
If not, you can share it and then ask that question.
Another way of introducing a metaphor is to embed it in a question, then you don’t even need to ask permission, such as “Does this situation remind you of the parable of the blind men and the elephant?”
[And yes, that is a Yes/No question and coaches are trained to avoid asking them, but Yes/No questions can be used as set-ups or to qualify going in a particular direction. This is another example of one of the many nuances of coaching and coaching skills.]
If the client responds “No” you let it go and move on.
If the client responds “I don’t know what that is” ask if they would like to know (don’t assume).
If the client responds “Yes” in some way, ask “How might that apply in this situation?”
Brainstorming: More commonly in coaching sessions you might have an idea or suggestion that you believe would be helpful to your client, but directly sharing that would be a dis-empowering attempt to shortcut the client’s exploration and discovery for themselves, so you first help your client to thoroughly explore their options and as a last resort if they are stuck you might ask permission to brainstorm ideas or strategies with them, which includes both of you, an easy way to indirectly insert an idea or suggestion rather than just blurting it out.
Homework: Another area where permission is common is “homework,” which normally is the logical next step in executing their action plan which they can easily identify, or in the case of a structured program the homework is defined by the structure, not suggested or determined by the coach. It is dis-empowering for a coach to “assign” homework, but there are some follow up activities that can be helpful that you might suggest every once in a great while.
For example, if brainstorming occurs in a coaching session it is almost always a valuable, logical follow up for the client to continue exploring their options between coaching sessions via Polling (asking others for suggestions/feedback) and/or Research (typically using the internet to identify what strategies/options exist and their results for others).
As above you would ask permission by being specific about what you are proposing and why, such as “We had a great brainstorming session today, can I suggest some follow up activities you can do between now and our next session to further identify your best options?”
The Bottom Line
Asking permission empowers your client but is used with discretion when necessary, and using it to stray out of your coaching lane for a “non-coach-like” intervention would be a rare exception, such as once in an entire coaching relationship when it’s really needed in service of your client and your “coach-like” strategies are not working.