Managing the Coaching and Consulting Conundrum
Fran Fisher, MCC
QUESTION: What do I do when my coaching client wants me to give him/her advice? And how do I do it in a way that honors the coaching paradigm?
Most people don’t really appreciate advice. What they do desire is support and discipline in doing what they already know works.” – Marianne Williamson, Author
So, your client has just asked you for your opinion or advice. There are four main choices that I see. You discern in the moment which response would be most relevant to the situation and most respectful and empowering for the client.
Your criteria for deciding could include the following considerations:
- Shall I avoid the temptation to rush in and save the client from their discomfort? Or save myself from the discomfort?
- Is this a client who looks outside of him/herself as a pattern in life; dependent on the opinions of others; not trusting self?
- Is this a client who generally appreciates your empowering questions, and the space to self-reflect?
- Is the information the client wants something you believe they would benefit knowing, so they could factor it into their decision making or exploratory process?
- Can you offer the information without attachment?
Choices for your response:
- SCHEDULE a separate conversation. The client knows that you have expertise in the particular topic (examples: marketing, HR, nutrition, etc.) What the client wants is the benefit of your expertise in a particular topic. Suggest that you schedule a separate conversation and promise to prepare and wear your consulting hat.
- CHANGE HATS – In the moment, suggest that you change hats for a moment (get their buy in/understanding of what you are doing). Physically make the motions and verbally say, “I am taking off my coach hat and putting on a consulting hat.” This creates a clear and purposeful space for the kind of conversation you are having. Switch the hat back to coaching mode. There will be a difference between holding the client as the expert (coaching) and being the expert in sharing your knowledge (consulting). This reinforces for the client the distinction between these two modalities.
- ENROLL in the BENEFIT – My effort is to essentially NOT rush in to save the client when they express their “I don’t know,” and ask me for my opinion or advice. I try to respond with a “no,” but leave them feeling like it was a “yes.” Here are a few examples of words/approaches:
- (Name), remember when we had our initial session and we agreed that coaching is a partnership of two experts, and you are the expert of who you are in this partnership? (“yes”) I heard you say that ___(fill in the blank)___. Are you willing for me to ask you some questions to see if I can help you find your answers?
- I am happy to share my thoughts on this, and may I ask you a question first? (Be sure to check in later to see if they still want you to offer your thoughts. If so, remember NOT to be attached.)
- (Using humor) Well, my job is to help you learn how to fish for yourself. Do you REALLY want me to hand you a fish right now?”
- PERMISSION TO OFFER – In the moment, if you are aware of your intuition telling you that you have something useful to offer the client, remember: PCC Marker, Direct Communication #7.1, Coach shares observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts and feelings to serve the client’s learning or forward movement.
So, without attachment, you ask: “May I offer some information that might be useful to know/hear/factor in?” Share briefly. It could be something from your own experience, or what other clients have experienced, or a resource you know about, etc. Make sure you do not switch into teacher-mode in words or tone.
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