Several months ago, my friend and fellow coach Ken Kessler issued a challenge to other coaches. He asked: “What are at least ten ways you can think of to encourage a coaching client?”
Ken’s question inspired me to think of how I would answer.
Here are my ten ways to encourage coaching clients.
1. Encourage by believing in the client.
You may be surprised that this has more to do with you the coach than the client. Before we focus on the client, we must first be clear about our own mindset and beliefs about our client. If you don’t believe that your client has the ability and the resources to achieve her goals, you will not be able to encourage (literally, “to put courage into”) her.
Belief in the client undergirds one of ICF’s core competencies: co-creating the coaching relationship. We encourage clients by establishing a safe and supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.
2. Encourage by paying full attention to the client.
We encourage clients by paying full attention to them. One way to do that is by active listening, another ICF core competency that describes “the ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.” Nothing encourages a client more than the experience of being heard and understood.
I currently have a client who just wants me to listen and give feedback on some ideas and concerns that he’s been wrestling with for a long time. He hasn’t been able to find someone who would do that with him without judging. He is encouraged that he now has a thinking partner.
3. Encourage by helping clients reach their goals.
Being heard and understood can be greatly encouraging during a coaching conversation. However, clients experience sustained encouragement when they reach their goals. People don’t buy coaching, they buy results. When clients achieve their desired results, they are encouraged!
4. Encourage by reframing “failures” into learnings.
Sometimes our clients fall short of their goals. In these cases, we have the opportunity to encourage our clients by exploring with them ways that they can shift their view points or their interpretation in order to find new meaning, new awareness, and/or new possibilities for action.
My friend and consultant Gregg Kendrick often reminds me: “There are no failures; just opportunities for learning.” His wise maxim has encouraged me whenever I fail to reach one of my goals. Instead of being stuck with negative thoughts about myself, I’m invited to shift my mindset to become curious about how I might learn from the experience in order to achieve success later on.
5. Explore opportunities hidden within challenges.
Another way to encourage clients is to help them see opportunities hidden within challenges and obstacles. Sometimes, when clients are stuck trying to get through an obstacle, the mere exploration of ways “around,” “under” or “over” that obstacle can be a heartening exercise. Other times, an obstacle along a path can stimulate an exploration of totally different paths and possibilities that are more life-giving and fulfilling for the client.
6. Identify specific courageous actions.
Many times, the simplest way to encourage a client is to name the courageous actions that the client has taken or is choosing to take. Anyone who invests in coaching is already courageous because it requires a willingness to change and grow. Helping your clients to see themselves as courageous can empower them to follow through on their action plans and achieve their goals.
A client of mine is in a conflictual environment at work. She’s wired in such a way that tempts her to hide rather than to show up fully in her work. In the midst of our coaching conversation, it was evident that she was showing up fully, despite feelings of anxiety and a racing heart rate. I commented to her: “May I suggest that your anxiety and heart rate are ways that your body is reminding you that you are being courageous? What do you think about that?” After a moment of silent, she responded, “Yes! I AM courageous!”
7. Celebrate victories.
Identifying and celebrating wins are sure ways to encourage and invigorate our clients. I’ve found that many clients tend to focus on problems, obstacles, and failures. Naming victories and identifying accomplished goals can have a powerful impact to cheer and uplift a client.
In a later conversation with my client in the conflictual environment, she was able to report and celebrate the increasing number of times that she was able to stand up for herself. Each time, you can hear the joy and pride in her voice.
8. Help clients identify and recruit cheerleaders.
Another way to encourage clients is to help them find others who can cheer them on and provide positive accountability. Having a continuous supportive community is an effective way to support the progress of the client.
9. Remind how far client has progressed.
One of the joys of being in a long-term coaching relationship is seeing the progress a client has made in his goals. In those relationships, whenever a client feels a bit down about a current challenge, I often remind him how far he has progressed since the beginning of our work together. The ability to step back and consider the coaching journey with the “long view” allows the client to see the current challenge in its proper perspective.
10. Briefly share what you’ve learned from client during current conversation.
At the end of the call, I sometimes thank the client for the insights or lessons I gained during the call. I find this to be encouraging to many clients because it underscores the fact that mutual partnership is at the heart of coaching. This practice reminds me that the client is the expert on his or her life. It is a privilege and honor to walk alongside each client and that learning and insight occurs both ways.
These are my ten ways to encourage coaching clients.
As an aside, these ways may also be applicable to other relationships. Just substitute the word “client” with “child,” “fellow worker,” or “spouse.”
What has been your experience?
What would you add to this list?
I’d love to read your comments below!