The dreadedI don’t know” client answer makes life coaches squirm.

You ask your client a question; it’s a great question, and it ticks all the master coach skill boxes, but they reply with the dreaded “I don’t know” answer.

Many coaches struggle when their clients struggle. I want to make sure you don’t.

Here are 7 ways to coach a stuck client, and none of them is the typical ‘challenge your client’s limiting beliefs’ or ask an open solution-focused question approach.

Don’t get stuck when your clients are stuck or resist your clients resistance.

It can be tricky to help clients get out of the quicksand of the mind and heart, but deep and real coaching is what we love. Your skills here can set you apart from the ocean of to-do-list coaches.

Whether you’re a leader using coaching skills or a practitioner in life coaching, executive business coaching, wellness coaching, or any other coaching form, grab these helpful master coach tips (the video covers all 7), and the guide below is adapted from the transcript.

1. Identify the Obstacle:
Is it Inner, Outer, or your Coaching?

When faced with a stuck client, the first step is to identify the nature of the obstacle.

  • Is it an inner obstacle (rooted in emotions, doubts, or mindset)?
  • Is it an external obstacle (time, money, lack of support)?
  • Lastly, shoulders back for possible honest self-reflection. Is it a coach obstacle, like a gap in your skills?

It could be all 3. Once you know what kind of quicksand your client is in, you can help. If you lack master levels skills and a multi-niche toolbox, it’s not your fault, and this is easily fixed with a solid program and caring guidance. That’s what our Master Coach program gives.

Read on for stuckness rooted in your client’s inner and outer obstacles.


2. Soften the Edge:
Creating a Safe Space

When marking ICF Professional and Master performance evaluations, my team of assessors and I can often tell if the coach is demonstrating beginner or advanced competencies in the first 10 minutes of a session.

By using this single method, you can boost your skills. If a car has weak suspension, you feel every bump in the road; it’s uncomfortably spine-jerking.

Softening the edge of your coaching is like adding premium suspension to your session.

Your client can relax enough to actually think and be creative instead of white-knuckled stressful holding on for the ride.

Compare these:

  1. “How can you solve that?”
  2. “What are 3 possible solutions? Take your time; let’s explore ideas.”

See the difference?

By softening the edge, you create a safe and non-threatening breath-easy space for your clients to explore ideas. You make it okay for them to be wrong, to change their minds, to experiment.

Harsh edge questions make some clients feel pressure, like the answer they give will be signed in triplicate and then carved in stone. So it’s safer to just say “I don’t know.”

Soften the edge by using phrases like:

  • “Just suppose”
  • “Imagine”
  • “What if”

Now you’ll alleviate the pressure to provide perfect answers, and encourage brainstorming and open discussion.


3. Embrace Open Questions:
Encouraging Deep Reflection

You may know master coaches avoid closed questions (or use them with specific scalpel intention). But do you know why?

Closed questions close doors to the mind and heart.

This can be helpful sometimes, but many people use closed questions as a habit, blindfolded use of a scalpel.

If you want to restrict a client’s responses, use closed questions. Otherwise, open them to open the doors of awareness and perception.

Lean into open-ended questions to encourage exploration and self-reflection.

Open questions help clients delve deeper into their thoughts, feelings, and aspirations, fostering a more profound understanding of their challenges and potential solutions.

Open Questions

4. The Power of Silence:
Allowing Space for Growth

Yes, silence can be ‘deer in headlights’ awkward probably why we’ve been taught to fill the gaps with the sound of our voices. BUT, intentional presence-filled silence is a the big-sky mountain look-out point that we bring to coaching.

Providing an engaged, quiet space demonstrates your willingness to support clients even in discomfort. Be the space that welcomes your client’s struggle. Let their “I don’t know” belong.

This approach shows you are comfortable with their discomfort, which is how we make it safe for clients to go deeper than surface, to find their ‘aha’ breakthroughs.


5. Avoid Premature Solution-Focused Conversations:
First, inspire.

Sometimes I feel like I’m holding back wild racehorses. New coaches want to ask solution-focused questions way too soon. 

  • The client says, “I want to make this happen.”
  • Wild racehorse coach replies, “How can you make this happen?”

It feels similar to sharing big news with a loved one at the dinner table, and they reply, “Please pass the salt.”

While solution-focused conversations are vital, jumping too quickly will do little for your coaching. Avoid the temptation to seek solutions and action plans immediately. AI can already coach action plans and to-do lists, so beat the bots, and show up as a human with depth, patience and skill.

First, take time to explore your clients’ aspirations. Drive up to the lookout point of their mountain to pause and see the big inspiring picture.

Find out WHY your client wants what they want. And get context. Go for the big real reasons. Now that’s a way to set the stage for a meaningful conversation that flows into natural solutions later.


6. Mindful Contracting:
Establishing Agreed Outcomes

As an artist, I was taught to look at what I was drawing (the subject) and what I wasn’t (the negative space). Like the space around the bird, I was sketching.

Clients often only focus on the negative space and leave the rest blank. They tell you what they don’t want instead of what they do want.

  • “I’m tired of being overweight.”
  • “I want to be free of debt.”
  • “If I could just get rid of self-doubt.”
  • “I don’t want to be alone.”

An amateur coach misses the importance of reframing these into what is wanted and making that the focus.

“What do you want instead?” is the approach that works well.

‘Contracting’ is jargon for an agreed session outcome and plays a crucial role in coaching. However, it’s important to approach contracting mindfully.

Begin the session by exploring your clients’ desired outcomes and understanding the changes they seek. Ensure this is stated as what they want instead of what they don’t – otherwise, they’ll easily get stuck.


7. Somatic Coaching:
Balancing Intellect and Intuition

At InnerLifeSkills, we LOVE Intuitive Somatic coaching. Somatic means SOMA of the body.

It can sound odd at first, but it’s incredibly powerful. In coaching conversations, we bring attention to our client’s physical sensations and the body’s felt response. This will take your coaching to new depths and move a client out of their stuck place.

Imagine your client says, “I don’t know.”

And you reply, “It may sound strange, but I invite you to notice how your body feels when you say ‘I don’t know.’ Tell me what you notice.”

Perhaps your client says, “My shoulders feel heavy.”

With this somatic clue, you can excavate more, and suddenly “I don’t know” becomes meaningful.

Intuition Coaching can often transform a conversation.

By inviting clients to notice their felt-sense responses, you help them shift from a stressed state to a relaxed and intuitive state.

This balance between intellect and intuition wakes deep insights and meaningful growth, allowing clients to access their inner wisdom.

Intuition Coach Centre

Coaching clients who feel stuck requires a blend of skills, strategies, and a supportive coaching environment.

By implementing the seven strategies outlined in this post, you can help your clients overcome obstacles, explore new possibilities, and achieve meaningful transformation.

Remember, a warm and empathetic approach coupled with effective coaching techniques will empower your clients to navigate their challenges successfully.

Go beyond ‘to-do-list’ coaching and learn how to life coach

We’re here to help, every step of the way. Join our email lessons, Master Coach Mondays for valuable tips and tools each Monday.