There are coaching skills and processes in a certified coaches toolbox helping us know what to do. But have you ever thought about what NOT to do as a coach and why?

As natural-born helpers and advice-givers, us coaches are often drawn to the profession of certified Life Coaching, Enneagram Coaching, Executive and Business Coaching because it calls to our purpose.

But through training and skills development, we learn that the role of a coach is to guide our clients to find their answers, solutions, and goals for themselves – without giving advice. 

This is called pure coaching. And it’s the main practice adopted by the ICF. No advice-giving.

But it’s hard to break the habit of offering advice, especially if we adopt the practice of blended coaching.

But why does telling someone what to do not always work?

This article explains why telling someone what to do doesn’t always work.

And we look at outdated techniques such as using words and phrases like “great” and “okay” and “if I hear you” – and why these are not ideal and why not to use them.

what not to do as a coach
action plan through coaching

Why does telling someone what to do not always work?

So you want to help your clients. 

Our first instinct is to help them solve their problem by telling them what to do. Maybe we’ve had a similar situation, so we recommend our clients try what worked for us. 

And when our solution doesn’t work, we get frustrated

It didn’t work for many reasons. But the biggest reason is their lack of confidence. They won’t easily trust you as an authority to give solutions right off the bat unless we can gain their respect and trust. We need to build that credibility first before bringing forward possible solutions. 

And even then, telling our clients exactly what they need to do to overcome their obstacles might not always work for one simple reason—lack of accountability.

If we, as the coach, are the ones to tell someone what to do, they won’t feel invested enough to follow through. But if we can get our clients to develop their solutions, they are much more likely to achieve what they set out to. 

We can offer advice and possible examples of solutions. But telling our clients how to solve their problems or reach their goals often achieves the opposite result, and they end up just as frustrated as we do when the ‘solutions’ don’t work. 

So what can we do instead to guide our clients? 

We do exactly that – we guide them. 

We facilitate the coaching conversation without giving any advice – pure coaching. 

Pure coaching at a Master Coaching level – doesn’t tell people what to do.

But there is a place for advising – in blended coaching. And we find the best way to do this is by bringing in your other services and skills.

For example, the health coach that brings in their expertise around weight loss; can suggest possible eating plans (and I say ‘possible’ because as coaches, we know to maintain the coach position and give suggestions rather than ‘tell our clients what to do’).

However, it’s still our clients’ responsibility to develop their action plans and maintain accountability. 

Whether through blended coaching or pure coaching, coaching still works best when we try not to tell someone what to do.

Just guide, facilitate and, when necessary, advise.

Your clients will thank you for you because their results and outcomes will speak for themselves. 

rapport building skills

Why saying great and okay is not ideal.

Do you remember that in a language class (like English or public speaking), we were taught not to use filler words such as “Uhm” when practicing for a speech?  

While seemingly different, a word like “great” and “okay” serves the same purpose – silence fillers. 

They may seem like words used to encourage our clients or show that we are listening, but they often do more harm than good in the coaching conversation. 

  • They can break the flow of the conversation. 
  • It can leave no room for clients to change their minds. 
  • It can move us out of the coach position. 
  • And for some clients, it can do one of two things:

1 – Some clients might be seeking approval or validation, and words ‘encouraging words’ like “great” can alter the directions of the coaching conversation and defeat its purpose altogether. If a client is unsure about their decisions or what to do to progress in their journey, words like “great” can hinder any true progress they might make. Instead of being steadfast in their own decisions, they might change what they say or decide to get that perceived validation. Because words like “great,” “wonderful,” “alright,” and “okay” could seem like we agree with our client. And they could shape the conversation to seek that validation or agreement

2- Some personality types (such as Enneagram type 8) might react adversely to these words. They might get frustrated and annoyed with the constant “approval” and resist any possible advice or solutions. It could seem condescending to them. They could purposely do the opposite of what you, as the coach, seemingly try to encourage. How they react may not be done out of spite or vindictiveness but simply because it may be in their nature (their personality pear) to resist such “encouragement.” 

While as coaches, it is essential to support our clients, the point of coaching is to help our clients find solutions for themselves. We guide them to guide themselves. So these words detract from this and take us out of our neutral coach position. 

We still want to show warmth, acknowledge, validate, listen, guide, and support. But how do we do this without these filler words? 

  • Use warmth in our voices.
  • Soften questions with softening techniques.
  • Be mindful of the questions we ask. 
  • Use engaged silence
  • Stay present.
  • Acknowledge through reflective listening skills like backtracking. 

These skills are vital coaching foundation skills that we teach in our Coach 101 course. 

backtracking skill

Why not to use ‘If I hear you.”

There’s a little habit that I hear coaches and mentors using that I want to suggest you replace with something better. 

About 40 to 60 years ago reflective listening and active listening became very popular. But with it came reflective listening ‘techniques’ that sound mechanical, are often overused and outdated. 

And a lot of people made this technique a habit. And that’s the habit of saying something like, “so if I hear you correctly,” or “if I understand you correctly.”

And then we either repeat what they’ve said, summarize what they’ve said or put what they’ve said into our own words.

There are a few problems with these techniques, but if we can learn not to do these, we can learn to listen at a deeper level. 

There is no need to say “if I hear you correctly” or anything like that – listen and perhaps try a far more natural and authentic method.

Saying “if I hear you…” too many times blocks the flow of a coaching conversation. And that’s the first problem with this technique. 

Like using the silence filler, crutch words “great” and “okay,” this reflective listening technique tells our clients that we’re listening. But, remember, we don’t need to tell our clients we’re listening – we want to show them. 

The solution here is to try a natural, relaxed form of reflective listening; backtracking. 

Listen to what your client is saying, notice one or two important words and weave these words into the conversation. Do this naturally. You can use their words in the next question you ask or just in the natural flow of the discussion. 

This way, you’re not making any assumptions.

You are honoring your client by using their words. 

And you can do this without the preamble.

  • It’s cleaner
  • It’s more natural.
  • It’s more authentic.

That way, you will achieve what you want without the old-fashioned or outdated methods.

What to do instead.

As a coach, it’s important to understand what not to do, just as it’s essential to know what to do.

So by understanding what to do, through training and skills development, we can learn what not to do – and break the outdated habits we might have picked up on.

Developing your skills as a coach and mastering the 3 critical coaching skills helps you become the best Master Coach you can be.

By mastering your rapport building, backtrackingquestioning and coach position skills, you can avoid falling into the trap of telling someone what to do, using words such as ‘great’ and ‘okay,’ and using unsuccessful and outdated phrases such as ‘if I hear you”.

Because if we stay in coach position, no matter if we adopt blended coaching or not, we can successfully guide our clients to accomplish their goals and overcome their inner obstacles – without telling them what to do.

And if we master our rapport-building skills, we don’t have to rely on crutch words like ‘great’ and ‘okay’ to keep the conversation flowing – because we learn how to have a natural, authentic coaching conversation.

And if we use our backtracking skills, we won’t use outdated techniques like saying “if I hear you.” 

By weaving our clients’ own words into the flow of the conversation, we prove to them that we do hear them without having to repeat what they just said ineffectively.

All these skills are so fundamentally critical. And no matter where you are in your coaching journey, it’s always valuable to brush up and refresh these skills.