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Advice in coaching

Traditional wisdom in coaching suggests that advice giving is poor practice. The rationale is that by giving advice to a client you are leading or telling the client what to do. 
This directive action introduces a form of judgement and potentially takes away the clients’ ability to create their own solutions. In its purest sense this can have a consequence in terms of the coaching relationship and even limit the impact of the coaching. 
However, it’s often raised as a debating point in coaching circles, even by experienced practitioners. Is advice giving really poor practice? 

My view 

I believe that no matter how you practice as a coach, it is always to serve the interests of the client not yourself. If this care is absent then you are not coaching. 
There are a broad range of coaches, coaching practices & client needs out there. I think the question of advice in coaching is more an issue of how can advice help or hinder a client during a coaching session. 
From this perspective, in terms of advice giving, I think it’s helpful as a coach to be conscious of  two simple calibrating questions first: 
What form could the “advice” take? 
Be clear about what form the “advice” could take and how it might be received – feedback, observation, information, recommendation, obligation, expectation, judgement, critique, criticism. 
Who would giving advice truly serve? 
Connected to how it might be received, assess who does this input really serve? What are your motivations? What could the consequences be? Will it help shift thinking or action? Do you have an obligation to provide this input? Do you need to do it now? Are you the best person to provide this input? What will happen if you don’t do it now? 
Using these two calibrating questions I find that I don’t have to worry about the word “advice”. I can focus my attention on how can I best care for the client at that moment in time. 
As it happens I almost never find myself feeling the need to give advice whilst coaching. When it does happen, I’m able to recognise it and if appropriate, offer it the client as it is meant, even “pausing” the coaching session if necessary.  Above all, this process ensures that the client can retain autonomy & self-determination in the coaching process.
What do you think about advice in coaching?  How do you deal with it in your practice?

About David Goddin

Passionate about People, Performance & Potential. Amongst many other things David Goddin is a consultant, coach, facilitator & mentor with extensive experience of transforming business performance and organisational effectiveness as a Senior Executive in large organisations. As the founder and Managing Director of Change Continuum, David now works with companies and business professionals who want to increase performance, accelerate change & unleash potential.

Discussion

7 thoughts on “Advice in coaching

  1. Absolutely agree. Advise as you say takes on many forms. Only this week I gave my client feedback on his approach and how we was dealing with the issue in hand during the coaching session. I believe that moved him on, to enable him to see a different perspective.Also clients want your advice, which I will give but only after every else has been explored and is an option.A topic I explored in supervision recently and reflected it was ok to give advice. Its all about intent!

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    Posted by Ian Perry | February 9, 2012, 4:54 PM
  2. I see where you are coming from. My issue is that if the client follows the advice provided by the coach and fails, who owns the failure? Does not advice giving impact upon ownership and accountability for actions? just a thought

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    Posted by Brianrobbitt | February 9, 2012, 7:03 PM
  3. Hi Brian – thanks for visiting & adding to the topic.  The point you raise is critical but I think it depends on what we mean by advice and the distinction between sharing rather than telling.For instance, what if the advice was in the form of feedback about what you are hearing in the conversation and you offered it to the client to use or not?  The fact that you have raised feedback indicates there is some form of opinion if not judgement, yet not to share the impact the conversation is having may deliberately perpetuate "blindness" to the situation.This is quite different from telling your client what they should do next.For me this is where being conscious of the form of advice and who it serves is critical.  How does this sit with you?

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    Posted by davidgoddin | February 9, 2012, 7:50 PM
  4. Great question posedGiving advice hinders self awareness,ownership, commitment to change, learning, self discovery… Advice is subjective. It isderived from one’s world view, context, preferences, assumptions…and thereforeshifts the attention from the client’s map of the world. If stuck…becreative – have a break, move around, go outside…. to get a fresh perspective Be transparent and will tell the client what I am about to do. So on odd occasion may say ‘I’mtaking my coaching hat off’ and will share an experience / story with you … Vera

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    Posted by Vera | February 9, 2012, 8:31 PM
  5. Great question posedGiving advice hinders self awareness, ownership, commitment to change, learning, self discovery…Advice is subjective. It is derived from one's world view, context, preferences, assumptions…and therefore shifts from the client's map of the worldIf stuck..be creative – have a break, move around, go outside…to get a fresh perspectiveBe transparent and will tell the client what I am about to do. So on odd occasion may say 'I'm taking my coaching hat off' and will share an experience / story with you'…Vera

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    Posted by Vera | February 9, 2012, 8:38 PM
  6. Thanks for bringing the supervision aspect into this Ian.  I think your example illuminates the value that can be gained for you and the client!

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    Posted by davidgoddin | February 10, 2012, 6:50 AM
  7. Thanks Vera.  Some lovely examples of alternative actions if you are inclined to advise – the caution I'm taking there is around reactionary behaviours.Advice giving is subjective and I like your description of the "client's map of the world".  Yet it's curious that there is also subjectivity in the questions we pose to clients or the presence that we do or do not bring into the room.  These subjective influences create the impact and value of the coaching relationship!  I think it just highlights the need for boundary management but not to be afraid of "taking off the coaching hat" when you know & agree it's the right thing to do.

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    Posted by davidgoddin | February 10, 2012, 7:13 AM
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