BLUECASE in Forbes: Listen Or Advise? 14 Ways To Find The Right Balance As A Professional Coach

December 12, 2017

Originally published on Forbes.com on December 12, 2017.


Individuals of all stripes often turn to professional coaches to help them assess a complex or risky endeavor, navigate a career crisis, or simply live a more fulfilled life. As a coach, your role falls somewhere between a therapist and a teacher: You must know how to listen carefully to your clients' problems, as well as impart your wisdom to help them succeed.

However, more important than knowing how to listen and advise a coaching client is knowing how to strike the right balance between the two, and what to keep in mind as you're engaged in each activity. Fourteen members of Forbes Coaches Council shared some insights into their own practices as a successful coach.

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All images courtesy of Forbes Councils members.

1. Guide Your Client Toward The Answer With Intentional Listening

As certified professional coaches, we are most mindful of choosing to listen intentionally. This enables me to commit my mind and thoughts to hearing the client's needs, rather than listening to offer advice or respond. Coaching has proven to be about active listening and guiding clients towards identifying the best approaches or solutions to their issues.   - Arlene DonovanTurning Point Coaching LLC 

2. Listen First, Offer Advice Later

In order to properly advise someone, you must have a clear understanding of their goals and desires. The only way to sufficiently grasp that information is by listening diligently and asking provoking questions that will allow your client to gain your trust. I believe the best advice comes from people who are empathetic and don't impose information without making sure it's valuable first.  - Ariel Lopez2020Shift 

3. Don't Offer Direct Advice

Coaches primarily listen, ask empowering questions and help clients stay accountable to their action plans. When a coach believes they can offer options or ideas that can help the client reach their goals, the coach asks permission to explore ideas and does not tell the client what to do. If the client is looking for direct advice or training, they should find a consultant or teacher instead.   - Andrea MacKenzieLead With Harmony 

4. Ask First, Tell Second

When I coach clients on how they can coach, I share my "Ask First, Tell Second" motto. First I ask a powerful question that helps the client explore new perspectives and solutions. I listen intently and get curious to learn more. As I sum up what I heard, I add advice (or suggested tools, resources, articles, etc.) where I feel like I have something of value to offer that they did not come up with already.   - Bonnie DavisDestination Up 

5. Drop The Ego

Listening is the first skill we teach the leaders we work with. Though we've all done it our whole lives, almost everyone struggles with this fundamental. Just because giving advice feels helpful, doesn't mean it is. Deep listening allows a client to discover something new for themselves. Drop the ego. As a coach, your job isn't to be the expert, it's to guide someone to discover their own wisdom.   - David Butlein, Ph.D., BLUECASE Strategic Partners 

6. Start By Asking What They Would Like To Discuss

In order to make sure that I'm listening to what my clients actually want and need in a session, we start by celebrating their milestones for the week. Then, I always ask them, "How can I serve you today? What would you like to cover?" That way, I'm prioritizing their needs and can offer them the best help possible by asking deeper questions to get to the root of things and offer advice.   - Erika Ashley CoutoIt's Erika Ashley, Inc. 

7. Get Permission Before Giving Advice

When listening to a client, I'm not only listening to what's being said but also what's not being said (i.e. underlying beliefs/assumptions). My role is to ask the questions that will help the client determine if these beliefs/assumptions are accurate and how they may impact experiences. When it comes to giving advice, I like to get permission first to make sure the client is open to receiving it.   - Gina GomezGina Gomez, Business & Life Coach

8. Stay Emotionally Responsive

Emotional connection is one of the key components of being a good listener and adviser. The most important goal for me is to reconnect people so that they can solve their problems on their own. Staying emotionally responsive helps me to regulate their emotion, make them feel understood, heard and validated, which answers the key bonding question, "Are you there for me?" with a resounding yes.   - Lola Gershfeld, Psy.D., Level Five Executive, Inc. 

9. Determine The Type Of Relationship You Have With Your Client

Some coaching clients want tough love, others want a gentle push. This is all determined at the beginning of your relationship. Either way, I am careful to make sure if I am offering advice, that I preface it with the "for me" statement. This makes it clear how I would deal based on my experience so they can hear my thought process and determine which parts do or do not apply to them.   - Maresa FriedmanExecutive Cat Herder 

10. Be An Active Listener First

Those of us with been-there-done-that experience tend to inflict our views on those we, with all the best intentions, try to help. To avoid talking at people instead of with them, adopt a mentor mindset by choosing to actively listen. Really listen, rather than hearing just well enough to construct the next piece of advice. Then, enable further thinking by asking questions and offering multiple options.   - Mark S. BabbittYouTern 

11. Slow Down, Listen And Ask Powerful Questions

It's a tough balance between listening and offering advice. As a former consultant, clients paid me to give advice. However, as a coach, I let the person talk without interrupting. Then, I ask powerful questions to help the client come to the right answer by himself or herself. It's much more powerful if the client comes up with the answer on his or her own, rather than if I share the answer.   - Rebecca BoslDream Life Team 

12. Actively Listen And Stay Solutions-Focused

Actively listening requires full concentration on what is being said and allowing the person the space they need to openly share. I am always mindful when listening to confirm what was said to ensure I fully understand. Offering advice requires a full understanding of the problem and a willingness for the client. I am most concerned with offering advice that provides solutions.   - Sidney EvansBrand Vision Global 

13. It Starts With The Client

As a coach, my job is not typically to offer advice but to create space for the client to find their own solution through active listening and the use of powerful questions. Sometimes, the urgency of the situation and the length of time clients struggle to find a solution dictate that I offer advice. I try to ask, "what might it look like if..." when I have advice for consideration.   - Sharon HullMetta Solutions, LLC 

14. Pause Before Responding

I once had a coach tell me that I was an interrupter. In my haste to solve someone's problem, I would start talking over them before they were done speaking. He was right, and I have since learned to purposefully pause before responding. The pause acknowledges that I've heard the person. It has also taught me how to be more present in my conversations.   - Tina ForsythTina Forsyth