Coaching Fundamentals Part Five: Choice


September 9th, 2015

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Even though this is Part Five in our series of Coaching Fundamentals, in many ways it is the most fundamental of the fundamentals.

In the same way that having, making and being accountable for own choices is the cornerstone of being human, helping others access the choices they have is the basic tenet of coaching. Not advise, not prescribe, not rescue, but show: help the client see the broader vista around them, so that they can make a meaningful choice for them at this very moment.

Sometimes as coaches we won’t agree with that choice: it isn’t the one we would’ve taken in their shoes, or – more difficult still – we can see the real pitfalls further down the road, that at the moment aren’t visible to the client. If so, I believe it is our responsibility as coaches to point alternative facts (or viewpoints) out, but still leave the final choice of action to the client. Including the choice of taking the “wrong” decision.

The fundamental principle of choice – painfully for some coaches – includes the choice of whether to engage in the coaching relationship with us, or at all. Whereas I have heard arguments that any experienced coach can work with any client, I am well aware that they don’t hold true for many of our clients. That’s why we offer them “chemistry meetings”, and – hard as it is not to take it personally when one is not chosen – it is the client’s choice who to work with.

shutterstock_32772712 revEven more fundamentally, it is also largely the client’s choice of how deep and how far to work at all. Yes, we can do our utmost to offer valuable listening, feedback and questioning skills, to be a trusted thinking partner, to support and challenge, but if a client decides that all this is not worth their time, money or energy, we have to accept that choice. All of the coaches I’ve known have had examples of clients breaking off relationships early, either by direct or by indirect behaviours (such as cancelling sessions or being consistently late). It is a difficult choice to accept as a coach, but the alternative – of rescuing, or pushing, or cajoling – is even more difficult, and ultimately unrewarding for all.

Finally, the ultimate choice the client holds is whether to change at all: whether to do something about the less helpful aspects of their behaviour, or whether to continue acting the way they had done in the past.   As coaches, the best we can do is be clear, clean and brave in pointing out some of the consequences of different choices, while holding a deep belief that the coachee will choose the right one for them in this moment, in this coaching relationship, in their life.


anaAna is Programme Director of our Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching which is a masters qualification for experienced coaches.