Four Easy Guidelines When Advising Like a Coach

Advising like a coachMuch as coaches try to avoid giving advice, clients sometimes are very good at pulling out of us.  Just when the client seems to be rolling along quite nicely, they will throw in a “I don’t know, what do you think?”  You, as the coach, are caught off guard and before you can help yourself, you have turned into a mentor and a font of wisdom.  Here are four easy guidelines to follow when in this situation.

Always ask permission.  When advice is permission based, you will keep ownership of the strategy with the client.  You will often have the opportunity to ask permission several times.  Think about using questions like:

  • Are you asking for my advice? (This is your real-time opportunity to confirm what you heard.)
  • My advice is offered from outside your activities, so feel free to reject it or tweak it to fit better.

The other key benefit of asking permission is that you prevent resistance. Unsolicited advice immediately generates a backlash.

Start with what they’ve done.  Want to appear foolish?  Blurt out your advice and then listen to your client say, “I tried that and it didn’t work.” Discover what your client has done before giving advice.  You will save time and ego.  Ask the simple and straightforward question, “What have you tried?”

Be clear on what is requested.  Sometimes clients will ask for advice and, while it may be clear in their mind, it may not be in yours.  Ask questions like:

  • Is your question about your goal or your strategy?
  • Are you concerned about your process or your point of view?
  • What’s the advice you would like me to give? [This sounds like a weird question, but you will discover what they want.]

Avoid being Directive.  The phrase “you should” is usually an invitation to trouble.  Alternatively, try phrases like:

  • Other clients have found that. . . .  You are the expert on this situation.  How does this fit you?
  • Here’s another option. . . .
  • What I’ve found helpful is . . . .

These four guidelines keep you thinking and acting like a coach while providing an opportunity to partner with your client.  What have you found useful?