What it Takes to Become an Exceptional Life Coach: Part 1

Bob Nelson

You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.


The Fine Art of Life Coaching

Are you interested in becoming a life coach? Maybe you currently work as a life coach and want to refine your coaching skills. If this sounds like you, then this article may be exactly what you’re looking for.

As a life coach your primary responsibility is to help guide your client down an optimal path that empowers them to make effective choices and decisions, moving toward their desired goals and objectives. Moreover, you have a responsibility to look after your client’s best interests and to help nurture their growth and development in key life areas that they would like to improve upon.

All this sounds wonderful, but can be quite challenging. It’s challenging because every person you coach can be very different. They each have a different set of values, priorities, standards, expectations, beliefs and perspectives on life. Moreover, everyone faces a plethora of challenges that hold them back from realizing their full potential.

Given all this, it’s quite clear that in order to become an exceptional life coach, we must be very attuned to our client’s needs, wants and the fears that are holding them back. Moreover, we must be very observant of the subtleties in our clients words, actions and behaviors that can help us gain the necessary insights to direct them down an optimal path toward potential growth and development.

People typically hire life coaches to help them make progress within specific life areas. In order for this progress to come about, a life coach must have a profound and deep level of understanding of their client. Only then do they gain the necessary insights they need to ask the right kinds of questions that help direct their client down an optimal path.

With all this in mind, it’s clear that life coaching isn’t a walk in the park. It’s not an easy profession and a lot of responsibility rests on the life coach’s shoulders. Their success relies on their client’s success. The quality of the life coaching is therefore essentially reflected in the quality of the choices a client makes. Poor choices typically reflect poor direction. And of course poor direction comes from the fact that the life coach didn’t quite understand their client at a deep enough level of awareness. They didn’t ask the right kinds of questions that could have helped their client gain the necessary clarity they needed to make better choices.

This series of two articles helps break down the life coaching approach and how you can use it to become an exceptional life coach. You will find Part 2 of this two part series here. [coming soon]

The objective of these two articles is to help you to better understand what it truly takes to succeed as a life coach. Using this knowledge will allow you to guide your client toward making more optimal choices and decisions.

Within this first part we will discuss attending strategies, listening and feedback techniques, and provide a breakdown of how to ask more effective coaching questions. My hope is that this article will help you gain the clarity you need to improve how you conduct your coaching sessions, and therefore direct your client down a more optimal and advantageous path toward their goals.


Life Coaching Attending Strategies

Within the context of life coaching, to attend to something is to become aware of what is going on around you. Many times we look or sense something but don’t quite understand or interpret that information in the most advantageous way possible. And that of course hurts us. A lack of awareness can hinder you from gaining the necessary insights you need to see things in their proper perspective.

When it comes to life coaching, it’s important that we train ourselves to attend to two key variables. The first is your client, and the second is YOU (the life coach).

Attending to Your Client

Your main objective here is to be fully mindful of your client throughout your coaching session. This of course takes a lot of practice, effort and concentration. It requires completely getting out of your own head-space and fully focusing on your client in order recognize subtle patterns that can help you gather insights that unlock their internal world. This internal world is of course comprised of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, intentions and the emotions that guide their behavior.

Here are key variables that you should pay attention to:

  • Physical state, which includes your client’s clothing and general appearance.
  • Body language, movement and posture while sitting and standing.
  • Autonomic responses such as breathing, shaking, paleness and blushing.
  • Facial movements and gestures. In particular pay attention to the eye cues.
  • Vocal tendencies including fluency, stresses, intensity, silences and spacing between words.
  • Emotions experienced and the words used to describe these emotional states.

Within each of these variables are subtle signs that can help you gather the necessary insights you need to better understand your client and their true state-of-mind.

For instance, your client might say one thing but their body language and/or facial gestures indicate that they aren’t telling the full story. Picking up on this cue can prompt you to ask some insightful questions that might help you to get to the core of the issue at hand. As a result you can provide your client with better direction and guidance throughout their coaching session.

Along the same lines, tuning-into the words your client uses to describe various experiences gives you insight into how they think about their life and circumstances. Moreover, how they use their voice could provide you with clues as to how they are feeling and emotionalizing their experiences.

Attending to all these subtle signals of course won’t be easy. It will take practice. But with time you will learn to gather insights beyond the spoken word, which will allow you to better understand your client’s story and needs at a profoundly deeper level of awareness.

Attending to Yourself

On the flip-side, it’s important to also give some attention to yourself; specifically to how you come across throughout your coaching session.

How you come across influences how your client perceives you. And how they perceive you leads to assumptions being made about you, and what you think about them and their story. This of course significantly influences how they respond to your questions, and could essentially affect the flow of the life coaching session.

With this in mind, it’s important to pay careful attention to the following key areas:

  • Attend to your body language including head nodding, arm movements, fidgeting, facial expressions, and other gestures. How your client sees you will directly affect their emotional state-of-mind.
  • Attend to how much eye contact you are giving your client. Too much and it might come across as judgemental and intimidating. Too little and it might seem as though you’re disinterested.
  • Attend to your vocal tendencies including the resonance, speed, volume, pitch, rhythm and energy of your voice. Ensure that it makes your client feel comfortable and secure in your presence. Possibly emphasizing certain words or using pauses during key moments of your conversation can help encourage your client to open up and speak more freely.

Attending to both your client and to your own behavior and responses isn’t easy. It takes work, effort and practice. But over time you will get better and make improvements. And as you get better the more clarity-of-mind you will have that can help you gain the necessary insights you need to move your coaching session forward in more optimal ways.

Life Coaching Attending Strategies


Guidelines for Listening and Giving Feedback

Listening and giving feedback is one of the key fundamental aspects of life coaching. You as the life coach are there to listen to your client, to encourage them to open up to you, and then to guide them down a desirable path using questions.

We will discuss ideas on how to ask better questions within the final section. Right now, let’s take a look at what it takes to become an engaged listener.

When you’re truly listening, you’re not just hearing what you’re client is saying, you are rather listening with the intention to understand so that you can gain the necessary insights you need to move the coaching session forward. However, to listen isn’t just about the ears, it’s also about the voice and your body language. In other words, to listen means to engage and encourage your client to open up to you without any reservations.

One of the best ways to engage your client is through utilizing Invitations, Encouragers and Clarifiers.

Invitations

Invitations are words and phrases you use that give your client permission to delve deeper into the conversation. You could for instance use words such as:

Then…

And…

Tell me more…

Please continue…

These words and phrases will naturally help you to keep the conversation moving forward. The more invitations you use, the deeper insights you will likely gain into your clients thoughts, feelings and the issues behind those experiences.

Encouragers

Encouragers on the other hand are words you use that show your client that you are interested and wanting to know more. Words and phrases such as:

Oh… Really… Right… Sure… I see… Yes… Interesting… Absolutely…

I understand.

Yes, I appreciate that.

I hear what you are saying.

These words and phrases assure your client that you are fully present within the conversation. Moreover, they help keep your client motivated and focused on the story they are telling.

Clarifiers

Clarifiers are phrases and questions you can use at times to help gather deeper insights and understandings into the issues that your client is bringing to mind. For example:

How exactly do you mean?

Can you provide an example?

I want to be sure I understand…

As you can probably tell, these phrases and questions are ideal tools that will help you to direct the conversation in helpful ways. Moreover, they provide your client with the clarity they need to make more effective decisions moving forward.

More Ideas for Listening and Giving Feedback

Here are four ideas to help engage and encourage your client to speak openly during a life coaching session:

  • Consistently utilize your client’s name to help draw them into the conversation.
  • Allow for silences to give your client time to gather their thoughts and to sort through what they would like to say.
  • Paraphrase your client’s feelings using their words and phrases, but be sure to maintain their view of the world. This helps your client get a sense that you understand how they are feeling.
  • Finally, summarize what you have heard and move the conversation forward. This might of course mean that you highlight key themes, issues, ideas and priorities that you client brought to mind. It might also include your thoughts and any takeaways you drew from your client’s story. Doing this helps give your client comfort in knowing that you are on the same page.

As your client expresses their thoughts and feelings, it’s important that you assume that what you’re hearing is the truth. It’s counterproductive to think otherwise. Assume that things are as your client describes, and then ask questions that help you explore each area at a deeper level.

It is however important that throughout your conversation you sort facts from opinions and put each event or issue your client brings to mind into proper context.

Your client will say certain things that are fact specific, and other things that are purely speculative and based on their opinion. As a life coach you are most effective when working with facts. Facts are measurable and based upon solid evidence; you can therefore use them to help your client develop concrete strategies for navigating certain problems and issues. Opinions on the other hand are uncertainties that result in assumptions that may lead your client astray.

With all this in mind, it’s important to discourage assumptions, judgments, opinions and even personal feelings. Challenge your client to see the situation in a rational way. Feelings in such instances will only cloud their judgment.

While listening and giving feedback, make sure to also get an understanding of your client’s perspective of every situation. Specifically gather an understanding of the emotions they are potentially going through, of their current state-of-mind, as-well-as evidence of how their peers are potentially influencing their behavior.

Getting an understanding of your client on all these levels helps you to gather the necessary insights you need — to ask the right kinds of questions — to help steer your conversation forward in an optimal way.

Life Coaching Listening and Giving Feedback


Guidelines for Asking Effective Coaching Questions

Questions form the bedrock of the life coaching process. They are the foundational tools that coaches use that help them stimulate conversation and direct their clients down an optimal path toward their desired goals.

Asking effective coaching questions provides clients with choices, challenges their assumptions, alters their emotional and mental states-of-mind, helps guide their focus and attention, and can also give them the necessary insights and perspectives they need to become more resourceful in any situation.

Yes, questions are quite valuable, but how to use them during a coaching session?

An ideal coaching sequence of questions moves through six key steps that take you from a general understanding of your client’s situation, which then progresses into more specifics. These steps include:

  1. Asking open-ended questions (How? When? What? Why? Where? Who?)
  2. Probing your client for further information using Clarifiers.
  3. Using Invitations and Encouragers, then reflecting upon the responses that your client gives you.
  4. Asking closed-ended questions to get more focused answers.
  5. Paraphrasing and summarizing what you just heard to ensure that you clearly understand your client’s situation and needs.
  6. Specifics search, which involves asking questions that steer the conversation to very specific topics that you explore in detail.

These six steps will help you to progressively move from a big picture perspective of your client’s situation, to very specific areas of highest priority that your client can begin to work on to help move them forward in a better way.

While moving through these steps, it’s of course important to be very careful with the questions you ask. For instance, asking questions that are based on personal opinions can misdirect your client. Likewise, asking too many questions at one time, can lead to confusion.

You must also be very careful when asking WHY questions. These questions can come across as being very judgmental. Choose instead to ask HOW and WHAT questions that encourage thoughtful answers. For example ask:

“How exactly did that come about?” or “What were your motivations in that situation?” Instead of “Why did you do that?”

Questions however are not just for your client’s benefit. They are also for your benefit. In fact, the questions you ask yourself are just as important as the questions you ask your client.

Questions such as:

What are they telling me?

What are they really trying to say?

Why are they telling me all this?

What are their motivations in this situation?

How do they really feel about this issue?

What is the emotional attachment here?

How important is this to them?

How committed are they to following through with this?

What is the real underlying issue here?

What do they fear? Why?

What do they like or dislike about this?

What do they actually believe about this situation?

How do they expect me to react? Why?

These are examples of questions that you need to consistently work through in your own head that help provide you with the necessary insight, guidance and direction you need to move the coaching session forward. In fact, the answers you give yourself to these questions directly influences the questions you ask your client aloud. Both external and internal questions therefore work hand-in-hand.

Now of course this effectively means that you are holding two conversations at the same time. One is with your client and the other is with yourself. This ain’t easy, but it’s a necessary step toward improving your effectiveness and results as a professional life coach.

Asking Effective Life Coaching Questions


I hope that this article has given you a better understanding of what is required to become an effective life coach. This is of course only half the story. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Life Coaching Approach method in a future article.


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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam’s story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.