How to recognise when you’re having a coaching conversation

By , April 4, 2012 4:27 pm

“Coaching is a conversation, or series of conversations, that one person has with another. The person who is the coach intends to produce a conversation that will benefit the other person (the coachee) in a way that relates to the coachee’s learning and progress.”

Julie Starr, Author The Coaching Manual


It’s impossible for us to learn everything on our own. We sometimes need help and support. It’s great to have a conversation with someone who can be a sounding board or who provokes deeper thinking on a topic or issue that you might be struggling with.

Coaching can be an informal five minute conversation at the water cooler or a formal development session lasting an hour or more. It’s all about helping someone move forward, make some changes and progress towards their goals.

We unconsciously coach people more than we realise. We just don’t label a conversation as coaching. Sometimes it just happens naturally… I’ve coached people in the most unlikely places, at airports, on planes, while having a pedicure, at parties even during a hike!

As an accredited trainer of coaches, I’m often asked: what is the difference between coaching, mentoring and training? New coaches often get hung up on the ‘label’ coaching and worry that they’re not doing it right! Will the Coaching Police track them down if they stray into mentoring or training?!

The term coaching means different things to different people (Trust me here okay?! I spent months at University researching the definition of coaching and there isn’t a definitive answer!).

The reality is that as a coach, you may use mentoring, training and consulting as part of your approach. You are the facilitator of an engaging conversation that creates space for the other person to come up with creative solutions that they hadn’t thought of before. In other words you are helping them to build their own creative fires within.

 Let go of the label and focus on the quality of the conversation!

 The word coaching is often used as a generic term to label the relationship between the two people involved in a learning partnership. It’s rare that anyone uses coaching in its purest form 100% of the time. What’s important is that you are creating a learning conversation that helps the other person to grow or make change.

The only person who determines whether the conversation was actually a coaching one is the person on the receiving end of it!

 Here are ways five ways to recognise when you are having a coaching conversation:

1. The focus is on the other person – It’s ALL about the other person’s current situation or experience.  It’s not about you, your ideas, the story of when this happened to you or your solutions!

2. You are listening more than talking – You are listening, questioning and observing the conversation.  You are 100% present and your focus and attention in on the other person and what they are saying. You are fully tuned into them and what they have to say.

3. You’re helping them describe their current reality – Through your questioning you are helping them explore and describe their reality of a situation. You are facilitating the conversation so they can understand what is going on, recognise any challenges and then begin to generate options to move forward.

4. They are asking you for answers or advice – The other person is looking to you for help. They don’t know what to do. Most people jump in with their advice and tell them what to do. They miss the opportunity to coach!  Create space and encourage them to think it through for themselves, with a few questions from yourself.

5. Your expanding their view of the situation – You encourage others to work it out for themselves through your conversation and discussion. You are helping the other person expand their thinking or view something from a different perspective. You might be holding up a mirror to reflect their own view back to them.

If you’re learning to be a coach these are good reminders of how to show up for your client. It’s so easy to give advice and offer solutions instead of allowing the other person to work it out for themselves with your support. If you’re thinking of working with a coach, these are great characteristics to look out for!

Happy coaching!



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