Are You Coaching The Story Or Your Client?

An in-depth look on the fifth Core Coaching Competency out of our experiential online course Decoding The Coaching Genome, accredited with 24 CCEU by the ICF.

Our minds find stories highly engaging. This is totally natural as our brains are hard-wired to create patterns. Stories are both creators and holders of mental patterns. For many coaches though, our clients’ stories function in much the same way that catnip does for cats. They are irresistible!

It is important to pay attention to the content of what your client is telling you. However, it is not the full story. Understanding the purpose of the story being told to you is just as important as listening to the content. While your client is clearly telling you his or her story, it is not always clear who the main character of the story is and whose purposes the story serves. When the client obviously plays a secondary role in their story, let your curiosity be aroused. What the client is not telling you is just as important as what they are telling you.

Coaching mastery lives in your ability to listen to all the languages in which your client is speaking. Nonverbal communication can be just as telling as what your client is verbally communicating to you.

For example, assuming that you are meeting face to face, if your client is suddenly unable to look you in the eye for a period of time, this is a clue. Look for what might have changed between you in the past few moments if he or she generally has no trouble looking directly at you. Given that many coaches work over the phone and are unable to see their clients, paying attention to their tone of voice, speed of speech and breathing patterns can also be a great source of information.

Your own intuition is constantly communicating with you while you are meeting with your client. What is your gut telling you? What thoughts coincidentally have come together in your mind that can present a new understanding of your client? What are you choosing to pay attention to and what are you rejecting.

One sure way to get in touch with your gut is to quiet your mind and scan your body. Just noticing your body and your breath will ground your mind and magnetize your awareness. When you are as present as you can be in your body, your mind and your body will automatically be open to picking up signals that otherwise might have distracted you. Your body is constantly kinesthetically processing information both internally and interpersonally. Pay attention to those signals and it is likely the client’s story will deepen for both of you and lead you to a much deeper story and interpretation than the client was initially able to present.

Don’t forget to pay attention to the client’s feelings as well as their words. The deeper we explore, the more the client can access his or her own truths. However, ignoring your client’s feelings and emotions will inhibit the process of trust and thereby prevent any deeper exploration.

Your client’s experience is always larger than the content of their stories. Be with your client in their experience and you will naturally coach them rather than getting caught in the content of their stories.

Learn more about this coaching competency and all eleven ICF Coaching Competencies in our entertaining, interactive online course, “Decoding The Coaching Genome”. 24 ICF Coach Competency Units awarded upon completion. Register at:

Article written by Judith Cohen, MCC, CPCC, MSW.

Judith Cohen is Co-founder of The Wisdom Tree Academy and infusing it with her 30+ years of experience in coaching and leadership. She is also a Senior Faculty member at CTI (The Coaches Training Institute).