Direct Communication

by Marion Franklin

Masterful coaches have to be willing to let go of any possible outcomes. As a coach, you listen to a lot of stories while thoughts, ideas, and sometimes judgments run through your mind. It’s what you do with those thoughts that can make all the difference in effective coaching. "Telling it like it is" is a wonderful concept, but in truth, unless you say what you mean in a way that can be heard by the client, you will likely cause damage in the relationship.

While it's often modeled and demonstrated, direct communication—specifically how to choose the right words—is not necessarily taught as a separate coaching skill. Yet knowing how to say something can be more important than what is said.

What is the purpose of direct communication?

To immediately allow the client to see their situation as it actually is. It is an opportunity to share your thoughts, intuition, perspectives and feedback without judgment, attachment or criticism.

What are our biggest fears in using truly direct communication?

  • You will hurt the client’s feelings
  • You will offend them
  • You will lose them as a client
  • You will get a bad reputation
  • You could be wrong
  • The client doesn’t really want to hear the truth

One easy way to share directly is to use a metaphor or create a visual image that paints a picture. The key is that the words come from your observation NOT from your personal viewpoint. When you objectively observe how information is coming across, there is no right or wrong or potential for attaching to the result. Masterful coaches let go of expectations.

Example: Your client is upset because she has become the sole friend and resource for one of her girlfriends. She feels pressured as though she is directly responsible for her friend’s happiness/unhappiness.

Metaphor/picture: "It sounds as though your friend has created a set-up where she is in a pool with many swimmers close by but insists that only the lifeguard at the other end of the pool can save her. And you are the lifeguard! How does that come across?"

Notice how the coach is offering a description of what seems to be happening that may or may not be the case. If it does not align with the client’s perspective, the client will have an opportunity to disagree and describe what is true and then you have helpful information to proceed.

Notice also that sharing in this way helps keep the conversation about the client instead of focusing on the friend.

Good questions to ask after a direct observational statement:

  • How does that come across?
  • What is it like for you to hear that?
  • What comes to your mind when hearing that?
  • What is true about that?

Truths about direction communication:

  • Far more space and silence are needed than is naturally comfortable, and it is important to allow the client ample space to respond to the direct communication.
  • It can move your client forward faster, more efficiently and effectively.
  • Softening the message will dilute the impact; instead soften the words but keep the message. Instead of "I hear a discrepancy," (might create defensiveness) try "Something is occurring to me that is not adding up." Then follow that up with the direct message.
  • Sharing observations as they arise versus holding back is crucial.
  • Initially defining the words can be a useful tool in preparing the latter part of the message. For example, "It sounds as though you are feeling helpless and have no choices—like a victim."
  • Painting a picture or creating a metaphor can be more effective than simply words.
  • Without conscientious choice of language, your directness can backfire.
  • Your job is to help your client get to THEIR truth—not yours.
  • If you think you know, you’re in trouble; neutrality is critical to avoid judgment and/or your agenda.

Caution/caveat when communicating directly:

Thoughtful choice of words is a vital skill necessary to deliver direct communication that has a significant impact in moving your client forward. If you simply blurt out what you are thinking, it may be offensive. It is important to learn how to soften your words but retain the direct message. Observations are part of direct communication, not judgments and opinions. You are not "talking to" clients; you are "talking with" them.

The distinction between telling and observing:

Telling (or accusing) the client what you surmise comes from a judgmental place. Example: "In other words, you were betrayed." Sharing possible blind spots are observations that come from a neutral place and are offered as a possibility (may or may not be true). Example: "Sounds as though" or "It comes across as though" you feel betrayed by your friend. What is true about that?" Follow up your observation with a question to ascertain the client’s truth.

Mistakes coaches make with direct communication:

  • Wanting to be "nice" and "dancing around"—this softens and dilutes the impact of the message
  • Hesitating and waiting to share directly what you are really thinking (taints the conversation with judgment)
  • Telling or accusing the client of feeling or thinking a particular way
  • Taking it personally when the client doesn’t agree with your observation
  • Thinking you know how the client feels and interpreting information without confirming
  • Not exploring enough and jumping to conclusions
  • Not getting permission to share (could threaten rapport with the client and/or may create defensiveness)
  • Not stopping when your client doesn’t want to discuss a topic even though you think it is relevant
  • Trying to understand the problem rather than your client

DIRECT COMMUNICATION is the most efficient and effective way to get to the heart of the matter.


Marion Franklin, MCC ( teaches her unique ICF-approved Laser Coaching Intensive, emphasizing masterful skills and permanent core behavioral changes. She facilitates a weekly Mentor Practicum offering supervision. Her wisdom and insight are evident through her newsletter, Life's Little Lessons. Marion's coaching is known for her direct style and laser approach.

5 thoughts on “Direct Communication”

  1. Thanks Nikki! – It seems to be a mindset shift vs. something ‘to do.’ You are making total sense when you say it’s about taking ownership – not easy for new coaches sometimes and yet, so important.

  2. This is so well put together, Marion. Thank you. Of course it’s much easier said than done:) But it’s these kinds of articles that illuminate for new coaches like me what I need to check in with as I grow and improve my direct communication.

  3. What a great reminder about using direct communication, Marion. It took me a while to figure out just how to take ownership of my thoughts, ideas, and observations and communicate them effectively during a coaching conversation. Thanks for helping me to finally figure that out. 🙂

  4. Thanks Barbra! So good to hear from you.
    What I find that is so ironic, all too often I come up with metaphors that relate to water (swimming, sailing,). One thing that I know is that metaphors were not at the tip of my tongue. – It took me A LOT of time and mostly PRACTICE. I was so determined to keep practicing because my coach uses them, and I find them extremely helpful and eye opening. And, they are a great way to cut to the chase without shortchanging the process.

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