Lessons from the Certifiers

A Visit to the Archives: Telling vs. Listening
by Natalie Tucker Miller and Nina East

I love looking back in the archives and seeing what has changed and what has stayed the same in the world of coaching. When this “Lessons from the Certifiers” column began in the beginning of 2008, it was referred to as “IAC Certification Tidbits”, and Nina East was Lead Certifier and main contributor. Nina, one of the original certifiers, is still active on the Certification Board, and her words of almost six years ago brought us coaching wisdom that is worth revisiting. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! I’ll see you in 2014!

– Natalie

Telling vs. Listening

One of the important distinctions between masterful coaching and not-so-masterful coaching is the distinction of telling vs. listening. Coaching is about eliciting the client’s wisdom and truth, discovering what’s best for them, and engaging the client fully in the process. It is important that the coach not be in “telling” or “instructing” mode for the coaching session. That doesn’t mean the coach can’t tell the client what they are thinking or share relevant information. Certainly, that’s fine.

Where the coaching becomes less than masterful is when the coach spends too much time in this mode. The coach often feels as if he or she needs to be the expert, or perhaps thinks he or she is the expert, and so tells the client what to do, what the client is feeling (or ought to be feeling), and why it is important. The coach’s heart is in the right place. We know a coach genuinely wants to help the client make progress. But when this happens, the coaching is no longer client-centered. It’s become all about the coach, his/her performance, or thinking he/she knows best. In coaching sessions where there is a lot of telling going on, the certifiers have noticed the coach misses critical clues from the client about what is really most important or what the underlying source is, and therefore, the coach and the coaching are less effective.

Interestingly, this often happens in a session where part of the client’s challenge is in standing up for themselves, making their own decisions, speaking their truth, or having confidence about their own abilities or inner knowing. So, even though the coach’s heart is in the right place, the coach is actually exacerbating the problem, and the client doesn’t get what she or he really needs.

Engaged Listening, Coaching Mastery #3, means giving space (silence) for the client to think and respond. It means asking questions…and then giving the client time to respond (even when they need to think about it a bit). It means not interrupting or talking over the client in order to have your idea considered. (Though there are ways to interrupt appropriately if the client is on a rant or “stuck in their story”.)

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • When you are coaching, who is doing most of the talking – you or your client? (Listen to your own recordings to get an honest assessment.)
  • What is most important to you – getting the client to do something (anything!) or getting to the source of what’s really going on?
  • Is what you are telling the client really for them or is any teensy part of it really for you?

Do you have a question that you’d like to ask the certifiers? Submit your questions here: http://certifiedcoachblog.typepad.com/blog/ask-the-certifiers.html.

Nina East


Nina East, MMC, is a coach who helps online businesses maximize their marketing and affiliate programs through coaching, training, and sometimes a little cattle prodding. She has been a Certifying Examiner for the IAC since 2003 and was the lead certifier for several years. You can see what Nina is up to at http://NinaEast.com


Natalie Tucker Miller, MMC, is the Lead Certifier and a certifying examiner at the IAC, as well as Past-President. Natalie is founder of Ageless-Sages.com Publishing (www.ageless-sages.com), and creator of the literary genre, Picture Books for Elders™.


Please send your questions on the IAC Coaching Masteries® and the certification process to certification@certifiedcoach.org.

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