Tempted to advise your clients?


Don’t you have a duty to advise your client, when they bring a topic you know a lot about?

Shouldn’t you be sharing your expertise, if you know you can save your client time, energy, pain and money by sharing your experience or opinion? (Asked my brilliant and caring client, recently.)

Well, no. Or at least, not necessarily. And here’s why.

Work that self-management muscle, coach.

Coaching works by asking, not telling. If you’re a co-active coach you’ll already know the power of holding space for your client and in asking powerful questions. Think back to a time when someone told you what they thought or made a suggestion – whether you asked for advice or not. How did you feel? More than likely passive, or even inferior. Maybe you took the advice or suggestion, or maybe you didn’t do anything with it, perhaps because it wasn’t your idea. There’s an imbalance in the relationship at that moment where the giver of the advice becomes the expert.

If you find yourself coaching someone and hear yourself saying anything along the lines of ‘Why don’t you..?’ ‘How about….?’ ‘What I would do is….’, you’re disempowering your client by suggesting that you know best. Nancy Kline goes as far as to say that we ‘infantalise’ others when we assume that we know better than them in that moment. It's disempowering. As human beings, we seek mastery and control over our own lives.

It’s the process of being coached, that brings so much value to the client. Having to search within, to find the answers that are meaningful to them, which has value. Giving someone the gift of deep attention and listening, and recognising that your client is perfectly capable of thinking for themselves, that they would be well served by you paying respectful attention so that they can access their own ideas first, means that you are serving your client by helping them take responsibility for their own thinking and judgement.


Holding space for quality thinking

This morning, I had a Thinking Pairs session with a close colleague of mine. You can read about Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment here, but the basic structure was that we each listen to each other for 10 minutes each way, with the listener holding (silent) ease, encouragement and appreciation for the thinker; interjecting only to offer nods or brief words of encouragement to continue, and, on noticing a silence which doesn’t feel as though the thinker may have finished, asking ‘is there more’?, allowing the thinker to keep thinking on the topic they chose.

At first, it’s tricky as both the listener and thinker – because to take the full ten minutes to think aloud, whilst knowing you won’t be interrupted – or to give someone else the gift of that listening space – feels strange. As the listener, I wanted to intrude, to ask questions, to add my voice to the monologue. I knew I could add some value by ‘coaching’. But as I listened, something incredible occurred. I noticed that every time I was tempted to intrude or speak – my thinker went off in a totally different direction than my intervention might have caused her to travel in. At the last prompt for ‘is there more?’ – my thinker came up with an amazing insight that she hadn’t considered before. She developed the idea aloud, and then said ‘hah! That’s it! That’s what I need to do. That’s amazing. Thank you!’. And I hadn’t uttered a word aside from the encouraging prompts. There’s magic in deep listening, folks!

A word from our sponsor….

CTI are very clear about the role of advice giving in coaching:

Co-Active Coaching is an experience of personal and professional development unlike other kinds of coaching. Based on the Co-Active Model, it begins by holding the coachee as naturally creative, resourceful and whole, and completely capable of finding their own answers to whatever challenges they face. The job of a Co-Active Coach® is to ask powerful questions, listen and empower to elicit the skills and creativity a client already possesses, rather than instruct or advise.

 And you can hear Henry Kimsey-House speak directly about advice-giving if you want to go deeper into this topic (9 minute audio which really gets to the heart of this issue).

Five things to consider when you're feeling the urge to give advice:

  1. Make sure your designed alliance has really clearly set out what you and your client have agreed together around sharing your expertise. If something arises, or if your client asks for your advice or opinion, make it clear that you are taking off your coaching hat and putting your mentoring one on.
  2. Stick to the client's agenda - not your agenda for the client. It's imperative that you spend the time together to get clear about what your client wants to get out of the coaching and their life! If you aren't clear, you'll be working too hard as coach.
  3. Be conscious and discerning when the temptation to give your advice or option arises. There will be occasions where you have expertise or where your knowledge is likely to save the client time, pain or money, or when it wouldn't make sense to withhold what you know from your client. Ask your client if they would like this knowledge, AFTER you have found out what they think; stay unattached to your perspective, and make sure your client sees this as only one option available to them, and not the only, expert option or viewpoint to take.
  4. Get clear about the kind of coach/mentor you want to be. It’s possible you are discovering your marketing positioning is becoming more a guru than collaborator or supporter. Nothing wrong with that – but make sure you’re clear on how you will self-manage through certification and when you are co-actively coaching so that you aren't positioning yourself as the expert or mentoring when you should be coaching.
  5. If your client is consistently seeking your advice or isn't willing to come up with their own ideas, there may be a co-dependency issue. Check that you aren't playing the 'Rescuer' for your client. If you have any ethical concerns, seek support from a fellow coach and refer to the ICF (International Coaching Federation) guidelines. Might be worth an inquiry for you as coach too, to see if there is a value of yours being honoured by giving advice. Mastery, perhaps, or competence? In the case of my client, there was a value of efficiency driving the need to save clients wasting timebeon making poor choices. It is essential to know your preferences, if you are to be discerning about how these unconscious influences play out in your coaching.

Over to you. What have you found works, around self-management?  Have you noticed the urge to advise your clients or share what you know? What would you say to a client who brought this topic to coaching?