Everything You Need to Know About Coaching with ICF

You want to be a coach. Where do you start? Should you get training? Is a certification needed? If yes, which one? What how can you learn more? How do you find a coach? What kind of skills do you need as a coach?

I will try to answer all these questions and more here. Get ready for a lengthy blog post, as each of the frameworks or coaching techniques presented here can be a blog post on its own. This will give you an overview, link you to more resources, and fill in some knowledge gaps.

I will briefly present different bodies of coaching certification/accreditation, then dive deeper into International Coaching Federation (ICF), the coaching techniques and methods approved by the organization.

The information in this post is part of the ACC training; the main source of my inspiration is the training for Master Performance Coaching provided by JMC, and run by MCC Wai K (to which I added my experience and research).

Coaching certification bodies

ICF is a certification organisation, not a coaching framework in itself. It uses several frameworks and models, out of which the most popular (and used) is the GROW model (more on it later).

From my research, it appears to be the most popular (I have no data to support it, though).

Here’s an overview on the top coaching certification and accreditation bodies:

  • Co-active Training Institute (CTI, former Coaches Training Institute) is the most well-known in the coaching community, with more than 25 years of practice. “Co-Active is the philosophy of wholeness that provides a framework for people to experience life’s infinite possibilities. Co-Active grows you as a leader through conversation, actions, and awareness—and gets you outside your comfort zone, exploring your own boundaries and becoming aware of the impact you’re having around you” (from their website). If you want to learn more about co-active, I wrote extensively here.
  • International Coaching Federation (ICF): the founders of CTI were involved in creating ICF and ICF ethics and competencies. Co-active has a joint ICF – Co-active Coaching certification: upon completing the training program and coaching hours required, you get to apply for Associate Certified Coach (ACC) status upon becoming a CPCC (Certified Professional Co-Active Coach). ICF is a “leading global organisation dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals.” (from their website).
  • International Association of Coaching (ICA) differentiates itself by the high standard of entry for the coaches they accredit: “Part of what makes the IAC® different from other coaching organisations is the way we assess coaching mastery, and our belief that attending coach training or graduating from any specific program is not sufficient evidence that a coach can, in fact, coach.” (from their website)
  • Center of Coaching for Excellence (CCE) is “A training organisation focusing on developing highly competent coaches through a mentor-training approach and a training model that equips leaders and coaches to contribute at their professional and personal best, influencing transformational change in the lives of those they lead and coach” (from their website).
  • Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) focuses mostly on business versus life coaching: “The Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) is the first global professional association to exclusively represent the business coaching industry. Since its inception in 1997, WABC has dedicated itself to raising the profile of business coaching—still an emerging profession—and to differentiating it from coaching in general. By engaging in disciplined self-regulatory activities to increase public trust in our industry worldwide, WABC has done more than any other organisation to identify the tasks, qualities and skills of the business coach.” (from their website).
  • Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC): “iPEC affords you the tools and training you need to become an expert coach, thriving business owner, or influential leader at your organisation. In fact, graduating with your coaching certification isn’t the end of the road with us; it’s just the beginning of a long partnership to help you succeed in making a real, tangible difference.” (from their website).

I didn’t do enough research to let you know which certification body is best (as it’s not the purpose of this blog post), but I did find some information here.

I started my coaching journey with ICF, recommended by a coach colleague and friend of mine. I chose ICF following the Master Performance Coach that does the training – Wai K Leong, a wonderful coach and trainer.

When choosing a certification, it’s better to spend most of the effort on finding a good coach and trainer and then investigate what certification you can access. ICF is quite popular, even in this part of the world (Malaysia), so it’s a good choice if you plan to go international.

In terms of tools, there are common tools that all coaching accreditation support (active listening or listening Level III, powerful questions, trust, the coaching relationship, etc.). For example, many ICF tools are to be found in co-active, which I described in detail here.

ICF coaching paths

Before getting into competencies, I’d like to briefly introduce you to the coaching paths you can take and the conditions of the certification if you’re interested in getting certified by ICF:

  •  Associate Certified Coach (ACC): min. 60 hours training, min. 100 hours of coaching (75 paid), with at least 8 clients, and completing the Coach Knowledge Assessment (CKA). If you want to go deeper, there are three paths under the ACC certification.
  • Professional Certified Coach (PCC): min. 125 hours of training, min. 500 hours of coaching (450 paid) with at least 25 clients and completing CKA. Again, there are three paths under the PCC certification if you want to go deeper.
  • Master Certified Coach (MCC): min. 200 hours of training, min. 2.500 hours of coaching (2.250 paid) with at least 35 clients, and completion of CKA (unless passed when applying for ACC or PCC), PCC credential, 10 hours of Mentor Coaching (from another MCC), and performance evaluation (two audio recording and written transcripts of coaching sessions). This is the final accreditation you reach here, and you are a coaching Jedi, so there are no other paths within this category.

The coaching philosophy of ICF is that the coachee is the expert in her life, as every client is resourceful, creative, and whole.

The coach is responsible to help the coachee discover what she wants to achieve, encouraging self-discovery, helping the coachee find solutions and strategies for behaviour change, and holding the coachee accountable and responsible for achieving her goals and objectives.

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

From the ICF website.

The coach will use a set of powerful tools to help the coachee become the best version of themselves, such as (we will discuss these in detail further down):

  • Powerful Questions are used to elicit clarity and awareness and drive change for the client.
  • Active Listening helps the coach constantly check the accuracy of the message received from the client and ensure the client is genuine in their assessments.
  • Challenging the client’s assumptions, belief system, and thinking, helps the coach build the client’s capacity to take on bigger and harder challenges.
  • Silence is the most powerful coaching tool (and the hardest to master). The coach allows the coachee time to discover and find truths by being quiet.
  • Acknowledging the client’s strengths, progress, and growth gives her the power to keep on to her new habits and enforces her growth commitment.
  • Reframing the client’s assessments helps her get clarity and understand a different, positive perspective on her narrative.
  • Distinctions highly contribute to clarity for the coachee; understanding her own narrative and how it influences her beliefs, thus her actions and behaviours, is essential to drive the coachee’s change and growth.
  • Requesting the client to take action to keep up with the commitments and changes is a respectful and powerful way to invite change.

The coaching process, according to ICF, leaving aside what framework is actually used, implies five steps:

  1. Ask for a topic
  2. Establish the outcome of the session
  3. Explore possibilities
  4. Design actions
  5. Ask for feedback

The coach ensures that each session brings the client to her goals and committed change. The coach is there to guide the client through her journey.

The coach follows a few simple principles and rules to make the coaching process effective in ICF:

  1. The coach is an enabler, not a solution provider, as the client has all the information and resources needed to find their own path. The coach is there to help the coachee gain clarity and see things she wasn’t aware of.
  2. The client is resourceful and creative, she is not “broken“, and the coach doesn’t need to fix her. Genuinely believing that as a coach helps the coachee believe it herself.
  3. Focus on strengths, not weaknesses, as positively engaging the coachee is much more likely to bring change and growth (more details on my blog post on coaching with compassion, which takes a glimpse into the neuroscience of coaching).

Each coaching framework or organisation has some guiding principles to guide the coaches in their work; according to ICF:

  • Constructionist principle: words create worlds; changing the narrative (linguistics) helps change behaviours.
  • Image principles: image inspires action; helping clients build images of the future they want is a powerful drive for change.
  • Simultaneity principle: change happens now; every interaction we have with people can bring change, we are changing with every experience and conversation.
  • Success principle: in every system, something works; building on the client’s strengths is the fastest path to bring change and the coachee up to action.
  • The choice principle: we are the product of the choices we make in our lives; who we are now is a result of choices made in the past, so every choice (including smaller ones) matters.

The ICF coaching competencies

Now that you know the ICF’s coaching philosophy, I’d like to briefly overview their coaching competencies.

ICF bases their coaching philosophy around 11 competencies (10 + 1). Each ICF competency is associated with skills and tools, but the coach will dictate the specifics that will guide you through your coaching journey.

The core competencies are grouped into four categories, each category representing an outcome from using that competency:

A. Setting the foundation:

  1. Meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards
  2. Establish the Coaching Agreement

B. Co-creating the relationship:

  1. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
  2. Coaching Presence

C. Communicating effectively:

  1. Active Listening
  2. Powerful Questions
  3. Direct Communication

D. Facilitating learning and results

  1. Creating Awareness
  2. Designing Actions
  3. Planning and Goal Setting
  4. Managing Progress and Accountability

Each competency has an ICF definition and associated behaviours. The behaviours are either visible (and should always be present in the coaching conversation) or not visible (they are called for in certain coaching conversations). Find more about them on the ICF website.

I will get into the detail of each competency (find the official definition and behaviours on the ICF website), focusing mostly on supporting tools and methods to make it happen during the coaching conversation.

Setting the foundation

The first category of competencies refers to the more administrative part of coaching (nonetheless, just as important as the others): on one side, there’s (1) the coach’s commitment to meet the coaching ethics and standards, on the other side is (2) the Coaching Agreement, that the coach and coachee will have to sign and agree to (find some samples offered by ICF here).

What I learned from the last couple of years of coaching is that it’s essential to have an open and honest conversation with your client on what coaching is, expectations, how it will go, accountability and responsibility (for coach and coachee), commitment (especially on the coachee side), and administrative issues (scheduling, costs, payment, etc.).

Don’t shy away from having the conversation, especially as a new coach (we tend to help people out for free because we are extremely self-critical about our coaching skills).

There are two levels of the Coaching Agreements:

  1. Project level agreement:
    • The coach agrees with the client on the higher scope of the coaching (including fees, schedules, roles, etc.).
    • A quick summary of what needs to be discussed:
      • coaching framework (including administrative topics)
      • alignment of expectations: an open discussion on roles and responsibilities, expectations, and what’s appropriate in the coaching relationship (e.g. the coach might refer the coachee to a therapist if the issues they want to address are outside the scope of coaching)
      • chemistry check: just like any other relationship, this one also needs coach-coachee chemistry for it to work; if it’s not a match, the coachee will do better with a different coach
      • big picture goal: the coach will discuss with the client a higher goal (purpose, values) to make sure that the coach will keep the coachee on the path she designed for herself and provide an effective coaching experience.
  2. Session level agreement:
    • The coach and coachee clarify the outcome of each coaching session, the coach making sure the coachee gets what she needs/wants out of the session.

Tools and frameworks

As mentioned, each competency comes with a set of tools and frameworks, so there will be a section on the topic with each one.

The P. R. O Model

P.R.O. stands for Problem, Remedy and Outcome, which are all ways the coachee will frame a statement:

The goal of this model is to help the coachee shift from a Problem/Remedy statement to an Outcome statement:

  • Problem statement: it’s a dislike of a current or future situation without any words of desire (no words as want, need or would like).
  • Remedy: represents how they expect the problem to be solved, and it hasn’t happened yet. It describes the problem and a desire (need, want, would like).
  • Outcome: represents how the world would be when clients have what they want. It hasn’t happened yet, contains a desire (want, need, would like), and doesn’t contain a reference to the problem.

How do you identify a Problem, Remedy or an Outcome?

How do you help the coachee focus on the Outcome?

The clean language website inspired the above; they have really good information on the P.R.O. model and much more on coaching, so go ahead and check it out.

Co-creating the relationship

After you get the coaching agreement in place (and since you first meet your coachee), your focus is on building trust with the coachee. These first interactions can make or break the coaching relationship.

3. Establish Trust and Intimacy

There are two components of trust that the coach will focus on competency trust and character trust. The coachee must trust their coach as a genuine and honest individual, who wants what is best for her, but at the same time, she needs to believe that the coach has the skills and competencies needed to pursue the coaching conversation.

To build trust with the coachee, the coach must be authentic in his relationship. As a coach, you must be authentic in your acknowledgement of the client and your own feelings. If you don’t believe in your coachee, maybe you’re not the best coach for that individual.

At the same time, the coach will always keep in mind that it’s the coachee’s agenda, the coach can’t be biased or have a different plan for the coachee. To do that, the coach has to have a high level of self-management.

There are six domains of self-management for the coach:

  1. Presence: being fully present and giving the coachee all your attention builds trust and the intimacy needed for the coachee to open up.
  2. Empathy: empathy is connection, connection is openness, and thus trust.
  3. Range of feelings: the coach has to be able to deal to a range of feelings that might come up.
  4. Boundary of awareness: a coach will be aware of the boundary of her capabilities; also, the coach should be aware if/when she’s trying to impose her beliefs on the coachee and be able to step back.
  5. Body awareness: the coach has to be aware of her body language and how it influences the coachee; she also has to be able to adapt her body language to not influence her coachee.
  6. Courage to challenge: the coach has to have the courage to challenge the coachee’s perspective and beliefs without worrying about disappointing the client (she should ask for permission beforehand, though).

Tools and frameworks

The S.C.A.R.F. model

To understand how to build trust with the client, we must establish safety between the coach and coachee.

The SCARF model, developed by Dr David Rock, presents five domains that influence human behaviour in social situations, and factors that decide safety:

  • Status: our relative importance to others >>> do not diminish a person’s ego
  • Certainty: our ability to predict the future >>> keep them informed and let them know what’s coming to diminish uncertainty
  • Autonomy: our sense of control over events >>> let them take control, leave space for them to make decisions (remember silence)
  • Relatedness: how safe we feel with others >>> help them see you as a friend and ally, you’re there to support and help them
  • Fairness: how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be >>> let them feel that the decisions made are fair.

Different interaction models activate different responses in the brain: threat or reward, so how we manage these interactions is essential to start the coaching relationship with a high level of trust.

The power of words

Words can be inclusive or divisive, especially the choice of words at the beginning of a relationship. Using inclusive words, such as “we” and “us”, create belonging, similar to using “yes, and…” instead of the (in)famous “yes, but…“.

Using “how” and “what” to ask exploratory questions versus “why” also adds up to trust.

Avoid or use minimal words like “but“, “should“, “must“, “always“, and “never” use them in appropriate context or not at all if possible.

Acknowledgement and validation

Acknowledgement is validating clients’ thoughts and actions by recognising their strengths and progress. This helps tremendously with building confidence and increasing self-esteem in the client.

The coach can use any opportunity to acknowledge the client showing strength in various situations, the client taking her first step towards her goals, positive attributes the coach observes in the client herself, or ideas that the client has that bring her closer to her goals.

Acknowledgement, just as gratitude and celebration, also sets a positive note for the coaching conversation, building excitement and confidence so the client is ready to take on bigger challenges and move closer to her dreams.

4. Coaching Presence

Being present during the coaching conversation means entering a state of mind, body, and spirit where all your attention is focused on the coachee.

Being present allows the coach to:

  • paraphrase the client’s words
  • ask powerful questions that flow with the client’s agenda
  • respond in a flexible manner
  • listen to deeper issues, beyond words, to beliefs and values
  • respond confidently and appropriately in the moment
  • use intuition and gut feeling to navigate the conversation.

But being present is not always accessible to us, we can be derailed from it; a few examples of such derailments are:

  • being self-critical: the coach’s attention is on the coachee, not herself; thinking about herself is listening to level I, which is not helpful for the coaching conversation
  • being judgemental: the coach listens to the coachee free of judgement – her purpose is not to judge the coachee’s words or actions but to search for ways to help the client discover more about themselves and the context they are in
  • being anxious to find a solution: it’s not the coach’s job to find solutions, it’s the coachee’s. The coach has to help with the process.

Tools and frameworks


Repeat what you hear in your own words, helping the coachee reflect on their own challenges, listen to their thinking, and see different perspectives.


Ask clarifying questions and have the coachee elaborate on her story; this will help the coachee better understand the situation she’s presenting and get clarity on the topic.

Emotional awareness

Ask the coachee what she feels in their present state and what emotions were triggered while sharing a story or a situation. Coach from there. Helping the coachee be aware of their own emotions and acknowledge them helps them move forward with their growth and change.

Communicating effectively

Up to this moment, the coach agreed with the coachee on the coaching framework, methods and expectations, and a trusted relationship was set between the two. The grounds are set for an effective and effectual coaching relationship.

5. Active Listening

Active Listening – Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.

From the ICF website

We don’t listen only to what it is said, but to what is not said: we listen to the tone, body language, beliefs, values, and assessments that influence the coachee’s attitude and behaviour.

There are four areas of listening:

  1. Listen WITH our senses and a positive mind (what we use to listen)
  2. Listen BY using positive body language: mirror the coachee’s gestures, nod, lean forward, smile, ask clarifying questions, validate, encourage with “I see“, “good“, “interesting“, etc. (how we show that we are listening)
  3. Listen TO content: story, issues, solutions, ideas, feelings and context: bigger picture, dreams, values, vision (the obvious)
  4. Listen FOR what is not being explicitly said: beliefs, character strengths, values, personality traits, etc., a deeper level of listening (the unsaid).

The purpose of active listening is to identify what the client is not saying and maybe is not aware of:

  • vision and aspirations: help the coachee identify and clarify her goals (Why is this goal important to you? What are you willing to trade-off to achieve this goal?)
  • strengths: help the coachee identify and leverage her strength (What would you consider your strength or talent? How are you using them to achieve your goals?)
  • positive experience and successes: uncover and validate these with the client (What is one achievement you are proud of? What was it about this achievement that made you feel proud?)
  • fears and doubts: help the client reassess their fears and free themselves from them (What can be a barrier to your success? What comes to mind when you think about achieving this goal?)
  • limiting beliefs: listen to the coachee’s beliefs, how they influence her life, decisions, behaviours, and actions and help her break the ones that limit her in her growth (Can you think of an exception to this rule? Who do you know of that has disproved this thinking?).

How to actively listen:

  • Body language: nod head, lean forward or lean in, ear tilted to the speaker, face expresses interest, open gestures (arms not folded), eye contact.
  • Tonality: happy and upbeat.
  • Power of silence: long pause – give the coachee space to think.
  • Acknowledgements: sincere and genuine affirmations; avoid fake praise. Give acknowledgement if you mean it or not at all! 
  • Feedback: radically candid feedback.

Tools and frameworks


Clarifying is asking questions to understand the meaning and context the client is coming from, the first act of active listening.

Some clarifying questions:

  • What do you mean by …?
  • Can you help me understand …?
  • You raised quite a few issues. If you were to prioritise them, what would it look like?
  • You say you’re not clear about how to move forward. What aren’t you clear about?

The coach wants to clarify: the meaning of various words (such as frustrated, unclear, confused), the meaning of common expressions (I have no time, I want to make a lot of money), and generalisation (everyone is against me – who is against you, specifically), or deletion (it is just so frustrating – what is so frustrating?).


Paraphrasing is repeating what you hear in your own words, a powerful tool to help the client get higher clarity. It also has a double effect: the coach checks her understanding of what the client needs and offers a different perspective to help the coachee listen back to their own thinking:

  • Client: I can’t bring myself to tell him about this situation.
  • Coach: Do you need the courage to bring up this subject?


Summarising the conversation at the end of the coaching session can make for a very successful conversation.

You can use it during the coaching session to summarise the points made, especially if the coachee is not focusing only on one topic. This helps the coachee move forward and get a grip on the issues and the big picture.

  • Coach: We have discussed three points in the last fifteen minutes. They are … Have I missed anything?
  • Coach: So, moving forward, I hear these are some of the things you plan to do… Did we miss out on anything?

Listening to beliefs

Beliefs influence who we are and our behaviour and actions. We accept them as true without challenging them, and sometimes we are not aware we have them.

There are three types of truth:

  • personal truth: comes from cultural influences, family, upbringing, education, and other life experiences
  • humanity truth: what is generally true around the world
  • universal truth: the law of physics and nature (facts).

The coach’s role is to help the client evaluate her beliefs, understand their source, and assess if the beliefs are impeding or accelerating their growth. The coach works with their Personal Truth, helping the coachee acknowledge and understand it.

Some red flags you need to look for when the coachees talk about their belief system are words like always, never, can’t, difficult, impossible, should, must, ought to, etc.

There are a few steps you can take to identify and modify the client’s belief system:

  1. Listen to trigger words
  2. Paraphrase the belief you observed: I hear you believe that a degree is necessary to be successful
  3. Identify the sources: Where does this belief come from?
  4. Challenge the belief: What are some exceptions to this rule?
  5. Check assumptions: What are some assumptions in this belief?
  6. Check usefulness: How useful is holding on to this belief to you?
  7. Check for readiness to change: Would you like to modify this belief to serve you better?
  8. Construct a new belief: How can you re-phrase this belief to serve you better?
  9. New belief: Having a degree is a an advantage but is not necessary for success.
  10. Check for alignment: How do you feel about it when you said that?

6. Powerful Questions

Asking questions is a prelude to active listening, so the type of question you ask can support or impede active listening.

Using questions helps the coaching relationship by:

  • getting alignment between coach and coachee, they speak the same language
  • the coachee getting clarity from speaking about issues, situations, feelings, etc.
  • stimulating awareness and self-reflection for the coachee, which enables change and growth
  • encouraging exploration of options for the coachee
  • the coachee gets ownership and enrolment in the actions she decided for herself, by making her own decisions with increased awareness and clarity.

There are two types of questions:

  • Close-ended: yes/no questions, or questions that start with “Is” or “Are“; they can be useful when the coach wants to elicit confirmation or decision:
    • e.g. Are you happy with your work? Is this the only option for you so far?
  • Open-ended: opens up possibilities, helps the coach enter deeper into the discovery process and draws up more information for the coach to work on; they usually start with “What” or “How“:
    • What is your situation at the moment?
    • How would you like to see this resolved?

The coach should use 80% of open-ended questions and only 20% of their time on close-ended questions.

Here are some more examples of open-ended, powerful questions:

Tools and frameworks

The GROW coaching model

A coaching model is a framework that helps the coach navigate the coaching conversation and guide the coachee towards a goal.

GROW has been developed and popularised by John Whitmore in Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose – The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership.

GROW stands for Goal, Reality, Options, and Way Forward (or Way & Will), and this defines the structure of the coaching conversation:

Briefly, the GROW model suggests that the coaching conversation starts with stating a Goal, after which the coach helps the coachee get clarity on where they are in relation to the goal (Reality). The coach and client collaborate to explore Options to reach the goal, concluding with the client deciding how to move forward (Way Forward).

The model is not linear, the conversation will go through all four phases during the coaching session, not necessarily in this order; the coach might go back to the goal for example, if the client doesn’t have clarity on it.

Other coaching models, created by other individuals or organisations, are ARROW (Aim, Reality, Reflection, Options, Way Forward) – by ICA, and GROWER (Goal, Reality, Options, Way Forward, Enrolling, Resources).

There is no model better than the other, the coach should be working with any he feels comfortable with. What’s important is to help the coachee reach their ideal self.

The type of questions the coach asks to explore each of the GROW categories are:

The Flow of Questions

The questions must flow with the client; the coach uses active listening to make sure the conversation flows, picks up cues or statements the client made and asks her to clarify or challenge their perspective on it.

The coach connects questions by using the same words as the coachee:

  • Client: I think there is no solution to my problem here.
  • Coach: What solution have you thought about and do you think it’s not applicable?
  • Client: He is so demanding that I feel very stressed out each time I talk to him.
  • Coach: I’m curious. What sort of demands does he make on you?
  • Client: There is such a big problem, I don’t know where to start.
  • Coach: You can start from any point that comes to your mind.

7. Direct Communication

Communication in coaching has different rules than in dialogue, as the roles of the participants are different: the coach has to be free of judgment, and overcome her biases, while the coachee has to be entirely herself, and freely express her judgment, assessments, and biases.

It’s not easy to free yourself of judgement and bias, as there have been systems working behind us since we were born. The key to managing this, as a coach, is awareness. The good news is that awareness can be learned.

I have to make a differentiation between being judgmental and exercising judgement: the difference is how strongly you hold on to your opinion (it is my belief, so I am seeing the world through these lenses, or it’s an assessment I make on the spot based on context and actions, so I am judging the environment).

Judgement-free communication is a very strong indicator of a successful coaching relationship, and I personally think that coaching can’t happen if you can’t overcome your bias. If you find yourself not agreeing with the coachee’s choices or actions and feeling strongly about it, you won’t be able to help the coachee to the best of your abilities.

Not being judgmental means adopting a mindset that implies:

  • everyone has the wisdom, knowledge, and skills to know what’s best for them
  • everyone has the right to live the life they choose (there is no good – bad when it comes to lifestyle choices, there is only “it doesn’t fit my values and desires“)
  • beliefs and values are personal and should be respected
  • there is no right and wrong in thinking as long as it empowers the client to move forward.

Hmm… so being judgement free means the coach can’t give feedback?

Giving feedback is related to exercising judgement, not being judgmental. For feedback to be given, the coach needs to create a safe space. She does that by asking permission: may I give you feedback? May I offer a different perspective? May I share an observation?

If you want to learn more about feedback, I wrote a blog post on it inspired by Kim Scott‘s Radical Candor – Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and Julie Zhuo‘s The Making of a Manager – What to Do When Everyone Looks at You.

What is effective direct communication?

  • Express what you need to say in 20 words or less, followed by a question
  • Do not stack questions, e.g. “What options do you have and which one do you prefer?” You will make it hard for the coachee to answer
  • Use positive words and phrases to express your ideas. E.g. avoid “what is the problem?“, and use “what is the challenge for you” instead
  • Use metaphors appropriately (more info on this a little later)
  • Check for understanding.

The best way to analyse how effective the coaching session was, is to think of how much you talked during the session. A good proportion is: the coach speaks for 30% of the time, while the client covers the other 70%. So… don’t talk too much :).

Tools and frameworks


A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.


  • I feel like a balloon
  • There is too much on my plate
  • Time is money
  • This problem is hard as a rock.

Metaphors are a powerful coaching tool, they paint a verbal picture, so they can increase the coachee’s awareness on the situation. They are also fun to do, increasing creativity for the coachee.


  • Coach: If you imagine a picture to represent this situation, what would it be?
  • Client: I see myself standing at the base of a mountain; I need to walk across to get to my destination.
  • Coach: So you’re at the base of a mountain, what do you see?
  • Client: I see a lot of trees, and birds, and the sun is shining through the mountain forest. I also see a very steep climb, and there might be wolves in there.
  • Coach: Where would you like to be instead?
  • Client: I wish I was on the beach, on the other side of the mountain.
  • Coach: Imagine that you already got there, how did you cross the mountain?
  • Client: Hmm…. (wheels turning, creativity stirred).

Sharing observations

Sharing observations helps with awareness-building and helps the coachee gain clarity.

Some examples of observations:

  • You said you enjoy spending time with your family, but I noticed you frowning, can you tell me about that?
  • You said a few times that you have to spend time with your best friend, can we talk about you using “have to” here?
  • Fear is an essential emotion, and is teaching us something. What do you feel in your body when you talk about fear?
  • You said you are not clear on your values, and I hear you talking a lot about freedom. Tell me more about that. (values)
  • I see that you are using many kind acts, is kindness or compassion one of your strengths? (strengths)
  • I hear you saying everything is possible. Is that one of your beliefs?

Facilitating learning and results

The last four coaching competencies are focusing on building awareness – as the coachee gains clarity about where she wants to go, designing actions and getting the actions done.

8. Creating awareness

When it comes to coaching, building self-awareness is one of the conditions for coaching effectiveness: the coachee needs to be aware of her strengths and talents, to feel more confident and design the best actions for her growth.

The coach has to design the right environment for the coachee to discover herself and pursue change: keep silent to allow the coachee space for discovery, help the client focus on herself rather than others, keep a positive state and help the coachee reach a positive state, help the coachee open up to feedback, no judgement of the coachee’s actions, thoughts, beliefs, etc.

It’s essential to look at the client’s passion and leverage her strengths to bring about lasting change, rather than focusing on weaknesses. Focusing on weaknesses disempowers the client and can make her feel incomplete.

Here are some questions the coach can use to elicit self-awareness:

  • Recall one day of your life when you felt successful and fulfilled. What did you accomplish to feel that way?
  • What talents and strengths did you use to achieve success?
  • Tell me about your strengths.
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What are you passionate about?

The coach can continue the self-discovery process with acknowledgement of their strengths, validating the coachee and giving her the focus and energy needed to go ahead in their growth journey.

One famous framework for building self-awareness and awareness of the other is The Johari Window, developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1969. The model is used to facilitate individual self-discovery and group dynamics in organisational context.

Find a detailed description of the framework lower down, within tools and frameworks.

Tools and frameworks

The Johari Window

The Johari Window is a graphic model of awareness in interpersonal relationships.

According to the Johari Window, there are four quadrants that each present different levels of awareness:

  1. Quadrant 1 – OPEN: refers to behaviour and motivation known to self and others (in the open).
  2. Quadrant 2 – BLIND: refers to what others see in us of which we are unaware.
  3. Quadrant 3 – HIDDEN: contains things we know but don’t reveal to others (e.g. hidden agendas, matters about which we have sensitive feelings, etc.).
  4. Quadrant 4 – UNKNOWN: refers to behaviours and motives neither we nor the others are aware of; you can assume they exist and eventually become known. The influence the unknowns have on the relationship are much higher than we think, so discovering them will help build the relationship.
From Of Human Interaction: The Johari Model, by Joseph Luft

The coach uses the Johari Window to help the client build awareness through different quadrants, by asking questions and helping the coachee get clarity:

Tools for building awareness in the Open Quadrant

  • Powerful questions help the client reflect and explore
  • Self-inquiry: the client asks herself questions and reflects on the answers
  • Highlight strengths: the coach helps the coachee leverage their strengths to grow
  • Bottom-lining: the coach helps the coachee summarise in one word or short sentence the root of the issue.

Tools for building awareness in the Blind Quadrant

  • Feedback: the coach will ask for feedback for the client to help her understand how she is perceived by others
  • Personal profiling: the client can do tests to identify work and behaviours patterns
  • Self-observations: the client will observe herself for a while (and write down notes on her observations)
  • Sharing observation: the coach shares her own observations with the client.

Tools for building awareness in the Hidden Quadrant

  • Build trust: trust will help the client open up his hidden quadrant
  • Empathise: empathy builds trust and connectedness
  • Non-judgmental: listening without judging helps the coachee open up
  • Validate: validation builds trust and confidence.

Tools for building awareness in the Unknown Quadrant

  • Experimentation: help the client get the courage to experiment with new behaviours and experiences
  • Courage: help the client develop courage (by acknowledgement, validation, by building confidence in her own strengths)
  • Safety to fail: help the client accept failure as learning, adapt and move on to new experiments
  • Vision: a compelling vision will give the client the power needed to move forward towards it.

Expanding perspectives

Another technique to expand build awareness is expanding the coachee’s perspectives:

  • the coachee will get a meta-view of their challenge: the coach helps the client move from the current situation to a bigger picture
  • the coach helps the client give a different meaning to a situation: What can you learn from this experience? How can you interpret this positively?
  • the coachee will distinguish between personal and universal truths: the coach helps the coachee identify her bias and move away from it
  • the coach can share a different perspective with the client
  • the coach can use role-playing: what piece of advice would you give to someone in your situation?
  • role reversal: the coach and the coachee switch roles: You’re the coach. What piece of advice would you give me if I were in your situation?
  • extreme stretch: the coach takes the coachee’s situation to the extreme, and helps the coachee navigate the new worst-case scenario situation
  • 360 feedback: the coach gets feedback from 5-7 persons that the coachee works with, or is friend with, for the client to understand how she is perceived by others and compare that with how she sees herself
  • reframing: the coach helps the coachee reframe her objectives or the situation they are in, in a positive way: I want to lose weight >>> I want to live a healthier life
  • profiling tools: there are plenty of personality or profiling tools out there; I really like James Clear’s recommendation on personality tools, here (as featured in Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear).

The Scaling technique

The Scaling technique is another method to help the coachee change perspectives and build awareness.

The coach will draw a scale 1-10 on the floor (with duct tape) and ask the coachee to stand at the edge of it. Then the coach will ask a series of questions (after clarifying the area the coachee wishes to work on during the session):

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 stands for no ability or confidence and 10 stands for all the ability and confidence in this area, where do you think you are right now? Client (e.g.): 2.
  2. What tells you that you are at 2 and not 1? What else?
  3. Where would you like to be in the near future? Client: 8.
  4. How long will you give yourself to get there? Client: 18 months .
  5. Imagine the 18 months have passed and now you are at 8, what do you see now? What else?
  6. What would your colleagues and friends say they noticed different about you?
  7. Describe your feeling from achieving your goal.
  8. At 8 now, what do you notice different as compared to when you were at 2?
  9. Something happened that helped you move from 2 to 8. What happened? What else?
  10. You started at level 2, supposed you moved up a notch to 3, what happened?
  11. How do you know that you moved up a notch?
  12. When will be a good time to take those actions?
  13. What might stop you from taking those actions?
  14. How can you overcome those anticipated barriers?
  15. What support do you need to move forward from here?
  16. Before we end the discussion, what have you found useful from this session?

To make the visualisation process more impactful, have the coachee move on the scale drawn on the floor: she starts at 2, then she moves at 8 and the visualisation happens from that higher state.

Note: this technique is adapted from the training for Master Performance Coaching provided by JMC, and ran by MCC Wai K.


I am adding self-retrospective here as a powerful tool to build self-awareness. Taking time weekly to reflect on what you did well, what didn’t go well, and what improvements you can make allows space fo identifying new perspectives and find impactful growth areas.


Clarifiers are pairs of words that help the client get clarity on their situation. Some examples can be (detailed information on this here):

Source vs symptoms: Is you being late to work the source of the argument with your manager or is it a symptom of something else?

Problem vs concern: Is this a problem or a concern for you?

Create vs eliminate: In this context, do you see an opportunity to create or eliminate something in your life?

Urgent vs important: Is this issue urgent, or just important?

Address vs avoid: Do you feel that you address this situation by this action, or you avoid it?

Assertion vs assessment: Is this a fact (assertion) or is an interpretation of a fact (assessment)?

Response vs reaction: Do you consider your action a response to this situation or a reaction? If it’s a reaction, what would your response be?

Want vs should/could/need/ought to: Is this something that you want to do or is it something that you feel you should do?

Toward or away from: When you set this objective, do you feel you are moving towards something or you want to move away from your current situation?

Find all the fifteen clarifying on coachville.com, with more information.

Identifying the belief system

The final technique for building awareness is identifying and working with the client’s belief system. The coach will help the client become aware of their own beliefs, how they influence her life (in a positive or negative way), and supports the coachee to change a belief that is limiting for her.

Our beliefs influence our actions and behaviours, going strongly influencing how we set expectations to the values we live by. We make life decisions based on a set of beliefs that we have developed ever since childhood (most of them), and are heavily influenced by our social or cultural environment.

The coach can work with the coachee to make her aware of their belief system and how it influences her life:

  1. The coach identifies words in the client’s language that are a mirror of their internal belief system; e.g. I hear you putting a high value on a University degree. Is it correct to say that you can’t reach success without a degree?
  2. The coach explores the sources of the belief with the coachee (social, cultural, family, etc.); e.g. Can you tell me where this belief might be coming from? What kind of experiences you lived through that led to this belief?
  3. The coach challenges the source of the belief, intending to make the coachee aware that their beliefs are not universal truth, but individual constructions; e.g. Do you see any exception from this rule? Can you think of individuals that have achieved success without a University degree? What assumptions do you hold underneath this belief?
  4. The coach and coachee reflect on the usefulness of the belief and how it impacts her life as a whole, e.g. Looking at your life, can you tell me what kind of actions you took as a consequence of this belief? How useful is holding this belief to you? How is this belief serving you?
  5. The coach makes an invitation for the coachee to change her beliefs, or to replace it with one that is affecting her life in a positive way: Would you like to change this belief/thinking? Would you like to replace this belief with one that serves you/your goals? Watch out for hesitation, you are looking for a strong “Yes“.
  6. The coach helps the client create or modify their belief system, from a small change to an entirely different way of thinking: It seems like “A degree is mandatory for success” doesn’t serve you well. Can we find a more empowering statement?
  7. The coach checks for alignment: How does it feel when you say this new sentence?

Note: this technique is adapted from the training for Master Performance Coaching provided by JMC, and ran by MCC Wai K.

9. Designing action

The final purpose of coaching is to help the client take actions to reach her ideal self, or her objectives.

Designing actions comes after the coachee gains clarity on what she wants to achieve, feels confident that she can reach her objectives, and is ready to move forward to change her behaviour or thinking.

The coach will help her client to create an environments that elicits and invites change, by working on three key areas:

  1. Personal change: all the above are techniques to help the coachee gain clarity, confidence, and drive to move towards their ideal, design a new way of looking at the world (perspective/thinking), create new habits or behaviours, and overall become a better person (as defined by the coachee).
  2. Supportive structures: the coach helps her client build a system that supports her change or her new way of thinking (using resources like blogs, books, workshops, etc. that inspire and motivates her to continue on her growth journey).
  3. Leveraging relationships: the relationships in the client’s life can support her journey; the coachee will design ways to work with her social system to support her growth.

Tools and frameworks


The coach and coachee collaborate on discovering what are the actions and behaviours that can bring the coachee closer to reach her dreams or goals.

Some tips for successfully brainstorming are:

  • set the stage: if the client hasn’t done the technique before, explain how it goes and what’s the purpose of it
  • the objective of the session must be clearly defined: what the coachee wants to obtain by these actions
  • no evaluation of ideas is allowed, ideas are put on the table and anything is acceptable (without “what a great idea”, “that is too hard”, “that will never work”)
  • they build on each other’s ideas, so both the coachee and coach have to listen to each other and leverage each other’s creativity
  • if the idea flow is fizzling, they can revisit the ones already exposed or the coach can ask the client to choose his favourite idea and explain why he likes it; the conversation that ensue can give birth to new ideas.

At the end of the brainstorming session, the client will choose which of the options that want to pursue and experiment with (one choice only).

The coach can explore the idea chosen and the reasoning behind with the coachee, helping her assess the implications: What assumptions you made here? How is it that this idea appeals to you? How will this idea help you reach your goal? What roadblocks do you see from achieving this idea? How can you overcome that, in case they happen? What would be the first step you can take tomorrow? What challenges you see in taking this step? How do you think you can resolve these challenges? How would you rate your commitment to this, on a scale from 1-10?

Doing/Being/Thinking actions

Action plans contain three types of action types: doing, being, and thinking actions. The coach will ask questions related to each type of action.

Most coaches focus on doing type of action plans, leaving behind the questions that would elicit a mindset change. In order to change behaviours, we also have to change how we think about ourselves and the world, so covering being and thinking is essential for the success of the coaching engagement.

Here are some examples of questions for each action type – doing/being/thinking:

Doing questions:

  • What can you do move forward?
  • What will be your next step?
  • Who do you plan to talk to after this meeting?
  • When during the week are you going to incorporate the new habit?
  • What are some things you can do?

Being questions:

  • What is a strength you will use more of in the coming weeks?
  • Who do you imagine to be that gives you more confidence?
  • How do you know you are becoming the person you want to be?
  • What qualities will you display more of in the coming week?
  • How can you hold yourself accountable for what you planned to do?

Thinking questions:

  • What is a word you can use to remind yourself that your confidence is strong?
  • What is a phrase that will motivate you when you think it?
  • What can you tell yourself each time you feel down?
  • What can you remind yourself about your new empowering belief?
  • What can you say to yourself when you make small progress in this journey?

Note: this technique is adapted from the training for Master Performance Coaching provided by JMC, and ran by MCC Wai K.

10. Planning and goal setting

Coaching is meant to help an individual go through a transformation, with different levels of depth, depending on needs. Setting goals and planning to reach them is an important component of the transformation journey.

Good goals are SMARTIES:

  • Specific: good goals are clear and specific
  • Measurable: you can easily measure that the goal was achieved
  • Achievable: good goals are not impossible
  • Relevant: good goals make sense in the bigger picture
  • Tracked: good goals are tracked (and trackable) on a regular basis
  • Inspired: the goals must inspire the client
  • Evaluate: the client constantly evaluates if she achieved her goals
  • Small Steps: good goals assume small achievable steps, that can encourage progress and keep the momentum going for the change process.

In the end, the coach has to help the coachee make her goals fun, create a reward system for herself when she achieves important milestones, and challenge paradigms, where the client considers the goal impossible to achieve.

11. Managing progress and accountability

Accountability – the degree of ownership that the coachee takes for the outcome of her actions and behaviours, is essential for the success of the coaching process.

The coach has to constantly assess the level of accountability of their client (and differentiate it from responsibility – completing or doing a job, regardless of the outcome), watch out for signs of low accountability and make the coachee aware of them, to elicit higher accountability.

Here are some signs of low accountability language:

  • I have tried my best, but…
  • I have done my part, now it’s up for the others to do theirs.
  • I don’t have enough support to complete this action.
  • Yes, I know I am responsible, but…

Here’s language that implies high levels of accountability:

  • I didn’t achieve the task, but I’ll get it done by the end of the week.
  • I have completed my part, I will now follow up with my colleagues to add the missing puzzles.
  • I don’t have enough support, so I am looking to get in touch with a former mentor to ask for help.
  • Yes, I am responsible for this, and I’m already getting in touch with my colleagues from Finance to complete it.

Managing progress doesn’t get enough attention in the coaching process, but it’s the essential step for long-term behaviour change. How the client continues her new behaviours, or completes her action plan depends on the coach-coachee partnership and support.

The coach will constantly support the coachee to manage the progress of her transformation journey, here are a few ideas on how:

  • The coach can encourage the client to celebrate small wins, that push the client forward towards their goals.
  • If the client loses track of the bigger picture, the coach will bring her back to her purpose and defined action plan. The coach always keeps her eyes on the vision, even if the coachee might lose track.
  • The coach helps the client to reach higher accountability, by making her aware of language that indicates lower level of accountability, or putting responsibility on someone else. High accountability can bring commitment to reach the goals.
  • The coach constantly acknowledges the client’s effort, which in turn increases her confidence and drive.
  • The coach helps the coachee to reframe her perception and perspective in a positive manner, that helps the coachee reach her goals.

These are some questions to manage progress:

  • From a scale of 1-10 how committed are you to reaching this goal?
  • What can you do to keep yourself on track with this goal?
  • From a scale of 1-10, how important is achieving this goal to you?
  • What support do you need to achieve this goal?
  • Who can help you keep accountable to reach this goal?
  • How do you plan to celebrate this achievement?
  • I am impressed by your commitment to reach this goals, despite the challenges you’re going through.
  • What happened in the last week that increased/decreased your intention to achieve this goal?
  • What did you observe in the last week about your commitment to achieve this goal?
  • What new strategies can you design to help you reach this goal, looking at how far you’ve achieved in the last month?

Note: this technique is adapted from the training for Master Performance Coaching provided by JMC, and ran by MCC Wai K.

If coaches don’t provide answers, what do coachees get?

In the end I would like to address a concern I hear for many people that didn’t try coaching: why would I get into a conversation, when the person can’t give me answers or doesn’t know more than me? (this is also great help if you want to convince your organisation to invest into coaching).

The C.L.E.A.R.S. model explains what the coachee gains from the coaching conversation:


Coaching enhances clarity, helps the client understand more about herself and the world. The coach uses powerful questions, listening and other methods to stimulate the client’s thinking process. The client finds his own answers and solutions through this process, and drives long-lasting change.


Coaching generates self-awareness – encouraging self-discovery, challenges and stretches the client’s perspectives – helps them move out of their comfort zones, expands her perspectives – helps clients consider more empowering alternatives, and is a good feedback source for the client – the coach shares observations with the client, that she can not see on her own.


Coaching elicits motivation and excitement, helping the client move forward and achieve their goals. Higher achievement helps with raising ones’s self esteem, which will push for higher achievement. It creates a reinforcing loop that can drive long-lasting change for the client.


The coach helps the client align her purpose, value, goals and action. This alignment can give an individual incredible amounts of energy and drive purposeful change and growth.


The coach believes fully in their client, that she has the resources and capabilities she needs to change her life. The coach will partner with the client to brainstorms strategies and action, and will share experiences and knowledge that will help the client move forward with her goals.


The coach becomes part of the supportive network of the client, which will hold her accountable for achieving her commitments, and will support her in her growth journey. With this support, the client can create the life that she dreams of and gives her meaning and purpose.

How to grow as a coach

I have gathered here resources from over 60 hours of training and two years of experimenting and reading. It’s a lot, so no need to get discouraged.

The purpose of this post is to answer potential questions about coaching, and having one place to suggest ideas and tools is very useful for me (hopefully helpful for you as well).

In the end, the best way to become a better coach is to combine practicing, with learning, applying new methods until you find your own, and constantly get feedback on your coaching.

There are three ways to grow as a coach that I discovered:

  1. Coach: as much as possible, for free, for 1 dollar, for a coffee, or for serious money if you’re up for it. The more you coach, the more your learn.
  2. Coaching circles (if you want to go with ICF, there’s a very good observation and feedback sheet): meet with other coaches, organise yourselves in triads (coach – coachee – observer) and practice the parts of coaching that you feel uncomfortable with.
  3. Training and reading: there are many ways to help a person gain clarity, ask powerful questions, listen, get centered to enter the coaching conversation, and so on. Get training, read as much as you can, and learn as much as possible. Then try to apply what you learned and see how it works for you and for your coachee.


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