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09 Nov, 2009

To suggest or not to suggest – that is the question

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Personal Success

The question of whether or not professional coaches SHOULD or SHOULD NOT give advice has been the subject of countless debates in recent years.

The Coaching Academy’s Kris Robertson provides an opinion.

Kris RobertsonRespected coaches such as US Coaching CEO Dave Buck of ‘Coachville’, a staunch supporter of coaches offering advice said ‘The client does not have all the answers.  If they did they wouldn’t need to hire you’, and Michael Neill, author, radio presenter, Master NLP Trainer and the man Paul McKenna describes as ‘the finest success coach in the world today’ said ‘This idea of not giving advice comes from some bizarre idea that your clients are so pathetic and helpless that if you tell them what to do they have to do it’.

On the other hand, The Coaching Academy, Europe’s leading Coach Training Organisation, teach their students that the purest form of coaching is often the most beneficial for the client and in this scenario, there is no room for advice.  Kris Robertson, Operations Director at The Coaching Academy explains:

The Coaching Academy is a keen advocate of the non-directive approach to coaching.  Myles Downey says that coaching is ‘the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of others’, a definition which is supported internationally across the industry.

However many coaches differ on their definition of coaching and as a result, the services on offer can be very different.

Firstly it is important to differentiate between using coaching skills and working as a professional coach.  Coaching skills such as rapport building, listening, questioning, goal setting and belief challenging are, after all, fantastic skills to have in a variety of disciplines including mentoring, consulting, therapy, counselling etc.  Working as a professional coach however is about using these skills, working as a catalyst in helping a client move forward towards the goals they set for themselves – and by definition, a catalyst facilitates change without changing itself.    Through offering advice, suggestion or leading a client down a path the coach sees as beneficial, disempowers the client, takes away their ownership of the goal and action, implies that the coach is the expert on the clients’ topics and issues and denies the client the satisfaction of personal discovery and achievement.

Is it any wonder that there is a certain amount of ignorance, confusion and mixed messages in the coaching community around the definition of coaching when mentors, consultants and coaches are all offering the same service?  If professional mentors have been there, done that and got the t-shirt to be able to offer advice to those taken under their wing; how is the perception of this intervention different to a coach offering advice and solution?  It is akin to including a croissant as part of a Full English Breakfast or a footballer picking up the ball and running with it.

Empowering the client to approach their goals, obstacles, actions and personal discovery of the way forward that fits who they are, is what distinguishes coaching from other helping professions,

Click here to find out more about our Personal Performance Coaching Diploma…

Happy Coaching!

8 Responses to "To suggest or not to suggest – that is the question"

1 | Maggie Currie

November 10th, 2009 at 12:00 pm


Hi Kris,

A very well written article. I was taught by CA that non directive coaching is the way to go and that is what I have practiced since qualifying some years ago. I have found that most of my clients are capable of having the answers drawn out of them. They are often surprise themselves but they just needed to be encouraged to think in a different way and to believe in themselves.

I am afraid I don’t agree with Jon Daniels. By asking the right questions, such as ‘where can you go to find out the information you need about your business idea’, then the answers are found and an amazing level of understanding is achieved by the client.

2 | Sue Atkinson

November 10th, 2009 at 12:44 pm


Q “When is a coach not a coach?”
A “When he’s a Mentor”

Hi Kris
This is a really good balanced article and I am prompted to give my two pennyworth. When I trained with The Coaching Academy you made it very clear in our conversations that you did not agree with coaches giving advice and I have to confess, at the time, I didn’t agree with you (cocky little trainee that I was!)

Well, here I am, two years later, taking it all back! I whole heartedly agree that the deepest, most long lasting coaching experience comes from the coach facilitating the client to find the answers from within themselves.

That’s not to say the coach can’t point the client in the right direction when it comes to practical answers – however, the problem is, when we approach coaching with the green light to give advice in general, there’s the danger that the inexperienced coach can so easily slip into being too directive overall. Then we turn into being a mentor.

Much better to have a non-directive base line and bring in the odd exception to the rule than to end up the other way round. Being non-directive is by far the most rewarding experience both for the client and the coach and I am so grateful to you Kris, for putting me on that track!

Take my advice and keep up the good work!

3 | Peter

November 10th, 2009 at 1:20 pm


With so much information on the web and elsewhere a sufficiently motivated client will find it on their own or with some coaching.

Taking action is very individual and no two people are the same so I am even more reluctant to offer that.

Remember there is no low motivation, only poor rapport.

4 | Kris Robertson

November 10th, 2009 at 1:30 pm


Thanks Jon

Agree that direction is sometimes necessary for a client in which case they should hire a mentor and not a coach.
Or a professional who is clear that they offer some kind of combination approach.
I have incidentally helped many a coach start up their own business without offering them a single suggestion. The actions they often set themselves to go away and do involve speaking to different experts to fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
Thanks for your comment! I love this debate!

Kind Regards


5 | Jon Daniels

November 10th, 2009 at 2:02 pm


Let me throw another log on the fire of this debate then :-)

I dont see why you would say “where can you find this information?” when your client has hired you for your excellence in that particular niche. If I have an exercise to prove a point which might be along the lines of “Just go do this then lets talk about it” I see that as what my clients are paying me for. The result is still them making their own decisions after their own learning experience by working with me.

At the same time I can point them to other experts that I feel would be of benefit to them.

It is always the clients choice on what decision they make, and in my area, I positively encourage any stepping up and speak out for what they want instead of listen to other people.

6 | Kim

November 12th, 2009 at 11:44 am


I am still working through my diploma, but with one of my practice clients I adopted an approach in one session that I picked up from you Kris. It involved saying something like “Research has shown that…. (or there is a great book that says….) , so how could you do… ?”. The ‘client’ didn’t like it at all, tellling me that I was leading him too much and I should listen and let him find his own way.
On the other hand, while coaching a friend of mine in a pro bono session, I was careful to avoid any sort of suggestion at all, and my ‘client’ got totally stuck – I felt that he wanted me to give him the answers. This was despite me having carefully explained to him that it was not my role as a coach to do so.
So, is the answer that it all depends on the client and maybe a bit of prompting can be a good thing if used judiciously rather than gratuitously?


7 | Claire

November 17th, 2009 at 11:49 am


Hi there
I am only at the very beginning of my diploma in Corporate and Executive coaching and just finding my feet. It did feel very difficult to begin with not to give advice or feedback even when the client asked for it. I stood by ‘the rules’ and got some great feedback:
“I guess I was most surprised at how non-directive the role of the coach is. Thinking about it though I’m guessing that this is exactly what’s required. I also considered the flip side of this – i.e. directional coaching – and I’m not sure that would necessarily result in any buy-in to my final decision”
This has enabled me to have the conversation upfront about why I won’t give feedback and also to have a better response to give clients when they say “what do you think?”
Also in response to what Kim has said about suggesting books or bringing up research, I have found this useful to give to clients at the end of the session, after they have worked out what they want to do (or are on their way) as further readings.

8 | Oma

December 16th, 2009 at 1:43 pm


With the right skills you will find that you do not need to give advice. If a coach does not know how to ask such eliciting questions, then a skills up-grade might be just what they need. I learned the power of asking such questions on an NLP course. With questioning you can draw out information that the client didn’t even know they had. Or you can lead them onto their own path.

Besides, people generally resist being told what to do, and often don’t follow through. But when they “discover” such info, they “own” their solution and are more likely to go with it.

Helping your clients to grow through insightful questions helps them to become self-reliant, which is what we want for them in the end. I let clients know that I cannot give advice, only facilitate solutions. I’d be happy to point them to a consultant for advice.

Incidentally, most insurance policies don’t cover coaches for giving advice. And professional bodies don’t generally recommend it either.

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