Resist the temptation to be clever

I have often been asked by people who are unfamiliar with coaching, “How can you coach people in areas that you have no experience or knowledge of?”

I sometimes use this as an opportunity to help people obtain a clearer understanding of what coaching actually is.  I spend time explaining that coaching is not the same as mentoring. That it is not about specific knowledge or skills transfer. In fact, it can actually be an advantage to ‘not know’, as it makes it easier for the coach to ask totally naive questions with no pre-judgement.



To emphasise this point, I will often allude to the possible dangers that can emerge when you are too close to an area. When the coach is carrying their own ‘baggage’ around, they can slip into expressing their own views, or ask questions loaded with judgement. This can be one of the biggest challenges facing the internal coach. I worked as a coach within a corporate environment for a number of years. It was hugely rewarding, and offered a tremendous opportunity to be part of great change within the organisation. However, I know from personal experience, that when certain issues arose during coaching sessions, where I as the coach had specific knowledge about something, it presented me with a dilemma. I could, and sometimes did, inject a piece of knowledge that would help clarify some confusion, and help move the client past a particular obstacle.  Indeed, it would be wrong (and could be argued as unethical) not to. However, it is important to recognise that when you are doing that, you are no longer being a coach, and it is very important to tell the client that, so as to avoid any confusion about your role as a coach.

There is a real danger however, particularly for a new coach (as I found to my cost on occasions), that you may slip in and out of your coach role too many times, or for too long. The relationship may even morph into one that is no longer ‘coaching’, and into something else entirely. You may find yourself standing at a whiteboard, with marker pen in hand, explaining the thinking behind the latest strategy or reorganisation, and not actually moving their thinking forward in terms of personal development and growth. At this point you have become a teacher, an expert, or a manager, but, most certainly, not a coach. You may be lulled into believing that the ‘coaching’ is going well, and the client may send out signals that they are gaining lots from the sessions. Do not mistake their growing over-dependence on your knowledge for good coaching.

By all means inject knowledge if you have it, if it is relevant, and you feel it is of service to the client’s current issue within the session.  It’s possible that it may be of value to the client generally, but not specifically within the coaching scenario, in which case, simply make a note to speak at another time, and clearly outside of coaching.

If you decide it is relevant and vital to inject information, resist the temptation to elaborate, pontificate, or speculate.

Just ask,

  • “….so, how does that change the way you are thinking about things?”  or
  • “In what way will this serve you and your aspirations?”  or
  • “How will you incorporate this information into what you already know to help you move forward?”.

And then it is back to them.  If they ask for more, resist the temptation to go on being clever.  Ask them, “In what way will knowing more help you move things forward?”  or some similar question that gets them focusing on their own insights and awareness. That’s where their breakthroughs will come from; not from knowing more information about the ‘outside world’, which act merely as distractions and excuses for people not taking personal responsibility.

This usually helps people understand the nature of coaching more than they did before. If not, then the least I can do is offer to coach them so that they may experience the value for themselves.


If you feel that you or members of your management team would benefit from exploring ways to make substantial improvements to personal and/or collective effectiveness and productivity, please do get in touch.   Coaching has been proven to directly impact the bottom line. Simply  submit  your contact details on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to get in touch for an informal initial chat.

About me:  I enable people in business to operate more successfully.  You may be struggling to implement corporate strategy, you may want to get more productivity out of your teams but don’t know where to start,  or your people may not be having as effective conversations with each other as they could be. I will work with you to enable you to formulate more effective ways of leading, to raise awareness of blockers to successful ways of working, and ultimately to help you and your managers to lead more successfully.  



1 thought on “Resist the temptation to be clever

  1. Pingback: Coaching by nudges | Gyro Consulting Services

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