5 Things Never To Do As A Life Coach

We know that just about any error can serve as a springboard for growth. Even so, there’s a few coaching missteps we’d rather help you to avoid!

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

5 Mistakes Life Coaches Make (And How To Avoid Them)

As life coaches, we learn early on that almost any error can serve as a powerful springboard for growth and evolution. We’re encouraged to embrace imperfections and tone down those unruly inner critics! Even so, there’s still a few coaching missteps that we’d be better off avoiding. 

In this episode of The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, John and Noelle offer their Top Five, with examples for each. Get the quick summary below, and listen in for all the juicy details!

Mistake #1

Equating a nice brand or strong social media following with professional life coaching

While you don’t currently need a special credential, license, or degree to start a life coaching business, all coaches are not created equal. There are empirically based tenets developed by the ICF (International Coaching Federation) that govern the discipline of coaching, along with a code of ethics and international standards for operating a practice. 

The field of life coaching is tightening up, and this is a good thing! For a life coach who wants to really make an impact, the responsible thing to do is to get trained and certified. Those who have a strong following online, but haven’t been educated in the practice of professional coaching, run a higher risk of engaging in fraud… not to mention doing a disservice to themselves and the people they are engaging with.

Example: an untrained coach might say that they can create “healing” for their clients. While this is a lovely sentiment, you cannot ethically advertise “healing” as an outcome of coaching.

For a rundown of what an ethical life coaching practice entails, check out: The Updated ICF Core Competencies: What Life Coaches Need to Know.

Mistake #2

Making it all about you (in a life coaching session) 

There are many reasons why life coaches, mentors, and entrepreneurs use storytelling as an essential ingredient in their marketing strategies. Human beings have been using storytelling as a powerful way to teach and learn for thousands of years. We’re wired for stories - both telling and hearing them. 

We all have a story - that’s what makes you unique as a life coach! Your story will attract others to you, and can be a powerful signal for your ideal coaching clients. At Lumia, we encourage students in our life coach training program to never lose sight of your story… except when you’re inside a coaching session!

The filter for how to use a personal anecdote or example in a client session is very simple. When the impulse to share something from your life or experience arises, just ask yourself:

"Who benefits from this share?"

Sometimes, our own material comes up in a life coaching session. The client may be talking about something that triggers a memory for you. You’ve been through something similar and can relate. Before sharing it, consider:

  • Will telling this story contribute to my client being seen, heard and understood? 
  • Does sharing my experience contribute to my client discovering something new about themselves or their current situation?
  • Will my client gain a wider self-concept as a result of hearing this story?
  • Am I trying to impart a lesson or deliver a solution?
  • Does sharing this story meet my emotional needs, or theirs?

If it feels like your ego is in the driver’s seat, this share may be more for you than your client. That's OK! Just put a pin in it and refocus your attention on the client.

If, however, you believe the story does contribute to building trust, demonstrates empathy or understanding, or provides your client with something that can directly support their learning and self-discovery, go for it! Just remember to explore how it lands: asking for their reaction, reflections and insights on what you’ve offered.

Mistake #3

Giving advice

This is different from the last point about “making it all about you.” Advice is directly telling someone what they ought to do. Verbal cues to be aware of include:

  • You should consider…
  • You should do…
  • You should say…
  • You need to…

Coaching doesn’t mean you can never share a point of view. There are many ways to offer your ideas or make suggestions without being directive in a life coaching session. A few of our favorites include: 

  • Would you like me to model a response that I might give and then you can tell me what you think?
  • I have an idea for consideration, are you open to brainstorming with me?
  • There seem to be lots of different paths forward that are available. I can see a few but I am curious to learn more about what you see as the most viable course of action.

Notice how in all these examples that the client has the right of refusal and is firmly in the driver's seat? If you’d like to introduce an idea or suggestion, make sure you ask for permission, and check in with the client after sharing to find out what they think in response. When a coach continuously redirects to the client to be the decision maker, it reinforces that the client’s agency. 

For more on this topic, explore: If Life Coaches Don’t Give Advice, What Do They Do?

Mistake #4

Making assumptions 

As life coaches, we have no way of knowing or interpreting the internal workings of our clients. We cannot understand their unique way of seeing the world, or their lived experiences, without our clients giving us that direct information. This is why the ICF Code of Ethics very clearly specifies the need for professional life coaches to understand and demonstrate intersectional awareness. 

When we aren’t aware of how our own identities influence our experiences in life (both positive and negative), we’re less likely to recognize how our client’s identities in turn shape their experience. And despite our best intentions, we all operate on stereotypes, and unconscious bias can sometimes interfere with our ability to make a positive impact as a coach.

Some examples of important areas where we may be making assumptions about a client based upon our own lens/lived experience/point of view include:

  • Race
  • Gender expression
  • Immigrant status
  • Access or lack of access to generational wealth
  • Educational status
  • Family structure
  • Religion
  • Language barriers

For further resources on this topic, read: Recognizing & Overcoming Internal Bias as A Coach.

Mistake #5

Breaking confidentiality

Life coaching is not a privileged profession, but there is an absolute expectation of confidentiality between coach and client unless the client has explicitly waived it. 

Confidentiality in coaching must be in place before, during, and after working with a client. As a professional life coach, you may not disclose their identity or offer any other information about a prospective, current, or former client from the first point of contact forward. This applies even if someone contacts you to learn about your services but doesn’t end up hiring you.

Your clients need to know that if you are subpoenaed by a court of law, or if they threaten harm to themselves or others, you will have to breach confidentiality. During sessions, you also need to be mindful of devices like Alexa that may be recording what you are saying. As a coach, it’s your responsibility to be clear with your clients about the legal limits of confidentiality, or if you are holding the session in a place that is not completely private.

It’s fine if a client talks about you as their coach... in fact, we love nothing more than when they tell others what a great coach you are on social media! However, sharing about the relationship cannot go the other way around without explicit permission from your client. This includes testimonials and social media tagging/shares.

Need more guidance on how to use client testimonials without violating confidentiality? We’ve got you covered with this straightforward guide: The Power of Client Testimonials (And How to Get Them!)

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