A Deep Dive into Applied Person-Centered Theory in Coaching
“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” - Carl Rogers
At Lumia, we are committed to delivering a coach training experience that is professional, but still fully human – emphasizing authenticity, transparency and a genuine connection between the coach and the client.
One of the first coaching theories that we teach is the Applied Person-Centered Theory. The reason is that it dovetails nicely with our coach training philosophies – a holistic approach that emphasizes the individual’s autonomy, dignity, and worth.
Let’s take a closer look at how an understanding of these principles can transform both you as a coach, and those you aim to support.
Where did Applied Person Centered Theory come from?
During the 1940s, American psychologist Carl Rogers upended the world of psychology and the then-dominant Freudian psychoanalytic approach with his Person-Centered Therapy.
Freud saw therapy as an experience where individuals needed to unearth buried unconscious thoughts with expert intervention. However, Rogers believed that humans held inside of them the tools, skills and abilities to change. He saw people as individuals capable of self-direction and positive growth.
The Person-Centered approach not only redefined the therapist-client relationship but also shifted the power dynamics. Clients became active participants in their healing journey.
Rogers’ legacy is not just confined to the world of psychology. His groundbreaking ideas about human potential, self-worth, and the power of empathy have left a lasting mark on modern society and influenced how we work as coaches.
Holding Space: The Heart of Person-Centered Coaching
Holding space for a coaching client is at the heart of Person-Centered coaching, but what does that actually mean?
The term "holding space" was made popular by writer Heather Plett. She describes holding space as "being willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they're on, without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome."
While that may look different in our personal lives, in the professional realm holding space with a coaching client means:
- Providing emotional safety
- Suspending the coach’s self-importance
- Practicing acceptance
The Person-Centered Coach believes that people:
- have worth, dignity, and deserve respect.
- are doing the best that they can.
- have the capacity and the right to self-direction.
- have the right to choose their own values.
- have the capacity to deal with their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
- have the potential for constructive change.
Core Conditions for Effective Person-Centered Coaching
Coaching Presence: The International Coaching Federation’s Code of Ethics highlights a coach's responsibility towards society, emphasizing the philosophy of “doing good” over merely “avoiding bad.” Part of practicing as an ethical coach means showing up for your client with Coaching Presence – being completely available and engaged with your client.
Empathy: This involves perspective-taking, resonating with another's emotions, and showing understanding.
Unconditional Positive Regard: Offering unwavering support and acceptance to clients.
The Key Techniques of Person-Centered Coaching
All person-centered coaching techniques involve strong active listening strategies. This involves both verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Pay attention to your eye contact, posture, body language, etc.
Reflection of Feeling
When reflecting feelings, the coach is attempting to identify emotions from the client’s verbal/nonverbal cues. An example of how a coach might do this would be:
- “Listening to you describe that situation, it sounds like it brought up some anger for you. Am I off base?”
- Clients often benefit from being provided with a guide, like a “feelings chart” to help identify and label feelings.
Reflecting what has been said is a way of letting your client know that they have been heard. With this, you are simply summarizing the key elements of what they told you back to them. So often, when people talk, the response they get is advice, sympathy, or being told the other person’s story. Paraphrasing rather than editorializing is an incredibly powerful tool when used correctly.
“Let me see if I understand...”
Clarifying allows you to ask the question and restate your client’s point to make sure that you heard correctly, and that you understand what the client has said. Again, it is allowing the client to know that they have been heard.
Silence is a powerful coaching tool. It allows time for the client to process and reflect. It is a way to “hold space” for clients. It can be incredibly uncomfortable for a coach when first using it, so get comfortable with a good long silence!
Open-ended questions are ones that require longer responses. The goal of coaching is to allow clients to tell their stories. Open-ended questions provide clients the opportunity to do this.
"Did you meet your project deadline?"
This really only gives the opportunity for a short “yes” or “no” response.
"How did you approach the challenges you faced during the project?"
This question invites more contemplation and gives the client a chance to examine and express their thoughts and feelings in depth.
A response designed to bring out discrepancies (i.e., inconsistencies), and encourage a resolution. Some examples of this include:
- a mismatch between the client’s words and facial expression
- a gap between their values and behavior
- misalignment between their goals and behavior
- Inconsistency between what they say and what they do.
- To challenge someone, it is essential to have an established relationship of trust, and make sure the experience is not adversarial!
A conscious, intentional technique in which the coach shares information about their life outside the coaching relationship. This involves transparency and being vulnerable, but it has to be done with care.
Keep in mind that you should be doing it for the client, not you. Disclosure does not mean oversharing. Oversharing crosses boundaries.
Resource: Authenticity vs. TMI in Coaching
Understanding and integrating the principles of the Applied Person-Centered Theory can pave the way for transformative journeys, both for coaches and their clients. At the center of it all is a foundation of care for the client and belief in their ability to achieve their goals – a beautiful and worthy view of the work of coaching in action.
"The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brené Brown
"Daring Greatly" by Brené Brown
Want to Become a Coach?
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power as a coach, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.