How Coaches Help Their Clients Make Hard Decisions

John and Noelle discuss why it can be hard to make decisions, along with coaching techniques to help clients set goals, sort information, and take action.

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!

How Coaching Supports Strong Decision Making

When we talk about the outcomes of life coaching, there are some stock phrases that are often tossed around include: 

“Accomplish your goals.”  

“Build stronger relationships.” 

“Communicate more effectively.”  

All of these are true, but one of the factors that is often overlooked (or at least not explicitly spoken about) is the strategy and specific behaviors that are required to create those sweeping outcomes. 

What gets in the way of goal accomplishment?

In today’s fast moving society, we’re hit with far more information and options in a given day than our brains were designed to process. And yet, as adults we rarely take time to sit down and strategize from a 360 data driven perspective. 

Instead, most people default into making quick decisions based on limited data, confirmation bias, and emotion.

Enter the coach.

The structured process of coaching itself cajoles our clients out of their emotional brain and into the rational brain so that non-biased data can be evaluated.

How coaching leads to better decisions

What’s inherent in the process of coaching is the coach’s strategic partnership with the client.

A client comes to the table because there is a problem they want to solve or a state of being they want to achieve. Their path forward involves setting a future vision and designing action steps, measurements for progress, and markers for accountability along the way.

In order to do any of these things, a coach and client must come together to dump out all of the available information, evaluate data, and source possible solutions. From there, the client must make decisions about how to proceed - with the support and encouragement of their coach.

Support for decision making is built into life coach training, and is one of the core benefits that the client receives from coaching. Here’s what that looks like in practice.

Step 1: Coach and client examine the goal itself. 

The theoretical underpinnings that the coach is working from at this stage come from goal setting theory, which in and of itself is a rich discipline. A simple framework for walking a client through this process begins by asking: 

Is the goal itself achievable?  

To assess whether a goal is realistic, coach and client examine factors that may include: blockers, stakeholders, measurements, timeline, and access to resources. 

Based on the available information, the client will then be able to make an informed decision on how to proceed. This also gives them the knowledge necessary to set realistic expectations and generate a game plan for involving others and obtaining whatever resources may be required to accomplish the goal.

Step 2: Experiment, evaluate, and adjust

Once the coach and client are engaged and moving down the road toward goal attainment, consistent reflection is required. Again, we build the same aspects of rational decision making into this stage of the process.

Once the client takes an action step, coach and client then take time to cull the data. With each subsequent step toward the goal, there’s an opportunity for reflection: 

  • How did it go?
  • How did it feel?
  • Is this a step that needs to be repeated?
  • Is there more to learn?
  • Are there additional things to do?

It doesn’t matter if the client’s goal is dating for the first time after divorce or mapping a brand overhaul for a major corporation! This process applies across personal and professional scenarios alike.

The act of creating space for evaluation and confirming data with a non-judgemental party invites the client to be honest about what they see, hear, think and feel. This leads to informed decision making around what they might next learn, say or do.

Do People Really Need A Coach For This?

Why is it important to have these conversations with a coach instead of friends or family? In a word: bias.  

Whether they are conscious of it or not, anyone who is personally connected to the client’s life is likely to have a biased opinion and an agenda. The fact that a life coach does not have any stake in the outcomes of the client’s life is powerful. 

The coaching relationship offers a client freedom to take a 360 view. It also generates independent thought that is less likely to come from someone close to the client.

One aspect of coaching that supports the client in strong decision making is the communication technique of mirroring. This is a form of active listening that’s taught in coach training, and isn’t typically practiced in our everyday relationships. 

Part and parcel to the coaching process is the coach’s ability to listen deeply and repeat back to the client what they heard - both literally and emotionally.

We can’t always see ourselves clearly. 

When we speak, we often cannot repeat back to ourselves what we said, and certainly can’t repeat back to ourselves how we sounded. A good coach can compassionately hold up the mirror to help their clients see it all: the good, bad, or ugly.

Mirroring gives a client the information they need to make choices about how they want to respond to what’s been reflected back to them.

Oftentimes, a client believes the coach is a genius when all they have done is simply repeat the client’s own words back to them! The reason for that is that the client has a deep inner knowledge of their life, context, and deepest desires. Sometimes they simply need a hand so that can be drawn out and laid on the table for consideration.

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