How do you create structure in conversations that are complex and unpredictable?


Projects / Sample Written Feedback



Here is a brief sample of feedback offered on one of ICF’s core competencies:

Coaching Presence

Marker 1: Coach acts in response to both the whole person of the  Client and what the Client wants to accomplish in the session.
Marker 2: Coach is observant, empathetic, and responsive.
Marker 3: Coach notices and explores energy shifts in the Client.
Marker 4: Coach exhibits curiosity with the intent to learn.
Marker 5: Coach partners with the Client by supporting the Client to choose what happens in the session.
Marker 6: Coach partners with the Client by inviting the Client to respond in any way to the Coach’s contributions and accepts the   Client’s response.
Marker 7: Coach partners with the Client by playing back the      Client’s expressed possibilities for the Client to choose from.
Marker 8:  Coach partners with the Client by encouraging the      Client to formulate his or her own learning.



  • Coach exhibits a thoughtful, patient presence that clearly demonstrates a genuine interest in helping the Client. Coach also brings warmth and positive energy into the dialog in a style that feels very consistent and stable throughout the session.

  • Coach acts in response to the Client’s wants in the session, and comes off as being observant, thoughtful, and respectful.

  • Coach is clearly comfortable creating spontaneous relationship with the Client, and is willing to take the Client’s lead in going with whatever the Client brings to the dialog, including at times strong emotion, self-judgment, and self-criticism.

  • Coach appropriately partners with Client by focusing on and playing back the Client’s expressed possibilities for herself.

  • Coach also partners with Client by asking questions, both at the check-in midpoint and while closing the session, that invite the Client to state in her own words what she is realizing or learning from the dialog, to re-state her own expressed possibilities and follow-up actions, and to prioritize among those actions for homework between sessions.

  • Finally, Coach also demonstrates partnership by supporting the Client in choosing what will happen next in the session.

Developmental Recommendations:

  • There are a number of places where the Client’s energy and underlying emotions appear to shift dramatically (from self-criticism and despair into what feels like power and optimism). Did the Coach notice this? My guess is that similar shifts in energy and emotion may be happening for the Client “outside of” the coaching sessions, and I wonder how aware of this the Client might be and what tools or strategies she may be using to manage this consciously? Coach might consider strategies to bring these shifts to the Client’s attention - since doing so may deepen and enhance the Client’s awareness of Self and possible forward movement.

  • More specifically, for example, in this session Coach might have paused the session and reflected back his own experience of the Client’s emotions by observing something like: “As you talk I am noticing that right now the energy and emotion under your voice seems to have changed. I feel a sense of excitement and power in my own heart and chest, and . . . you sound excited as you talk. Are you noticing this?”

  • How might offering this sort of observation to the Client have shifted the discussion? How would this sort of observation have made the Client feel?

  • Coach has a tendency to respond to what feels like “language of the heart” with “questions of the mind.” More specifically, when Client expresses emotion in her voice, the Coach tends to ask analytical questions that appear to have the effect of closing off the Client’s emotion and drive her into her head to respond in a more analytical way. In the power dynamic and energy between Coach and Client, especially in these moments, it feels like the Client is working hard and adjusting herself to “match” the energy that the Coach is bringing to the session. In this way, it feels like the Coach is “leading the dance” within the dialog, rather than allowing the Client to lead or partnering and co-creating what might happen alongside the Client. Did the Coach notice this?

  • For example, when talking about her own work the Client asserts “I truly care” and offers examples that show her passion to illustrate the truth of her deeply felt concerns. As she offers these examples, she seems to become more expressive and the cadence of her voice becomes quicker, the tone of her voice modulates up, and she gets a bit louder. At these points, Coach might have taken a moment to reflect this. In response to all of this, Coach pauses the session and replies with questions like - what steps do you need to take in order find new Clients? What plans and strategies do you need in place to act on these steps? Coach might have offered something along the lines of: “As you talk about your own work, and the brand you aspire to offer, I am hearing some deeply help values show up in what you are saying . . . along with what sounds like some powerful emotions under your voice. Would you mind if we paused for a moment to explore some of these values and feelings?”

  • Where might the Coaching session have gone if the Coach had done so? Coach seems to maintain dialog at the “level of ideas” - when the Client herself was pushing in the direction of “passion, inspiration, and heart.”

  • Client seems to have been consistently driving the dialog in the direction “of heart.” The Client’s vocabulary each time she talked about her work seemed deeply emotional, with statements like: “I love this part of my work . . . this is so alive for me.” What opportunities are in this expression of feeling that the Coach may have missed?

Suggested Actions to Consider:

  • Re-listen to the recording once, all the way through without pause. Instead of listening to the surface level “meaning and content” of the conversation, listen for the flow of energy and feeling beneath the ideas. Also pay attention to any evidence of the “power dynamics” between the Coach and the Client, paying attention in particular to evidence of how the questions Coach asks are affecting/impacting the Client.

  • Re-listen to the recording a second time, with a note pad and pen. In every instance where the Coach’s questions seem incongruous with the Client’s expressed feelings and emotions, pause recording and take a few minutes to reflect on and jot down three alternative questions, observations, or statements Coach might have made in this moment. Focus should be placed on statement or questions that may have been more clearly responsive to the whole person of the Client in this moment.

  • Suggest also that the Coach develop a “pause practice” that will help him develop the habit of stopping, breathing, and “checking in” with his own feelings and body throughout the conversation with the Client. We can discuss this idea further when we talk.


What does it look like to cultivate lasting partnership and trust with Clients?