The Quiet Coach – 13

May 9, 2023

Concluding our series on becoming naturally therapeutic

If you’ve encountered this post first, please take a look at the previous two in this series.
All three posts are based on the therapeutic traits that Jacquelyn Small describes in her lovely book “Becoming naturally therapeutic” – and while coaches aren’t therapists, there is much we have in common and so understanding these traits can be very helpful for practising coaches.


This is the act of sharing our own feelings, attitudes and experiences with a client in an effort to help them.

Here are two examples

Client I’ve been thinking about how to give feedback to my manager that she’s living in a bubble; I’d like to think through how I handle that conversation.
Coach Oh yes, I’ve been there too. When I was in my last job, I had this manager who really wasn’t competent (launches into a long story)

Client (looking really troubled) I’m really anxious about the future of my team – I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking about what’s going to happen, if there will be layoffs. And I just can’t let anyone see me like this – if I talk to anyone at work, they will think I’m weak.
Coach I know how you feel. It’s been tough for me as a leader to show my anxiety too…..I’ve been told all my life that leaders have to be strong and not display any concern….have you heard that too?
Client Yes!

Which one is a good example of self-disclosure? I’m hoping you say the second because otherwise, I’ve written these really badly.

Good self-disclosure helps the client normalise their feelings or reactions; extremely helpful when the client is feeling alone or judging themselves for being a certain way. It depends a great amount upon timing and on the intent of the coach in sharing it. When done well, the client feels safe, seen and accepted – without feeling like the coach has made it about themselves.

Can you think of examples from your own work where self-disclosure on your part helped the client?


This is a skill used to bring people face to face with reality when the coach observes a discrepancy between

  1. What the client is saying and your perception of what they are experiencing
  2. What they are saying and what you heard them say earlier
  3. What they are saying to you in this moment and their actions in everyday life

Unfortunately confrontation has become a loaded word with negative connotations (“I’m going to confront my friend about her lie”) – here we’re talking about helpful confrontation which brings the client into more direct contact with their own experience.

But this has the possibility of harm so you have to be very careful in how and when you use it in coaching; seek supervision before you do it in case you are unsure.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself before deciding to use confrontation with a client

  1. Is there enough trust between me and the client?
  2. Am I confronting behaviours that my client can do something about?
  3. Am I making my confrontation positive and constructive rather than negative and punitive?
  4. Am I being direct and clear?
  5. Am I representing facts as facts, feelings as feelings and inferences as inferences?
  6. Have I told my client what is motivating me to confrontation?
  7. Will my client see it as an example to self-explore?
  8. Are they open to seeing how they are experienced by others?
  9. Can the client tolerate the discomfort that may result from the confrontation?
  10. Do they believe I care about them?

Here are some examples of how a coach can handle confrontation in a sensitive and delicate manner. The book describes five different kinds of confrontation – in all of them, as a coach, make sure you ask for permission and make it clear that this is your perception/observation and that you are interested in hearing how the client sees it.

Experiential confrontation

When the coach observes a discrepancy between what the client is saying and how they are saying it

Client I think I’m ok to manage this meeting (drumming fingers on the table and shaking his leg as he says this).
Coach I see that you are looking somewhat restless as you say that – am wondering what’s going on underneath that statement.

Strength confrontation

When the client is “pretending weakness” in the area where the coach knows or suspects the client has strength.

Client (drooping in chair) I just don’t know how to go about building relationships with stakeholders.
Coach Is it ok if I challenge you a little on that? A couple of weeks ago you were talking about your last job and all the meaningful relationships you built. You spoke about five or six clear strategies that you used to establish those relationships. What’s going on for you today when you say you don’t know how to do this?

Weakness confrontation

When the coach observes a client playing tough to avoid an obvious difficulty they are having.

Client (looking defiant and agitated) I have no friends at work and I. Just. Don’t. Care. (almost spitting out the words)
Coach (gently) I’m hearing you say you don’t care but I’m sensing anger underneath that – the image that comes to mind is of a child who’s being ignored on the playground. How do you feel as I say that?

Action confrontation

When the client is avoiding movement towards an agreed upon goal

Client I know I had said I would get feedback from my stakeholders but somehow that didn’t happen; lots of things came up.
Coach Is it ok if I share something? I’ve noticed a couple of times in our work that when you decide to take an action that involves conversation with the senior people in your life, something seems to get in the way and you don’t take those actions. You’re very committed to other actions and they get done so I’m wondering what’s going on for you here.

Factual confrontation

When the client is saying something that is clearly factually incorrect and the coach shares some facts to correct that.

Client If I don’t get a job in three months, I will be deported.
Coach I’m wondering if that is true – I seem to remember you telling me that you had two years from the time you completed your degree to find a job and it’s only been six months since you graduated?

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