The Quiet Coach

January 6, 2023


This is the very first edition of the TQC newsletter (congratulations or commiserations on being here from the very beginning). TQC stands for The Quiet Coach i.e., all of us who are interested in reflection and learning and growth as coaches. Hat tip to my colleagues
Meghna and Vandana for the name.

I’m making this very public commitment to all of you (shivers) that we will publish one post a week on matters of interest for beginner and practicing coaches. The intent is to keep our collective learning as coaches alive; in a form that’s short and easy to consume at your own pace.

I hope to also provide some nudges for you to experiment with new concepts and approaches. Please feel free to write to me at sunitha@navgati.in with questions you’d like addressed here (or if you’d like to contribute to the writing). So, fingers crossed, here goes!

Let’s start at the very beginning – which is a very good place to start (if you don’t get that very dated reference, please pause reading this and first go watch the movie, The Sound of Music).

How do you explain what you do as a coach?

I’m talking about the very first time you have to explain what coaching is – whether it’s at a party and someone says, “so what do you do?” or whether it’s to a stakeholder who wants an intervention for leaders in their organization or whether it’s the prospective client themselves.

The objective is that you present yourself in a way that is authentic, makes it clear what you have to offer the world and promotes an accurate picture of coaching. This is not a post about how to impress prospective clients; I see that as a natural outcome of clarity and credibility in your introduction.

Most of you, if you’ve done any amount of coaching so far, probably have a rough script for what you say when explaining what coaching is. Maybe just pause here for a moment, grab a sheet of paper and write down the key points you normally say before you continue reading (I warned you, there would be nudges).

In true coaching fashion, here are a set of questions for you to reflect on as you review your introduction.

What is the emphasis in your introduction on a problem centered explanation versus a growth centered one?

That’s the difference between saying “As a coach, my job is to help people solve their problems” vs “my job is to help people be the very best they can be”. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with the first one, but it could seem uninviting to people who don’t see themselves as having problems or who feel it’s not ok to get support to solve problems. I’ve found it’s more inclusive and more appealing to describe coaching as a process that helps people access their full potential.

What is the balance in your introduction between the outcomes of coaching and what the effort is?

So typical marketing advice would be to focus more on what the client will gain from coaching (i.e. the outcomes). For example, you’d probably prefer a doctor who talks about the pain relief you will experience rather than the details of the surgery.

However, coaching is a relatively new field (and coaches don’t always command the reverence that doctors do).

Introductions that focus very heavily on the outcomes (you will feel a greater sense of control; you will make decisions with more self-awareness) – could leave people with the sense that this is somewhat of a magical process.

Hence do make sure you explain the process as well (eg I will ask you questions that you may not have asked yourself; I will not judge you or your ideas in any way whatsoever; I will listen without trying to tell you what you should do)

How simple is your explanation?

“The essence of coaching is raising awareness and responsibility to unlock potential and maximize performance”. Perfectly accurate but it isn’t exactly the way people speak. Using language that the client understands is especially important given the kind of equation we’re trying to establish with them.

Think of the last conversation you had with a financial planner– many of them use language that lay people don’t understand either because they don’t have the time/mindset to simplify or because they want to create the sense of expertise (that they speak a language you don’t; understand concepts that you don’t).

In coaching we’re working very hard to create a psychologically equal relationship so avoid using jargon or complexity that takes away from that.

Metaphors work really well to explain what coaching is. As part of our ICF accredited program, I ask beginner coaches to come up with their own metaphor for the coaching process and I’m always amazed at how compelling and interesting those are.

How inviting are you making coaching sound?

I find a lot of coaches going to great pains to establish what coaching is not. Justifiably so because coaching is a relatively new field and every coach has experienced the pain of a client being disappointed that you are not providing answers.

However when all the coach says is “I will not give you solutions; I will not share my perspective; I will not evaluate your ideas” and nothing more, then the client is quite justified in wondering what a coach does do.

Pay attention to whether your explanation reflects the value of the service you provide.

What are you saying about your style of coaching?

It helps prospective clients to understand your personal philosophy as a coach, in simple language. For example, a strengths-based coach might say “I believe that when people operate from their strengths, they experience satisfaction and success” A highly empathetic coach might say“I believe when people feel safe, they can face hard facts about themselves and my job is to create that safety”.

For example, my coaching is very informed by my training as a therapist so I would say something like “I believe that all of us made a set of decisions in early childhood to help us cope and survive; not all those decisions are still relevant to us today. My role would be to help you evaluate which of those you would like to hold on to and which you would like to let go of”.

People need to not just understand what coaching is; they also need to get who you are as a coach. I agree that what you are saying may sound generic in your first few hours of coaching, but you will start to develop your own unique view of coaching – make sure your introduction reflects that.

How comfortable are you talking about your expertise as a coach?

I’ve seen many extremely competent coaches really struggle with this. We tend to apply either/or thinking – “either I can be self-effacing about my coaching work or I can be like that boor on LinkedIn who keeps boasting about the work he/she has done”.

The objective is to find the “and” – can you find a way to talk about your competence as a coach in an authentic way, without boasting or embellishment?

Stories really help here as they do everywhere else. Telling a client “I have over 100 hours of coaching with clients in the retail sector” is not as compelling as telling the story of a leader you worked with who was struggling to develop her next line of leadership (without betraying client confidentiality in any way).

This is not boasting – it is helping your prospective client get a sense of the kind of coach you are so that they can decide if you are right for them or not.

How much do you involve the other person in your explanation?

This would be asking questions about their current understanding of coaching and their need; listening carefully and empathizing. It role models what you will be doing as a coach and also helps you understand if there are any dynamics you should be watchful of (e.g. a stakeholder wanting to use coaching to give feedback that he/she is not prepared to give directly).

Lastly, how much does your introduction reflect your own style?

Coaching is a partnership between coach and client. The coach helps the client to achieve their personal best and to produce the results they want in their personal and professional lives. Coaching ensures the client can give their best, learn and develop in the way they wish.

This is accurate but doesn’t in any way reflect the personality of the coach. If you have a sense of humor, use it. If you are naturally empathetic, make sure that reflects. If you’re passionate about people making the most of themselves, let that shine through.

I remember many years ago, my partner and I waiting to make our introduction as coaches to a group of coaching clients and their stakeholders. There was another senior coach from another organization who stood up before us and said “50% of you in this room are going to be redundant in the next five years if you don’t do something; my job is to help you stay relevant”.

Totally not our style. Being ourselves definitely meant that some leaders chose to work with that other coach and not with us; however, we were happy because it’s better to find issues with alignment earlier on in the process.

Here’s what you can do to strengthen your explanation of what coaching is

Take some time to reflect on what coaching means to you – which clients have you enjoyed working with, where did you feel a sense of satisfaction that you gave your best; what
what did you bring to the table in those situations?

Make your pitch; say it out aloud. Ask people close to you, especially any particularly honest friends, what impact it has on them. Keep practising and honing it as you go.

If you have any questions or comments on this, please write to sunitha@navgati.in


11 responses to “The Quiet Coach”

  1. Hema Gopalarathnam says:

    Sunitha as a budding coach, very early in my practice hours, I found this blog extremely useful. I have experienced great coaches and have a very high standard for myself. Hence anxious about even doing practice sessions. The blog is a wonderful reflection of your coaching style – honest, vulnerable, extremely insightful, subtle and inspires both reflection and action. I liked the nudges and the effective examples… I liked most the powerful questions… as you rightly said in true coaching style…

    Your commitment to publish every week is a promise of a great gift I’m very grateful for.
    Thank you Sunitha for giving so freely and generously. More power to you…

    • Blog Admin says:

      Thank you so much Hema – I can vouch for your effectiveness as a coach; look forward to seeing you trust yourself more 🙂

  2. Sangita Kamath says:

    Love the way you write. Crisp and clear. And humorous,too!

  3. Meenakshi Shivram says:

    Thank you so very much, Sunitha, for sharing this, adding value and for nudging. This is a great start to 2023 – to committing to write once a week. This inspires me to think more deeply about my role and purpose as a coach – beyond jargon and beyond the compulsions of success.

  4. Murthy PNS says:

    Wonderful initiative from Navgati. Many thanks for your idea to help coaches especially the juniors with practical tips and suggestions.

  5. Selva says:

    Fantastic! So many nuggets of wisdom in your post. look forward to reading more on this newsletter.

  6. Neetu says:

    Hi Sunitha, thank you for this gift to start the year!
    The article has wisdom and nudges. And I am going to start with incremental improvements – one one element per month to strengthen my introduction as a coach and the coaching process.

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