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Coaching: Knowing-Self, being at Choice

How coaching gives you agency, and ownership - Consciousness, Choice and Control

Coaching characteristics

Carl Rogers was something of an optimist. A clinical psychologist, he suggested three qualities that therapists might exhibit, acknowledging that individuals (in the case of therapy - ‘clients’) have expertise of self, and an underlying aspiration towards personal growth.

Coaching is often regarded as distinct from therapy (and there is no suggestion here that it is the same as therapy) in that it is focused on the present and future (rather than looking back at the past). Like Rogers’ view though, in coaching too there is this belief that the person we are working with (‘the coachee’) is both resourceful and whole. Just as with Rogers’ belief, a coach has

  • empathetic understanding (acting as a mirror for the coachee so they can see themselves more truly to build deep insight and a sense of agency)

  • genuineness (sometimes referred ‘congruence and authenticity’ by Rogers; being about alignment to self, openness, vulnerability, and honesty);

  • and unconditional positive regard (never judging the coachee);

Rogers Client centred model

Empathic understanding

“I know you. You know you. And I know that you know that I know you”

(White Goodman - character from the film Dodgeball)

Coaching is a relational process. The importance of the coach ‘tuning into’ the coachee is crucial. Understanding what is said, what is thought, what is felt, with genuine curiosity and positive intention is very much the basis of an effective coaching partnership.

Some might refer to this ‘understanding’ between coach and coachee as ‘empathic understanding’.

Interestingly, Daniel Goleman explores the role of empathy within the leadership context, and frames this with reference to his work on emotional intelligence (EQ). The interview here (Different Kinds of Empathy - YouTube) outlines a granular approach to understanding empathy as i) cognitive empathy (I think like you think); ii) emotional empathy (I feel like you feel); and iii) a empathic concern (I care about you and your welfare).

Whilst a coach may exhibit varying levels and types of empathy with the coachee, the coaching process can add an additional level of complexity as it can serve the coachee to deepen insight and ‘expertise of self’. Powerful questioning and (re)-framing techniques enable the coachee to deepen self-empathy (as opposed to empathy between coach and coachee). This may look like:

  • Cognitive empathy - I understand more clearly how I think / I have other ways I can think (about an issue)

  • Emotional empathy - I understand more clearly how I feel / can explore and develop a wider range of emotions (including the ability to shift from negative emotions, (often generated by intrinsic negativity bias - see ) towards more positive perspectives)

  • Care and concern - shifting from underdeveloped habits of self-care, towards an understanding of the importance of investing in self (sometimes in order to serve others). Metaphorically referred to as ‘applying the oxygen mask to self’

Congruence and authenticity

“Be congruent, be authentic, be your true self” (Mahatma Gandhi)

In coaching there is no hierarchy. The coach, while having a level of expertise and experience in the practise of coaching, does not offer advice. Yes, the purpose of the coaching is to create an opportunity for development and growth, but not through advice giving.

It is through deep self-reflection that the coachee develops both insight and perspective that leads to ‘choice’. Self-determination is at the heart of this process and the resultant sense of agency is important. Self-generated options and commitments tend to ‘stick’ better than those at are suggested to us.

As such, the coach acts in the service of the coachee – supporting self-exploration of issues brought to the coaching session; calling out observations and assumptions (made by the coachee); acknowledging own feelings and thoughts (the coach is transparent); not leading nor following, but partnering. Both recognise that there are things to learn through the process as well as things to teach each other.

This allows for both to be accessible, approachable, and sincere. Congruence in a coaching relationship therefore leads to the accurate matching of a person's experience with awareness.

Unconditional Positive regard

“In a relationship, we are nourishment for each other. So we have to select the kind of food we offer the other person, the kind of food that can help our relationships thrive”

Author: Thich Nhat Hanh

As Rogers was in many ways an optimist, he believed that people are not ‘fixed’ nor ‘done to’. Similarly, a coach partners with the coachee in the belief that they can help set the preconditions that allow for agency (self-determination and choice,) and the emergence and realisation of aspiration (setting and achieving objectives towards personal growth).

Coaching provides a relational space for communication. This is without judgement (in the sense of rejection or being dismissive), and is built around an acknowledgement that whilst there are many positive characteristics and traits (strengths-based coaching) a coachee brings to a context/ interaction, we are inherently flawed.

There is an acceptance that we are not as perfect as we might otherwise be without some supported change. This acceptance (‘congruence and authenticity’) allows us to accept comment on how we might improve (not judgement, but from a place of discernment). The ‘comment’ is self-directed ie the coachee observes self and commits to new behaviours that are seen as advantageous and contributing towards a desired aspiration.

The coachee has to want to change, or at least has to be unhappy enough with the status quo to consider how things can be different. The crafting of the coach is to remove the inertia that comes from self-judgement and saboteur thinking (limiting beliefs) and to build positive self-regard (‘I can be the change I want to be’ - coachee).

Much of this comes from insightful observations that the coach makes. For example, a coachee may note something they do., perhaps specific competence. There is an inherent assumption by the coachee that this is commonplace. And yet, the coach may frame this as a strength (a resource) and pose a question related to how this ‘strength’ might serve them in another context. In so doing, the power of acknowledgment is building positive self-regard is modelled.

For the coachee, there needs to be a discernible gain. A benefit (what will be different and better) or relevance (how can I use this?). The benefits of gain need to outweigh the problems associate with not changing.

For some, and quite often for those in leadership roles, it can be quite challenging to consider the benefits to self. For those that frame their purpose as leaders around the principles of ‘servant leadership’ (a philosophy / leadership style in which the goal of the leader is to serve, distributing leadership, placing the needs of the employees first and helping people develop and perform as highly as possible), focusing on benefits to self can be particularly challenging. This may even be framed as ‘selfish’.

As such, the coach will want to honour the principle of unconditional positive regard by ensuring acknowledgment of the benefits to self, whilst framing how these perceived benefits may also be advantageous to others too.


A coach’s way of being can very much honour the principles that Carl Rogers espoused. The inherent belief in the person in front of you (the coachee) is core to the coaching process. Partnering without judgement, engaging with empathy, and focusing on ‘the positive’ and future are also important characteristics. Coaching is about reality, and not necessarily happiness. By creating the conditions for deepening self-understanding and insight, the coach supports the coachee to develop greater Consciousness; a sense of being at Choice; and greater Control (agency) in the paths identified and the path chosen.

Download pdf article here

Consciousness Choice Control
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