Irrespective of the style you adopt most coaches will agree that being directive in a coaching session is not advisable. You read it in Coaching 101, practice it when are getting trained, and if by chance you end up making the mistake of being directive your client will let you know!

What do we mean by  being directive? Well, having a directive approach involves an element of transfer of knowledge, providing advice or direction most probably based on the coach’s experience. This is a typical traditional approach that works wonders in mentoring however in coaching it should be avoided.

I get asked this all the time. Why don’t you tell me what to do? Why don’t you provide me with insight on what is going on? 

​First of all great contracting must happen to ensure that the client understands from the start that you will be listening and guiding but not leading. At this stage I typically refer the client back to our agreement – that I will be supporting them but not advising.

The answer to why we act in a non-directive way is actually fairly straightforward and logical. In coaching we provide a non-judgemental, safe place to discuss your thoughts and ideas. What I think of a client’s situation is greatly irrelevant and as much as possible I focus on what the person is saying and not what my feelings about it are. What is important is what they think of their situation.

What this does is that it creates an environment where the client:

  • is able to explore their own thoughts and ideas fully
  • has full ownership of the solutions that they put together
  • creates a great commitment to action because the solution is more ‘right’ to them

At first, adopting a non-directive approach might seem a rather easy thing to achieve however, in reality, it takes a lot of practice to find that balance where you are guiding without providing direction.

Here’s an example to bring it all to life from when I first started coaching – of course printed with the permission of the client! In the session, the client brought the conversation to how they were finding work difficult and were regularly getting caught up in multiple and conflicting priorities. I then replied back by saying that it seemed that they were feeling overwhelmed. That was a big mistake! That was my interpretation of the situation and in fact the client had never mentioned the feeling of ‘being overwhelmed’ in the conversation. He quickly corrected me to say that he felt stretched but certainly not overwhelmed.

As you can see even small observations like that can make a huge difference. That’s why presenting own observations as subjective and needing confirmation from client is key for a successful partnership.

Future blog posts will explore ideas such as permission, giving feedback without direction and how to challenge the client in a non-directive way. In the meantime you can read our FAQs about coachingand feel free to comment below with your ideas.


How important do you think is this non-directive approach?