The Mistake We’ve All Made With Clients: The Role Of Persuasion In Coaching


If you believe in the ICF approach to coaching, you probably agree with the claim that reinforcing your clients is a priority above all else. Coaches can empower their clients in many ways, and they can do so even more if they address their clients without a persuasive and bossy tone, but rather with a supportive (or ‘inviting’) one.

An ‘invitation’ is inherently empowering, since no attempt to think or act on behalf of anyone else is made, and trust is shown and placed with that other person: in this case, the client. Coaches that constantly ‘invite’ their clients are continuously sending them the message:

‘You’re the one in control, and I believe that you will be self-aware and find your own answers.’

Persuasion, on the other hand, takes power away from the client and entails leading others to a belief, making decisions or taking an action not chosen by clients themselves. If a coach persuades a client to take a certain action, even if that action is useful, it’s hard to imagine that the client will come away from it feeling empowered. Directing and ordering represent an extreme form of persuasion in which the more input a person receives, the less powerful they feel. Coaches often talk in a persuasive manner, and by doing so, they subconsciously send the message to their clients:

‘I know better than you and that’s why you should believe me.’

Does occasional persuasion undermine the overall success of coaching?

When new coaches find out what’s considered ‘persuasion’ in their sessions, at first they may feel manipulated and even attacked. How is it that even the most naive sentences, the ones starting with ‘let’s’ or ‘tell me’ could be so damaging? A few instances of persuasion certainly can’t undermine a whole coaching session. However, if you take into account that clients, even when they’re not aware of it, feel varying degrees of power, depending on the tone of their coach...and that a coach’s mission is to empower their clients, then our insistence on inviting more and persuading less seems even more understandable.

In a workout, you can burn a thousand calories and make a giant leap towards your health and figure goals. If you eat an Oreo after your workout, that doesn’t diminish your total effort...but it does reduce the number of calories burned by 53.3 (or 70 if you eat a Double Oreo): each cookie counts. The more cookies you eat, the greater the distance towards your full potential (1000 calories burned). If you keep eating, the effort you put in becomes less and less important...and could even potentially be completely neutralized. Persuasion in coaching has the same effect on client empowerment as an Oreo cookie has on your shape: a silent, step-by-step walk in the wrong direction.

Why should coaches put so much effort into their clients’ growth and into empowering them and then basically erase all of that by trying to persuade them? By being aware of the negative impact of persuasion, people try to reduce it as much as possible and replace it with a more ‘inviting’ tone.

A simple change to how we talk

Once coaches become aware of how much persuasion is present in their speech, they start noticing when they use it and soon they start reframing their commands into ‘invitations’.

The following examples are different ways to achieve this change:


  • Let me stop you right there.
  • Let’s talk about…
  • Tell me about…
  • Try to…
  • Think of the strategies for…
  • Imagine you are…
  • I want you to research…
  • Here’s what I think…
  • Give yourself credit…
  • Why don’t we go back to…


  • Could we stop for a moment?
  • Would it be ok to talk about….?
  • Could you tell me about…?
  • What have you tried in order to…?
  • Would you be willing to think about strategies for…?
  • Could you imagine a situation in which you were…?
  • Would it be helpful to research…?
  • Can I make an observation?
  • Could you give yourself some credit?
  • Would it be OK to come back to…?

Why mask your commands when you can lead by inviting?

The last example shows that if you start with your command with the word ‘Why’, you can mask it as a question or a call to action, but it’s still a command. Coaches try to cheat by asking for permission to give advice, which automatically becomes an order. Asking for permission first can soften it, but if it leads to persuading nonetheless, even with consent, it still threatens the empowerment of your client.

The bottom line is that some coaches have such a disarming manner that their commands are even more difficult to detect. My grandma was also very polite while giving me Oreos, eventually leading to my overeating them. Instead of persuading politely, charismatic coaches that are gifted speakers can use their talent to double the empowerment of their clients through their ‘invitations’.

Are you aware of the power that you have as a coach? Do you know how much you can influence the people you work with? You can learn much more on our training “The Art and Science of Coaching”. Sign up at the link.