Many coaches will tell you they do hybrid coaching that blends mentoring into the conversation. They say people pay us for our opinions and the benefits of our experiences. Coachees also want us to tell them what we would do to help them avoid making wrong decisions.


There is no such thing as hybrid coaching. You are either coaching or you’re doing something else.

Something else might be exactly what someone needs.

There are also well-known people who call themselves coaches who declare just asking questions wastes people’s time. They staunchly defend their reasons for giving advice.

I agree – only asking questions is a waste of time. Coaching includes many other conversational practices, including summarizing, noticing emotional shifts, and acknowledging courageous decisions.

This notion of hybrid coaching dilutes the value of coaching. When you mix mentoring, advice giving, and leading people to what is best for them into what you call coaching, people come to expect the easy way out. They look forward to you telling them what to do. This might be helpful, but if coaching is what they really want or need, they miss experiencing the best technology we have for facilitating long-term behavioral change.

There are many times people don’t want or need coaching. You need to determine with them what they want from you. Then call what you are doing what it is – coaching or something else.

First establish a desire for coaching

When I was learning how to coach, I jumped in to practice whenever I could. Once, when a colleague tried to coach me on a situation when I wanted an ear to vent, I shut  her down. I heard myself say, “Stop coaching me. Right now, I just need a friend.” That woke me up to my own intrusions.

Outside of a formally declared coaching session, ask people if they would like some coaching before you start probing. You might ask, “What is it you need from me right now?” Often, people just want to be listened to, especially if they feel hurt or are grieving a loss.

Even if they say they want coaching, make sure they are willing to engage with you. The person must demonstrate willingness to question their own thoughts and motivations, not just seek affirmation for their views. Even if they clearly know what they want as an end result, will they resist exploring possible challenges and unexpected consequences? They might just want you to hear them create a plan, but they aren’t open to being coached around the plan’s purpose, practicality, or contingencies.

However, don’t assume defensiveness or hesitation means they are uncoachable. Ask what is causing the push-back or uncertainty. They may respond more defensively, but then willingly describe what they are thinking about.

Coaching requires a willingness to explore ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Coachees should welcome the chance to see what they are not seeing on their own.

No matter how good you are at asking questions, there must be a willingness to engage in coaching for you to be effective.

Next, be sure coaching is the right option

Sometimes the person lacks experience and knowledge to draw on to formulate a new perspective. You can’t coach something out of nothing.

However, be careful this deficit is real. When they say they have no idea what to do, ask if they have no idea or are they afraid to try the solution that comes to mind? If there was nothing to lose, what would they try? If they still have no idea, then ask if you can offer advice or your experiences to jumpstart a conversation about possibilities.

Coaching is best used when the coachee has some knowledge and skills to draw on, but they aren’t sure about the options, what’s best to do first, or the reasons for their own uncertainty. If they have a decision to make, they are confused by the shoulds that bombard their brain, their fear of making the wrong move, and or the purpose of their actions isn’t clear.

Sometimes people already know what they want to do and just need a sounding board. Coaching can help them sort out and organize thoughts. There doesn’t have to be a breakthrough in every coaching conversation.

Remember, you can always start with coaching. Then if they don’t have the experience or knowledge to know what to do, you can ask if you can step out of coaching to offer suggestions.

Coaching requires you be in the right state of mind

When I teach coaching skills to leaders, I ask, “Are you willing to give up being the one who knows best to be the coach?” You must step out of being the expert, the fixer, or the helper in order to coach. The International Coach Federation definition of coaching is:

Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential…

Coaches honor the client as creative, resourceful, and whole.

The key word that differentiates what coaches do is partnering. Coaches are thinking partners. We do not see our clients as clueless and needing to be shown the way (consulting). We do not see our clients as needing to be healed (therapy). We respect them as being just as smart as we are. They are able to use their creativity and resources to solve their own problems through a conversation that helps them see beyond their blocks.


  • Let go of how the conversation will go. Of course you want the person to resolve their problems, but you can’t be attached to how the conversation will progress or what the outcome will be. If you can’t detach, you will end up forcing the conversation in the direction you want it to go.
  • Believe in their ability to figure out what to do. Do you have any judgments about the person that could get in the way? If you doubt the person’s ability to find a way forward, then choose to mentor or direct the conversation instead. Otherwise, your impatience will impact the conversation even if you have been trained to put on a poker face.
  • Feel hopeful, curious, and care. If you are angry or disappointed with someone, they will react to your emotions more than your words. If you are afraid the conversation won’t go well, do what you can to release your fear so you model what courage and optimism feels like.

Not all conversations can or should be coaching sessions. Figure out what the person needs and if you are able to partner with them to move in that direction. Then choose to coach or do something else.


Adapted from concepts in The Discomfort Zone: How leaders turn difficult conversations into breakthroughs.

13 thoughts on “To Coach or Not – How Do You Know if Coaching is Wanted or Needed?”

  1. Very direct and helpful, always clarify and strength the key points which are easy to forget due to old patterns. Thanks!

  2. Brilliant blog Marcia. It answers so many questions that many coaches wrestle with. This is the kind of clarity I believe we need in a world where the term coaching is used so loosely. It impacts our profession, and it also impacts each person’s potential for long term growth, development, and behavioural change (if that is what they want and need).

  3. Thank you Marcia for asking that question. We live in an era of instant gratification, constant change that moves us away from our comfort zone to new horizons and new adaptations. I believe that coaching has evolved since it was born 30 years ago. That is how long I practice coaching and am going through that professional transformation with my clients. Coaching has become a wonderful tool that creates a structure and boundaries of direction and focus. My X generation clients enjoy the traditional coaching, my Y generation clients enjoy it in a different way. Myself being a Baby Boomer generation, I am reinventing myself and my communication style every coaching session. I believe that the secret is in the change and not in the primal structures. Thank you for enabling me to express my thoughts. Sara

    1. Sensing what people want and need is critical to coaching. Thank you for sharing Sara, how this shifts with age, position in life, and what each person wants to achieve.

  4. Philippe Georgiou

    I still believe sticking staunchly to one discipline, whatever that is, ignores the complexity of the human brain and desire patterns. However convinced can we be of the effectiveness of what we do, there is no threat to our convictions in adopting a variety of approaches (if/when needed) to support others. The ultimate goal is not as much to coach as it is to help people find joy and fulfillment.

    1. I agree Philippe that the ultimate goal is up to the client. I also agree we shouldn’t stick to one discipline because sometimes that is not what is best for the client. I teach, mentor, and consult as well as coach. I just like to call it what it is instead of lumping it all under coaching. Thank you for adding this perspective to the conversation.

  5. Philippe Georgiou

    Agreed Marcia. There is no need to lump anything with anything else. It’s the notion of exclusivity that I was addressing…

  6. I’ve been waiting for a bold article that illuminates the distinction between professional coaching and hybrid coaching. Was nice to connect with you in Las Vegas. Happy 2019!

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