Develop coaching presence

According to the International Coaching Federation, coaching presence is defined as the "ability to be fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible and confident."  Few coaches do this consistently, where they:
  • connect with the whole of the client.
  • are guided by their natural curiosity.
  • are free of the need to perform or provide value.
  • come from a place of not knowing.
  • set aside one's ego and are mindful of their clients' wisdom.

It's often hard for coaches to remain undistracted by the past or future, or by one's own personal needs. When we are fully present and focused on the needs and possibilities of our clients, we create conditions that invite insight, expanded awareness, creativity, confidence, and agency; all of which help clients grow, find solutions, and take action.

If we are to ask the right questions at just the right times, then we must learn to let go of:
  • the need to advise.
  • the need solve or fix people's problems.
  • the need to teach our clients new truths or tips.
  • the need to control our client's assumptions, attitudes, approaches and actions.

  1. What are your strategies for maintaining presence in a coaching relationship?
  2. How do YOU get in the way of facilitating a client's growth? 

                      “Don’t just do something, stand there!” (Buddhist saying)
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Kate - February 10th, 2021 at 12:33pm

I am naturally able be present with people but get tripped on the need to provide value/perform. I'm often worried that I'm going to disappoint someone which stresses me out. I can imagine writing on the top of a piece of paper that I look at during coaching something like "All you need to do is BE CURIOUS".

I can imagine that my desire to want to make people happy could lead me to help bring them to a plan, solution, or resolution too early shortchanging them on what the process might offer and the growth that could come from working through something themselves rather than quickly facilitating them to resolution. Again my need to perform may get in the way and I'll need to be mindful of that.

Brian - February 20th, 2022 at 6:40pm

In maintaining presence I also like to think about physical presence. I am intentional about not crossing my arms, actively engaged with eye contact and if meeting in-person I try not to rest one leg on another as sometimes this might appear as not completely engaging in the conversation. I think head nods sometimes hint that there is engagement and I might try and lean in as I ask for the client to "tell me more."

Mike Marsh - February 10th, 2021 at 4:14pm

Some of my strategies for maintaining coaching presence are mechanical or environmental:

1. The seating arrangement,

2. My posture,

3. A quiet office or room,

4. Taking a few minutes of silence/prayer before the session begins.

Other strategies are about what's going on in me:

1. Recognizing and setting aside my own struggles and frustrations about the day or what is going on outside the session,

2. Remembering that the client has entrusted to me with his or her life, time, and perhaps money,

3. Being curious, open, and receptive,

4. Valuing the client's life, circumstances, and questions as much as my own,

5. Letting go of my feelings and agendas about the client and his or her situation.

Ironically, I get in the way of a client's growth when I try to be helpful instead of present, give answers instead of asking questions, and take responsibility for the client instead of being responsible to the client.

Mary Eide - February 14th, 2022 at 3:47pm

From the 20 minute coaching session I participated in today, I learned a few of the things that I'll need to work on regarding maintaining a presence as a coach. (1) Listening well means NOT focusing so much on what my next question will be; (2) Don't assume I understand the motives behind the clients use of words/images, (3) Be aware of the time, but don't rush the process. Two key learnings on how to help the client achieve clarity on their goal and next steps: Trust the process and lean into the power of the pause!

Tom - February 14th, 2022 at 5:28pm

I relate to all three of your points-especially the third one. I felt myself panicking when I realized we had 6 minutes left and we hadn't developed any next steps. But then the client came up with possibilities and in doing so reminded me to trust the process AND trust the client to be the expert of their life.

Amelia Houdek - February 15th, 2022 at 10:47am

Yes! 20 minutes is such a short time frame, but, trusting the process and asking powerful questions can make the short time fruitful.

Dan - February 16th, 2022 at 9:50pm

Mary, your second point is an important one for me to keep in mind. Don't assume, stay curious about what the client is sharing.

Amelia Houdek - February 15th, 2022 at 10:46am

I can relate to ways you state you get in the way. Thank you for sharing your strategies. I never thought of “try to be helpful” as actually being a problem, but when you add “instead of present” I understand what you mean. Your perspective opened a different perspective for me and self awareness.

Carl Horton - February 10th, 2021 at 10:08pm

I think, like many others, my attention span is getting shorter and shorter. I'm easily distracted AND I'm a multi-tasker. My greatest challenge to maintaining a coaching presence is to stay focused and engaged, which takes discipline and self-awareness. I take steps to focus, remove distractions and provide my full attention. When I catch myself wandering away, I note it and refocus. I also need to avoid the trap of advising, solving problems and teaching. That is a natural inclination of mine and it, like my distractability, is another thing I need to check to maintain the coaching presence.

Jessie Bazan - February 11th, 2021 at 8:51am

"Being present rather than preoccupied" -- this statement hits me hard! I find that the hardest times for me to be present are when I have another meeting immediately following the one I am in. I get anxious about the time and then have trouble concentrating on the person in front of me. One strategy I use to maintain presence is to leave ample time between meetings. Another is to take a few deep breaths to help me get centered in the space.

I think I can get in the way of a client's growth if I try to problem solve for them. On the other hand, I also wonder if staying neutral when a client is clearly stuck hinders their growth as well? For instance, if the client is stuck and asks for my advice or help ... and I simply turn the question back to them ... I wonder how effective that is.

Nathan Luitjens - February 16th, 2022 at 10:05am

I really like your strategy of making sure you have enough time between meetings so you never personally feel rushed. Our culture tends to see time as this limited resource that we can't "waste." Developing good habits of leaving space in our lives, just like we leave space for silence within the coaching environment can be hugely beneficial. I am also curious about how to engage with someone who is clearly "stuck." When people have tried several things and they don't seem to be working, how can we help them to become really creative in some next steps so that they can engage the situation from a completely different angle.

Bill - February 14th, 2021 at 7:23pm

I try to be fully alert, focusing my eye contact on the other person. I make sure to get to the meeting earlier then the client/person I'm coaching so I can use the restroom, get coffee if needed, and then sit and calm my mind down a bit.

I do find it tempting to offer suggestions/advice giving and I know I will have to work hard not to do that. Another thing is that when folks talk about a situation and it seems to always go downhill because whatever they are doing is not working I find that I am rather judgmental. I want to fix them! I will have to work hard not to pre-judge folks, its their life not mine!

Saeed - February 15th, 2021 at 3:06pm

For me to be present, I have to begin with the biological pieces: rested, without a need to use the restroom, and a coffee and/or cold water in my hand.

From being a pastor for over 20 years, I've also learned that for me to be fully present with others and sensitive to the Holy Spirit in leading a coaching session, I've also the need to make certain I am self-treating by utilizing my coach and therapist. I need to be spiritually full and well so that I can be what's needed at the moment, too. And if I'm not well, then I should truly check to see if I need time away while I restore.

Michelle - February 16th, 2022 at 8:01am

Bill, I had to learn to do that in my therapy sessions and it made all the difference in the world because then even the energy that you are given off from the beginning sets the tone to a large degree of creating that space that reassures the client that you are all in. And having taken care of my needs first then I can be like a laser beam on what they are saying and less likely for me to check out for anything else or interrupt the session because I need to attend to my own needs like getting a drink or using the bathroom which can disrupt the flow. Additionally, I also need to calm myself down and not get ahead of the client since I tend to be very perceptivem but let the client lead me rather than jump in mind to the next place I envision the client going, say I can stay in the moment truly engaged.

Michelle - February 20th, 2022 at 8:34pm

i agree that it is really important to show up early and get situated with water/coffee, so as not to break the bond by having to step out for a moment. Also, for me recognizing my energy and being sure that I am not hyped up, but relaxed and creating a safe and peaceful environmental, so there is no anxiousness in the room.

I am not as concerned with being judgmental, but wanting to give advice and will have to lean into reframing and asking questions that get to that rather than wanting to asking leading questions which could go down the wrong path of fixing rather than allowing the client to be the expert and come to whatever realization that he/she deems appropriate. I am okay with silence as it gives me time to ask a better question that may elicit more information that evokes something for the client or brings more clarity to the session.

Mary Eide - February 14th, 2022 at 3:36pm

Today was the first opportunity I had to be the 'coach' in a class activity, and it revealed some of the struggles I have with 'maintaining presence' in a coaching session. I struggled with: figuring out my next question, making assumptions about the person's setting/insight, and feeling the need to watch the clock too much for the 20 minutes we had for each session. As a habitual note taker, I felt this push and pull of wanting to both 'look present' by maintaining eye contact but also put pen to paper.

Lessons learned: Be sure to mention I will be making a few notes, but make much fewer than I normally do. Just relax and listen,. Allow the question asking to become more a natural part of our time together; not a particular pattern of questions and responses that weave together a perfect picture.

I also experienced the wisdom and value of trusting the process, and the power of pauses. Both work to empower the client to imagine and verbalize the creation of a plan and a future step towards it.

Jason D. Bland - February 14th, 2022 at 4:37pm


I completely agree... it's very challenging to determine the next question. I also had a moment during my coaching session today where I wasn't sure where to go next... instead of rushing I pulled back and took a moment to think. It probably only took 5 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. I think it's incumbent upon us as coaches to feel comfortable doing that. Rushing those questions may result in lackluster questioning.

Amelia Houdek - February 15th, 2022 at 10:49am

I appreciated how you took a moment to find the question, Jason.

Sherry - February 16th, 2022 at 12:42pm


Sometimes intentional pausing can be so hard to do. I experience in my practicing coach a temptation to ask or respond too quickly. I think it was Felix who said to count to 8 before replying especially when I catch myself to eager to say something.

Dan - February 16th, 2022 at 9:40pm

Sherry, I too think Felix's advice to count to 8 before responding will assist me in using intentional silence.

Ladd - February 16th, 2022 at 7:40pm

Mary you did a great job. 20 minutes is a short time and I would say to taking time after meeting with someone to reflect on what we could continue to grow into is a great thing. The more I reflect on giving space for silence, I realize that it is something I need to work on and one way for me to live into that is by writing a note for myself to see that says "Just breath" :)

Michelle - February 20th, 2022 at 8:41pm

@Mary-being the observer in this session I did not notice you watching the clock as much as you indicated, but I did notice the pauses and whether it was nervousness or not, but it gave you the opportunity to ask the deeper question and allow the client to articulate more about the plan and to come up with answers especially as you reframed and summarized. It gave space for more connections by the client that allowed him to think about the background of the person and that there could be different expectations and his previous training gave a different expectation that may not be accurate in this setting in presuming the person discussed understood. Thus, it still was a powerful session that engaged the client and moved him forward in what he decided he needed to do and some areas to investigate to gain a better understanding as well.

Jason D. Bland - February 14th, 2022 at 4:30pm

My strategy for maintaining presence in the coaching relationship would be to focus on the client, and strive to remove myself from the equation. Prior to beginning an engagement I need to find time to center myself and pray about the upcoming meeting. Then during the session remember that it isn't about me. I'm not the expert in the client's life, profession, or industry, nor should I pretend to be.

In order to facilitate growth in my client I need to remain focused on remaining curious about what comes next, to be excited about the growth that is possible, and guide the client through dynamic questioning. If I'm truly curious, then I desire nothing but to hear from my client... not to hear my own voice or focus on my feelings, rather to be present for my client's benefit.

Michelle - February 16th, 2022 at 7:54am

Jason- I really resonated with the piece about staying curious as you are correct it does lead to wondering where they are going to go, another epiphany or deeper as an awareness has triggered something in them, which then does not allow for me to get in my head and have to resist trying to form a question that may be trying to get at a solution, but stay with them and continue to evolve in the present and ask more powerful questions naturally without it having to be forced.

Tom Smith - February 14th, 2022 at 5:39pm

The third point Jim lists above is one I'll need to work on-be free of the need to perform or add value. So tough when our culture is all about 'value-added' and production. The idea of presence for presence sake and knowing that being fully present for the client is 'valuable' but from the client's perspective. My letting go of the need to perform or add value is what creates the space for the client to develop a way forward.

Sherry - February 16th, 2022 at 12:47pm


You are so right about our "value added" driven society. Our hearts might be in the right place to want to "add" into the narrative and yet in my experience it's the silence that has evoked the most powerful insights. It can be a very difficult to sit in the uncomfortableness of silence.

Dan - February 16th, 2022 at 9:44pm

Tom, I find too myself struggling with this need to perform or add value. This value runs strong and deep for me.

Paul Backstrom - February 15th, 2022 at 1:04pm

I think it is beginning with the end in mind. What do I want my clients to get a sense of when they have a coaching session with me? Do they want somebody who is focused on them; at peace with themselves, and projects care and comfort? To help bring about this type of environment I need to prepare who I am and my space. I need to have a space that looks tidy and is pretty plain so people can focus on what they need to work on and not my messy area. I need to prepare for each session by centering myself and allowing myself to get into a place where i can turn off those things that are going on with me so I can focus on my clients. I need to remind myself that this is a time to listen and that I am not the expert but they are. When all these come into existence then, I will have an environment which will help me project the kind of coaching that will be helpful to the client.

Nathan Luitjens - February 16th, 2022 at 9:56am

I think for me the challenge is learning to "let go." I often find that I am easily distracted, because something a person says will cause me to think about something else that is running in the back of my mind. Depending on the situation, I also want to seem like the expert, and it can be difficult for me to "let go" of being the expert and allowing the client to guide the conversation. The more I engage with this, the more important it feels to me to develop some sort of preparation ritual that allows me to get into the right space personally. I think maybe jotting down things that are on my mind so I can let go of those until after and then finding some quiet space to do a centering exercise may be what I personally need to prepare to be fully present.

Sherry - February 16th, 2022 at 12:38pm

For me to maintain focus in a session begins before the session. I am adopting a ritual of mental and physical cleansing before and after the session by scanning my body for any signs of stress, or a feeling of any emotional attachment I may have picked up in talking to the client or what's going on at the moment in my life. I call it out, (sometimes by writing it down) and visualize placing it in a container that's labeled "not my stuff" or "not right now." When I miss doing the ritual I recognize how vulnerable I am to keeping my attention fully centered in the session and on the client and can miss valuable opportunities in asking focused and powerful questions .

Dan - February 16th, 2022 at 9:47pm

Sherry, this cleansing ritual you describe is very intriguing. It might prove very helpful in helping me to manage my emotions well in a coaching context. Thanks for sharing.

Ladd - February 16th, 2022 at 7:42pm

How do I get myself out of the way for the process to work? I think for me it starts with asking myself, what baggage am I bringing into this session. Regardless if it relates to the topic I can't help, but think that if I don't give myself time prior and after the meeting to prepare and process then I will always be thinking about other things in the meeting.

Brian - February 20th, 2022 at 6:45pm

Ladd, it agree, it can be challenging to block out all the externals before going into a coaching session. I like the idea of giving oneself 5-10 minutes to get centered before a session, perhaps looking ahead to what the session will focus on. Of course, this is easier said than done. I might "try on" this approach.

Liz Miller - August 24th, 2022 at 4:03pm

Before I step into meetings I download my brain into a to-do list, both my personal life and professional. This helps me set aside things that might come up or preoccupy and stay focused on the person in front of me. This practice also requires giving myself enough time to tune into my inner voice before a meeting so that I know what I need leave behind.

I can be an idea person in a lot of settings - my favorite question is often "What if we....?" I will be challenged to instead ask clients what their ideas are and stay focused on what they can imagine for themselves, their goals, their next steps.

Lea Kone - September 12th, 2022 at 12:33pm

I am nervous about my ability to be fully present when coaching remotely - especially via zoom/video. In order to do so I need to do a variety of things: turn my phone off, clear off my desk/space. Get myself physically ready (go the bathroom in advance, haven eaten, have a drink readily available).

I think I can get a way of their growth by trying to solve or sugar coat their issues. I am continuously learning how to leave the appropriate amount of space to have them uncover what they need to see,

Wendy Petrochko - September 14th, 2022 at 10:25am

Some of my strategies for maintaining presence in a coaching relationship will be removing as many distractions as possible. I see mostly using Zoom as a way of connecting with my clients, so I will make sure it is quiet, that my phone is not around to distract me and that I will have within eye sight a few questions that I can.

How will I have the potential to get in the way of my clients growth, I could see me wanting to be more of an archeologist and dig up the past and help them discover the why they do something instead of focusing on building something new in their life. I do see that it will be a balance because sometimes you just need to know the why before you can move forward.

Kim Boldt - November 14th, 2022 at 4:36pm

My strategies would be to review coaching principles before each call. I have strong temptations to "provide value" and to teach new information. Those aspirations and tendencies would have to be actively curtailed.

Tom Pietz - November 14th, 2022 at 7:34pm

I'm a person who is intensely focused on who is in front of me...whether it's a professor, colleague, my yoga eyes are all on that person. It will be most important for me to follow the lead of the coachee and to ask short questions based on what they say and where they go, not where I think they should go.

I can get in the way of a client's growth by speaking too much. I need to talk less, just 20% or less during the whole conversation. "Tell me more" will be a key prompt and to help them unpack where they want to go.

Jeff Smith - November 15th, 2022 at 2:09pm

I think I'm naturally good at being present in a conversation...most of the time. But the role of coach does bring up this issue of not trying to solve problems as I think I am wired to start thinking about possible solutions when I see a problem or concern. This will be especially challenging to overcome when I've had a similar experience as what the client is describing.

Wendy Petrochko - November 28th, 2022 at 2:41pm

I feel with my training as a Stephen Minister and Bible Study Fellowship group leader I have developed strong listening skills that will be assist me in remaining present in a coaching relationship. I will also utilize summary of what they have said to make sure I am tracking with them and to help them see I am truly listening.

One of the ways that I can potentially see me getting in the way of a client's grow is being passionate in spiritual matters and my desire to help clients grow in their spiritual lives.