Direct Communication Strategies

By Jim LaDoux
According to the International Coach Federation, Direct Communication is described as the “ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.”  It includes “reframing and articulating in ways that help clients understand their situation from new perspectives."  It usually involves the sharing of messages, reflections, observations, metaphors, and analogies through the use of statements rather than questions. Direct statements:
  • use language that's appropriate and respectful to the client.
  • may address the relationship between two items the client referred to.
  • may include metaphors and analogies to illustrate a point or paint a verbal picture.
  • are brief and get to the point quickly.
  • focus on facts rather than feelings.
  • often mirror the pace and tone of the client.
  • skip lengthy explanations, tangents, and extraneous details.

Coaches who use direct communication strategies are mindful of not having an agenda other than moving their clients forward. They remain detached from explaining what's happening, the need to be right, or to have clients agree with them. Coaches remain neutral, serving as impartial sounding boards who offer objective viewpoints with no agenda other than to support the client’s agenda.

In her book,  The Heart of Laser-focused Coaching, MCC coach, Marion Franklin, states that “the MOST important thing to remember is to soften our delivery of an observation, not the message. The message remains the same. It’s all in how the coach delivers what they are sensing, seeing or hearing.”  Direct statements should disrupt the client in a positive and proactive manner that also affirms the gifts and wisdom of the client. Coaches ask for permission to share, and are mindful of how the client may receive the message. Coaches pay attention to their own body language, tone and facial expressions when delivering information to their clients. They use objective, neutral language that is least likely to provoke defensiveness. Coaches avoid using "you" and "but" in their statements and often end their observations with an open-ended question that suggest that their comments are only an idea or possibility to consider rather than advice, a direction to take, or a solution to their problem.

Direct communication requires a delicate balance between being too provocative and diluting the message. Coaches may use "loaded" words when making a statement, but only if the client used it first. Coaches avoid asking questions they already know the answer to and point conversations toward what really matters to the client. Direct communication shows up when coaches:

1  |   Encourage  and  affirm  clients,  stating:

  • “I’m interested to know more about that…”
  • “Uh…huh” “Great!”
  • “It sounds like you want to share a story about that….”
  • “What’s your experience with this?”
  • “That is incredible insight!”

2  |   Stand  with  a  client  in difficult  times,  stating:

  • “From the sounds of it, you are really drowning in a lot of work based on the new responsibilities that were added to your position."
  • "It appears that you were blindsided by the comments your supervisor made at the last team meeting."
  • "I sense that you're rethinking your relationship with your best friend."

3  |  Refocus  on  the  agenda  or  outcomes,  stating:

  • "It sounds like this is both a pressing and urgent issue for you. How does impact what we were originally going to talk about today?
  • "Given our limited time for conversation today, I'm wondering which topic you'd prefer to address today."

4  |  Share  observations, sensations, and  hunches

  • “We’ve been Talking mostly about what others have done to contribution to this situation. I'm wondering if it would be more fruitful to discuss what you're doing to help or hinder the outcomes you're aiming for."
  • I see a pattern to reverting to what's worked well in the past, without considering what might work best moving forward."
  • I'm wondering if lack of time is really the primary challenge for you. Are there other issues that play into your lack of progress on this initiative?"
  • "Here's a brief summary of what I believe you've shared with me about your challenges (share brief summary). Am I correct that those are the pressing issues for you that you'd like to address today?"
  • I'm wondering how your comment about being a people pleaser impacts how you deal with conflict among your staff members."


  1. When have you used direct communication strategies to provoke new awareness?  
  2. What do you need to be more mindful of when using direct communication with clients?
  3. How might you help clients "connect the dots" between two words or statements they share during a coaching conversation?
  4. How can direct communication help you coach both the WHO and the WHAT when coaching?
  5. What questions do you have related to using direct more intentionally when coaching?
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Nathan Luitjens - April 6th, 2022 at 5:20pm

When I think about direct communication it seems to me that it can be very powerful when it is used to help the client gain awareness. This can be helping the person hear what they have been saying in the coaching session and noticing places where they seem to be repeating something or where there seem to be powerful emotions or physical reactions to something they have been saying. The challenge in these situations is always to just notice something and invite them to give meaning to it. It can be very tempting to ascribe meaning and tell them what we think is going on rather than allowing them to discover in themselves what is happening.

Brian Hooper - April 10th, 2022 at 7:09pm

Thanks Nathan. I agree, the challenge is notice the change in body posture, tone, phrasing and then to name it. I think once a pattern is named deeper insights are gained. The challenge for the coach is to recognize these changes in the client and then go deeper as to why these patterns/behaviors are taking place. When I named for a client that they seemed animated about a specific topic the tone of the coaching session seemed to change.

Dan Solomon - April 7th, 2022 at 11:27am

Direct communication can have a powerful impact especially when utilized to reframe a client's situation so that they can see it from a new perspective. In my experience this has happened most often through exploring the relationship between two items the client has mentioned. It is important to to directly communicate in such a way with care and within the context of the specific coaching relationship. The coach needs to intentionally remain neutral, objective and with no agenda (other than the client's agenda) or interpretation. The coach needs to be attentive to how they voice this direct communication (including their own body language, tone of voice, etc.). The example of "Standing with a Client in Difficult times" also bears further exploration.

Amelia - April 8th, 2022 at 1:18pm

I appreciate your statement "the coach needs to intentionally remain neutral with no agenda" both truthful and challenging. The teacher in me wants to share my wisdom in how things connect rather than heling the client discover the connection. Neutrality is key. Thanks for this, Dan.

Mary Eide - April 18th, 2022 at 5:31pm


You mentioned the necessity of remaining neutral, objective and without agenda, which makes total sense...and yet, this is what worries me the most about how I might use direct communication in a coaching conversation. Of course we don't want to impose OUR thoughts/ideas/answers on the client. We don't want to lead them down a path that leads to what we think is best for them. And yet...if we aren't asking questions or listening...then their is a risk that we may begin to direct the conversation away from the expert knowledge of the client.

Jason D. Bland - April 25th, 2022 at 5:37pm

I agree with your assessment that finding a seemingly unknown connection between two distinctly different items can evoke new awareness. Through deliberate communication you can challenge the client to question what they hold as assumptions or given facts by connecting unlike things and asking the client to work through the concepts. Is there a connection, if so, why?, etc.

Amelia - April 8th, 2022 at 1:15pm

Direct communication is easier me as I get to know the client as I have more information from which to draw. recently I find myself using direct communication when my clients jump back and forth between the past and the preferred future without a connection of the two as it relates to beliefs, actions, assumptions in the the present. Provoking new awareness is helpful for me when a client seems "stuck" . Being more aware of how I use direct communication I find that I need to be mindful of "leading the witness", so to speak. I've caught myself a couple times using direct communication to get my client to connect the things I THINK they need to connect so then we can explore what I THINK is important. Keeping direct communication focused is easier when I consider Coach Nathan's 'question/statement/question' strategy. I do see direct communication powerful in helping the client move forward in a more rapid transformational way.

Nathan Luitjens - April 8th, 2022 at 1:27pm

I find the statement really helpful when you said that it is easier to use direct communication when you get to know the client better. I can see the wisdom in that, because then the coach has a baseline and can begin to notice patterns that wouldn't have been obvious in only the first couple of sessions. I also think your caution is well heeded, because the more we know about someone, the more likely we are to "know" what is the best way forward for them. Like in all of this we need to remember that the client is the expert and we are making space for them to discover their preferred future and how they want to live into it.

Sherry Villanueva - April 16th, 2022 at 2:58pm

Amelia: I agree that direct communication is easier to use when there has been a bit of time and things learned about the client. At the same time I know that familiarity can be a pitfall to leading a client or assuming things on the coaches part.

Brian Hooper - April 10th, 2022 at 7:18pm

I see the benefit of using metaphors, analogies and reflections when using direct communication. The challenge is having some of those analogies in your back pocket. I like the analogy possibility that we discussed in class...(Describe a it storm clouds, sunny, a category 4 storm?) I think analogies similar to this can help clients to think outside a particular situation. Also, perhaps asking directly, "What is the elephant in the room here?"

Tom - April 10th, 2022 at 8:17pm

I agree, Brian. Metaphors make speaking about difficult issues/feelings easier especially, I feel, when you're working with a client for the first time. They can help get a read on how significant an issue is or where the client is emotionally.

Tom - April 10th, 2022 at 8:14pm

One challenge I have with using direct communication is that sometimes it feels like it changes the dynamic of the session into more conversational as opposed to coaching. Maybe with experience I'll use it more effectively. Adding an open-ended question after making an observation is a helpful reminder. I also see direct communication being helpful when the client offers contradictory comments like, "My boss said this to me but really I'm okay with it. Its just frustrating." Naming the contradiction followed by an open-ended question might help the client get to the heart of the issue. The statement, "Direct communication requires a delicate balance between being too provocative and diluting the message," names the challenges of DC for me. I remind myself, "Trust the process."

Mary Eide - April 18th, 2022 at 5:25pm


I agree with your comment that with more coaching experience the use and power of direct communication will become much clearer to us. Naming the contradictions that exist in the client's statements and/or accompanying body language is a good way to peel back some of the layers and getting closer to what the core issue is.

It always amazes me to see how the simple act of allowing the client to hear

Sherry Villanueva - April 16th, 2022 at 2:54pm

I definitely see the value in Direct Communication. In my opinion it does require a certain finesse in order for it to be on point and impactful. I think the heart of direct communication is to lower the potential of misunderstandings which in turn can raise the level of trust between people. I think when we are uncomfortable with conflict there is a tendency to communicate indirectly to soften the message. It's that very style of communicating that creates confusion and mistrust.

Direct communication requires being respectfully specific/explicit about the message being conveyed. The coach needs to check their intentions throughout the conversation to ensure that they are not leading the client to a conclusion of their own but rather for the clients best interest. The coach must remain neutral in their words, body language and tone.

Mary Eide - April 18th, 2022 at 5:21pm


Wow! You made some really great points in your comment. I especially appreciated how you noted that "the heart of direct communication is to lower the potential of misunderstandings which in turn can raise the level of trust between people." When client's are taking the risk of sharing their struggles, fears, and hopes with a coach...we need to do whatever we can to build that trust.

You also shared great words of wisdom when you wrote about lost opportunities when we use INDIRECT communication to soften a message because we are uncomfortable with conflict...and how this style of communicating can confusion and mistrust.

Mary Eide - April 18th, 2022 at 4:52pm

I'll openly admit that I strDirect communication skills are everything other than asking questions. It’s central to that conversational flow that every coach strives for while adding value to the client.

According to Carly Andersen, MCC, direct communication includes “reframing and articulating in a way that helps the client to understand from another perspective what they want or are uncertain about.” This includes sharing your intuitions, observations, feedback and wonderings.

Mary Eide - April 18th, 2022 at 5:14pm

[NOTE: just finishing my thought from above partial post.]

I struggled to fully understand what Direct Communication really is...until I read Jim's blog, my classmates' responses and the 2 quotes listed above that I got from Merci Miglino's coaching blog. Suddenly the light bulb went on..."right, direct communication is all part of our overall communication with the client...when we are NOT framing our response with powerful questions, but with direct observations about what we area hearing the client say."

Direct Communication is the coach's way of sharing what we are hearing and observing -without any judgement, critique, or intentions of 'fixing' the issue at hand. Everyone's comments helped me to see BOTH the value of direct communication and the pitfalls we can fall into...especially for fixers/advice givers like myself.

I have witnessed in coaching sessions how allowing a client to hear their words/reflections repeated back to them, along with a question/observation about what was heard, helped them to gain new clarity into what they have been thinking and saying aloud. On some occasions it has been necessary to dig a little deeper to find out if the coach is fully understanding what is being said, and/or if the client is aware that they: (1) are making conflicting statements, (2) have limited themselves to 1 or 2 options, when more exist, (3) or they may have a repeated pattern of thinking/acting/communicating that appears to be limiting their way of working through an issue/thought.

Now that I'm clearer on what direct communication actually is, I will be more conscious about how it is being used (effectively/not) in coaching sessions.

Amelia H - April 22nd, 2022 at 1:28pm

Sherry and Mary--Thank you! In rereading your comments I have a much clearer and cleaner of what direct communication is; the importance of the use; and 'missed opportunities' when we go indirect with our questioning.

Jason D. Bland - April 25th, 2022 at 5:34pm

I greatly appreciate the awareness provided by the blog above, in relation to how coaches should pursue their coaching relationships. Specifically, the idea that coaches should soften delivery, but not the message itself. The content should be firm and direct, this lies at the heart of direct communication strategies. This should help facilitate disruptive thinking in the client, not so the coach can learn something new, but rather so they can support the client’s own wisdom and awareness in their thinking. The ability to approach each coaching session in this way is very powerful because it retains the power, and the ability to lead, in the hands of the client… while at the same time empowering the coach to poke, prod, and cajole in a wise way. This goes back to the idea of softening the delivery, but not the message. This is vital.

Paul - April 25th, 2022 at 9:33pm

Jason, I like how you differentiated between softening the delivery and not the message. I think a lot of times we can devolve into not wanting to tell the client what they might need to hear to begin their transformation process because it seems too harsh. What I think we are forgetting when we do this is people won't have a transformation mindset in place if they think everything is going well. Speaking a message that allows the client to see why transformation is an important next step is more key than not saying anything at all and allowing the client to not have the transformational opportunity. Thank you for this helpful insight Jason, as I think it is something we need to keep in mind as we make sure to give our clients the important message in a package they could use to help in their transformation.

Paul - April 25th, 2022 at 9:38pm

One of the things that has really captured my imagination over this chapter is to get people to connect the dots. So often we don't see how one part of actions or thoughts can really impact other actions and thoughts we have. When we take the time and have people see how these two or three things are related they can begin to see how they affect their whole situation. I know for myself during a coaching session that I learned that my problem wasn't being able to get the project done but it was my negative self talk which kept me from my goals. Once I saw how the negative self talk contributed to my lack of progress, i could begin to correct it. It was my connect the dot moment and knowing how it affected how I lived my life, I want to be able to do that for my clients.

Kim Boldt - November 16th, 2022 at 9:32pm

I have limited coaching experience, but from the experience I do have I likely need to be cautious with direct language. It's something I could easily default to. When perceptive, I can see how these can be helpful. Yet I think my own development as a coach would be best served with focusing on more basic questions than observations and statements. I will likely make these naturally anyway - it's a strong inclination. These statements, at their best, are often received as wisdom, but as noted above, I want to focus on maximizing the client's awareness and agency, and use direct statements with caution.

Lea Kone - November 20th, 2022 at 4:04pm

This is a really nuanced issue, and I think one that will take much trial and error to practice. The potential questions included are excellent and I am sure that I will be referencing them. For me it is helpful to be curious about helping a client self-identify their own patterns of behavior, or core issues related to a situation rather than aiming to be direct about the situation itself. I think knowing how to address each client takes some understanding of the client and some built trust between the coach and coachee.

Jeff Smith - November 25th, 2022 at 7:41pm

I really like the question "I'm wondering....?" I can see this being a really helpful way to draw more reflection from the coachee. I also think it could be really helpful to reflect back to the client how we sense they are feeling about a situation.

Wendy Petrochko - November 29th, 2022 at 9:02am

In working with a care receiver in the past I asked her directly about her drinking habits and in brining up that topic she was able to come to the awareness that she was using alcohol too much, so I was grateful that I was direct in that. I need to be more mindful that when I am asking direct questions that they don't come off as judgmental. It is really important to make sure that I am using active listening so I can help a client connect the dots, off times clients talk in circles so you need to listen to where you can connect the dots for them. There is a risk that people take in having direct communication with others so that is why it is often not done, but as a coach when it is done well, you can uncover the WHO and the WHAT. My question is how soon is too soon in a coaching relationship to ask the more direct questions?