Using direct communication

By Jim LaDoux
Although Direct Communication is no longer an ICF Core Competency, effective coaches are exceptional in applying the skill. The challenge with Direct Communication is that, sometimes we misconstrue Direct Communication with directing, advising, or fixing the other. Instead,

Direct Communication has to do with responding to the Coachee in a way that is articulate and succinct. It challenges the Coachee to look deeper at their actions, thoughts, feelings, and responses. Direct Communication invites the Coachee to listen to themself and reflect upon what they hear. In summary, Direct Communication invites. It does not prescribe.

Skills needed for being an exceptional communicator

  • Take time to formulate ideas before sharing them with Coachee. This allows both of you to clearly reflect on what has been said and provide the space to create an inquiry that goes to the heart of the matter.
  • Be intentional in every observation and comment made. The mail goal of coaching is to invite the Coachee to develop a new awareness. It’s all about setting the Coachee up for success through small steps forward. Effective coaches are intentional about how the respond. They focus on the “whoness” of the Coachee and their responses are tailored to create a path to get there.
  • Be comfortable in challenging Coachee’s worldview. Honesty and trust are two qualities required to create effective Direct Communication. When these two are established, then there is room to challenge perspectives and worldviews. An effective coach is not afraid of pointing out contradictions or unreal expectations.
  • Summarize and articulate ideas clearly. Coaching is all about allowing the Coachee enough space and time to explore whatever they want to explore. An effective coach will maximize their effectiveness by using less words and, at the same time, communicating that they have heard and understood what the Coachee is saying. A good Direct Communication practice is to use phrases or even words used by the Coachee as they summarize and articulate what they have heard.
  • Be comfortable with silence. Silence is one of the most powerful tools in coaching. Silence offers the opportunity to both, coach and Coachee to reflect and formulate a path forward.


  1.  Recall a conversation or a coaching session when you felt you were not as effective in direct communication.
  2.  Write down, word-for-word, as much as you recall of the conversation.
  3.  Set the document aside for a short time – at least an hour.
  4.  Read the conversation and reflect about what you could have done differently.
  5.  Put your reflection on paper.
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Dan Solomon - August 31st, 2022 at 11:54am

This post helpfully lifts up the critical skills necessary to be an exceptional communicator. The closing exercise was helpful as well. The practice of setting aside the excerpt of the coaching conversation for a short time was especially clarifying for me. Upon reflection, I was invited to not be too quick in utilizing direct communication. Stay curious and continue to inquire even though you may have an initial "intuition". Invite the client to dig deeper. Direct communication is most likely to be effective when the coach is able to use language and metaphors that the client has already unearthed themselves in executing the direct communication. This post and exercise strengthen my conviction that direct communication is part of being an exceptional coach and warrants continued focus practice.

Jason Bland - August 31st, 2022 at 12:52pm

Lesson 5 and the blog article highlight the value of direct communication, not as prescriptive but as an invitation to the client. This perspective was new for me and helped me view the task of providing direct communication in a clever way. It’s not about prescribing the answer, but building windows and doors to new perspectives for the client to see things differently… sometimes by giving them a gentle nudge in one direction or another, and then checking with the client to see if that is acceptable to them.

Ultimately, having this awareness as a coach empowers me to be more direct, but through the lens of opening a new door for the client, not as trying to provide an answer.

Brian Hooper - September 2nd, 2022 at 11:43am

Direct communication is a big tool in the coaching toolbox. It seems to be about open and honest communication and can be transformational. I think this tool can at times lead us to be uncomfortable, whether that being asking tough questions or silence, but this method allows coaches to dive deeper. I think naming the contradiction in what the client is doing and what they would like to be doing is key. With this process a coach might use some "advice giving" using a metaphor and maybe asking the questions, "Can I share an observation?" or "Have you thought about trying this?" Of course, only sharing this with the client's permission. I see direct communication as a method to bring about deeper awareness.

Tom Smith - September 3rd, 2022 at 9:02am

As I re-read Jim's post on direct communication, I noticed themes that I hadn't appreciated in my first take. Themes of taking time, reflecting, providing space and intentionality all for the good of the client. Coaches challenge their client's world view from a perspective of care, wanting the best for their client. For me, this is foundational to my use of this coaching tool: helping the client to reconsider current attitudes, assumptions and actions win order for them to explore opportunities they had yet to consider. Follow the client, be patient in listening and daring in asking well-crafted comments/questions/metaphors. Powerful.

Direct Communication gets at the heart of what is happening internally for the client. It dives past the surface of the issue the client first shares in order to open up life's possibilities in new and inspiring ways.

Shelly McNitt - September 7th, 2022 at 9:41am

I continue to be intrigued at this idea of direct communication as an invitation and challenging the client in a non shaming and non judgemental way. When I think of the word direct, I tend to lean towards it meaning assertive or harsh. This article challenges that idea. Silence as a tool and language choice in the questions are key in that shift. Direct is not intended to be rude or aggressive but a tool to evoke new awareness for the client. As a coach, I need to be mindful of pauses, tone of voice, and words used in asking powerful questions.

Becky D'Angelo-Veitch - April 6th, 2023 at 11:23am

Yes--this feels like a reframing. Even after really exploring this idea in class, I struggle with when a reframing is direct communication vs. when it is just a part of the general flow of a session. If I am understanding correctly our conversation in class, it is more about asking the client if we can interrupt to share an observation, question or reframing.

I also really like what you are saying about direct not necessarily being classified as harsh or assertive. I was just talking with a colleague and trying to explain this idea, and as we talked it struck me that so often we are really bad about addressing something directly, almost as though, even if done politely, it is an aggressive or blunt act. Too often, we tip-toe around issues or even hints that have been dropped because it feels scary or uncomfortable or overwhelming to directly address the necessary issues.

Shannon Guse - April 7th, 2023 at 12:00pm

I always worry that my directness is too harsh. In my reluctance to come across as aggressive, I hold my tongue searching for the "right words" and often the moment to respond has passed. I am hoping that with more practice, I will become more confident that directness is one more tool to unlock the client's potential.

Julie Gvillo - April 21st, 2023 at 10:30am

Ha! I'm in the practice of responding to these questions first, and then reading the responses from others, and I said very similar things about the level of my directness. ;) I don't shy away for difficult topics (in professional roles) nor do I really worry about being harsh, but I probably do need to be a LITTLE more gentle -- or at the very least ask permission -- with my direct communication.

Tom Pietz - November 14th, 2022 at 8:05pm

As a public speaker/preacher, and an extrovert, and great at being a dialogue partner and my role of pastoral care and counseling, I need to shift the way I think and be by slowing down, listening by far the majority of the time, and being slow to speak and quick to listen as the Bible says it. Short probing questions to the coachee while allowing the questions to sit with the client and for him/her to ponder, think and then express what comes to mind is key. For some, especially introverts or processing people, it may take more time to unpack.

In understanding the client's worldview, asking direct questions to dig deeper and even question the client's thinking may reveal new insights and lead to a breakthrough.

D. Matty - April 12th, 2023 at 6:43pm

I am comfortable with silence and gently challenging people (and, thankfully. have been told I do so in an affirming, not shaming, manner). However, I need to work on responding to the Coachee in an articulate and succinct way. I sometimes pre-explain my next question. Also, how does one learn to give time and space for reflection and simultaneously be time-sensitive? In this, too, I want to grow.

Julie Gvillo - April 21st, 2023 at 10:33am

Dr. Felix has suggested the 8 second rule to sit with silence before forming the next question. If the Coachee has not started a new thought or continued with the old one before you open your mouth to speak, you are then prepared to go forward. If they do, *they* are prepared to go forward. Either way, it's a win/win. :) You've got this!

Tony Myles - April 15th, 2023 at 1:41am

I feel I'm generally effective with direct communication. It's a good starting point, but where I need to improve is by considering context. I grew up in Chicago where people are direct, but now live in Minnesota where many people don't bring up things directly. There's always room for improvement on my end in this, especially when it comes to context.

I feel there's always room to improve my listening skills, especially to understand others' perspectives and needs. This means being open minded, too, which can lead to some creative solutions.

I see that in my reflection. I want to shore things up fast, and sometimes they just need time.

Julie Gvillo - April 21st, 2023 at 10:38am

I think your insight about wanting to shore things up fast when sometimes they require more time is significant, Tony. I think it's very common for positive people (as I perceive you) to move forward faster than people who are wrestling with a challenge and may not be as positive -- at least in that situation -- as the coach. It's also important to remember that internal processors or people who are a little slower to process information shared out loud need time to think through the stimulus before preparing a response and then reflect on it before sharing it out loud.

Kim - May 4th, 2023 at 4:55pm

I appreciate that you brought up context/geography. I grew up in the South and have always been quite direct. It has been a source of tension in many situations, because I think I'm just being direct while others see it as bossy or inappropriate. It will be important in setting our coaching agreement that we might name the importance of being direct and ask for permission for the client ahead of time.

Julie Gvillo - April 21st, 2023 at 10:25am

So direct communication might not be a challenge for me. ;) The youth I worked with in the church where I served for thirteen years nicknamed me "Frank" for my direct communication with them. LOL I've been trying to hold back on that in coaching because I wasn't sure it had a place until this lesson. Imagine my relief! I may need to do some work, though, on how I phrase that communication so that it isn't *quite* so direct.

I was a while responding to this blog because I couldn't remember a coaching conversation sufficiently enough to record it on paper. Things I need to work on with direct communication are: asking for permission to share (I tend to assume permission because they have come to me and are paying me -- it's a consultant assumption instead of a coaching assumption), keeping statements brief (I *can* be brief; I can also be verbose -- especially if I'm concerned about the reception of what I've said, which is likely where asking permission would help, huh?), and offering explanations).

Madeline Alvarez - May 2nd, 2023 at 7:46pm

Great article! I think one of the most valuable skills is being comfortable with silence. Both coach and coachee need to ponder on questions and answers. My biggest challenge is how much time to give the coachee and myself, especially when you feel pressured for time.

Kim - May 4th, 2023 at 4:52pm

The two greatest aha moments I've had with clients both came after I shared an observation, then sat in silence (literally counting in my head so I could let the space be). As a coach we are able to see things from an outside perspective. When we share an observation, we are not passing judgment, just noting something that made us wonder. Its like looking in a truth telling mirror - our coach can help the client look past the same story, same excuse, same fear to the heart of the matter. In the examples of my two clients, these observations were the turning point for all future conversations. Powerful questions AND powerful statements = coaching success.

Mel Tubb - May 17th, 2023 at 5:25am

How is direct communication different than asking powerful questions?

Direct communication can be something other than a question. It could be a comment or an observation.

When and how can direct communication be inappropriate?

When it is used to help the coach avoid discomfort.

When it is used to direct the client to do something or to judge them

When would direct communication be appropriate in a coaching situation?

When a client is spiraling down a rabbit hole.

To capture the moment when a client displays some shift in emotion through body language or tone.

How will you maintain neutrality when sharing observations?

It seems like if you focus on the client and keep yourself in their worldview... their values, beliefs, priorities.... then you will be neutral.

How will you avoid addressing your issues rather than a client's?

Don't assume that the client experiences the world in the same way. If you start to identify with something they are saying this is a great time to ask a question that gets into their specific context because there will always be at least a little variation on their experience that could actually be really helpful to dive more deeply into.

Charity - June 20th, 2023 at 9:37pm

Direct communication is harder than it looks. I'm constantly not leaving space between the end of something someone says and when I begin to speak. I think part of my development as a coach is the ability to take a 1 second beat between comments, or people in a conversation before I speak.

But I am becoming more comfortable with silence. I'm more and more comfortable with it the more i practice it.

Ed Horstmann - September 5th, 2023 at 6:00pm

I'm thinking back to a particular meeting that took place early in my ministry with my current congregation. I was involved in a discussion with a church member about a budget proposal that included funding for a new associate pastor. He was invested in this discussion because he was a member of the Board of Trustees and was preparing for our upcoming meeting when the issue would come up for vote. He was not shy about his opposition to the proposal, and had worked hard to dismantle the discussion in previous meetings. It is not easy to remember the specific words that we used in our conversation, but I remember my commitment to listen carefully to the points of his argument. And listen carefully I did...maybe too carefully. Because unfortunately I neither asked him powerful questions about his position, nor did I advocate strongly enough for my position (though he had heard me speak multiple times in public in favor of the proposal). Nevertheless, one on one encounters are more intimate and I had a chance to be firm and direct while at the same time using our conversation to dig more deeply into the roots of his opposition. That directness on my part could have come in the form of open-ended questions. That directness could have also come in the form of simple challenging statements designed to help me better under the motivations for his arguments. I haven't thought about that conversation for a long time, but I can see now how much there is to be learned from it.

Danette M - September 5th, 2023 at 7:56pm

I appreciate two specific comments in this thread:

"It's not about prescribing the answer, but building windows and doors to new perspectives for the client to see things differently." - Jason

It's great that at the PCC level, coaches can offer perspective when it feels right, yet the goal is not to spoon-feed an answer or, more precisely, a "right" answer. Instead, the Coachee can intersect their latent perspective with the coaches to determine the most accurate and fitting ideal for their situation.

"...this idea of direct communication as an invitation and challenging the client in a non-shaming and non-judgemental way." - Shelly

Jim and Felix always example a light touch in how they offer their perspective with statements like, "This is what worked for me; it may or may not work for you... It's just an idea..." While some people want to be told what to do, it's more empowering when they decide what's a good idea for their scenario.

Tony Myles - October 7th, 2023 at 10:20pm

I can't think of a conversation where direct communication was a hurdle, I tend to go for it versus hold back. What I do wonder about is when I could be more tactful or personal in what I'm sharing, especially if the person I'm working with seems to be timid.

Michelle Townsend de López - November 3rd, 2023 at 12:30pm

Tony I agree that the piece I have to be very attentive in making sure that it is done in a tactful manner that elicits the deeper reflection and/or awareness rather than shutting down the client. This of course requires making sure there is a good alliance and understanding of client and yourself as a coach. This is where the prequestionnaire/session sheet can be helpful in reminders about style and plan for session as well.

Matthew May - November 7th, 2023 at 10:56am

I have found silence to be a great tool in my coaching. Many times, clients will fill the space with more information that is helpful to the conversation. We tend to only want to use a limited amount of time but a coach invites the client to share more by not replying immediately and allowing the client to use the space as they need to use it. I have found silence to be very helpful for those people who need to process thoughts internally.