The art of using direct communication

By Jim LaDoux and Felix Villanueva
Coaching has been proven to be a powerful tool for individuals to achieve their personal and professional goals. As a coach, one of your primary responsibilities is to help your clients gain clarity and move forward towards their desired outcomes. However, it can be challenging to ensure that your clients are getting the most out of their coaching sessions. That’s where direct communication strategies come in.

Direct communication strategies allow coaches to communicate effectively with their clients and create a safe space for them to explore their thoughts and emotions. In this post, we will explore some of the essential professional coaching competencies that a coach needs to possess to implement direct communication strategies successfully. We will also look at when to interrupt a coaching client, following your hunches, being fully present, and paying attention to the client’s wellbeing.

Professional Coaching Competencies

To effectively use direct communication strategies when coaching, the coach must possess essential professional coaching competencies. These competencies include active listening, questioning, empathy, and feedback. Active listening involves demonstrating to the client that you are fully present and engaged in the conversation. You can achieve this by maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, and providing verbal cues that you are listening.

Questioning allows the coach to explore the client's thoughts and emotions more deeply. Open-ended questions are a powerful tool that enables the coach to gather more information from their client. Empathy is an important competency that allows coaches to understand and share their client’s emotional state. When coaches display empathy, they create a safe and supportive environment for their clients to share their feelings.

Feedback is a crucial aspect of coaching. It allows the coach to provide insight and guidance to the client. Effective feedback should be specific, objective, and delivered in a timely manner. By possessing these professional coaching competencies, the coach can use direct communication strategies to create meaningful and impactful conversations with their clients.

Interrupting a Coaching Client

As a coach, it is sometimes appropriate to interrupt a client during their coaching session. Some situations where an interruption may be necessary include when the client is rambling, has gone off-topic, or is not paying attention. Interrupting a client can be a valuable tool for refocusing the conversation and ensuring that the client is getting the most out of the session.

However, interrupting should be done with caution and sensitivity. Always ask for permission before interrupting and use a respectful tone. It is essential to remember that the coaching session is about the client, not the coach. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the interruption is done with the client's best interests in mind.

Following Your Hunches

One of the most powerful tools a coach can possess is intuition or a ‘hunch’. Coaches who follow their intuition are often more effective because they are in tune with their client's emotional state. When you have a hunch, it is essential to explore it further. You can achieve this by asking open-ended questions or reflecting on what you notice about the client's verbal and non-verbal communication.

However, it is important to remember that intuition is not a substitute for professional coaching competencies. Always balance your hunches with active listening, questioning, empathy, and feedback to ensure that you are providing effective coaching to your clients.

Being Fully Present

Being fully present during a coaching session means that the coach is entirely focused on the client and the conversation. When you are present, you are not distracted by external factors and are engaged with the client's thoughts and emotions. Being fully present is a crucial competency for coaches because it allows them to provide their clients with the attention and support they need.

To be fully present, it is essential to eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone, close your computer, and find a quiet space where you can devote your full attention to the conversation. When you are fully present, you will notice that your client is more engaged in the conversation, leading to more meaningful and impactful coaching sessions.

Paying Attention to the Client and Their Wellbeing

Finally, coaches must pay attention to their client's wellbeing, both physically and emotionally. During coaching sessions, it is essential to monitor your client's energy level and mood. If you notice that they are becoming fatigued or agitated, it may be necessary to take a break or end the session early.

As a coach, it is also important to be aware of your client's emotional state. If they are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, it may be necessary to refer them to a mental health professional. By paying attention to your client's physical and emotional wellbeing, you can ensure that they are getting the support they need to achieve their goals.


Using direct communication strategies when coaching can be a powerful tool for coaches to connect with their clients. By possessing essential coaching competencies, coaches can create meaningful and impactful conversations with their clients. Interrupting the client when necessary, following your hunches, being fully present, and paying attention to the client's wellbeing are all crucial aspects of effective coaching. By implementing these strategies, coaches can help their clients achieve their personal and professional goals and have a lasting impact on their lives.


Read the following excerpt from a coaching session:
     Client: It is such an uncomfortable sensation that I feel, like a literal whirlwind in my head that doesn’t let me think. It doesn’t let me enjoy the moment. But exactly what other opinions, what else can be—I do not know. I can’t identify it now (from Professional Coaching Competencies by Goldvarg et. al, p.110).

  1. How would you respond to the client using some Direct Communication tools you learned in class. 
  2. Please identify the tool you would use and why using the ICF Competencies:
  3. Which area(s) of Direct Communication were new to you? 
  4. How would you incorporate them into your coaching approach?
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Danette M. - September 6th, 2023 at 1:13pm

"As a coach, it is sometimes appropriate to interrupt a client during their coaching session."

Some of the best feedback I've received after a guinea pig coaching session was that while I had asked good questions, when my guinea pig friend changed the subject partway through, I asked her more relevant questions regarding this secondary topic. We ended up talking longer than either of us intended, covering both issues she'd brought up. When I later asked for feedback, she said I was asking so many questions in succession that she didn't have the time to think about what she thought about the last question. I didn't realize I was moving fast. But I should have politely interrupted her to ask, "Are we still talking about what you originally wanted to talk about?" or, "Do you want to switch gears on this conversation or save this for another coaching session?" It would have displayed care but also slowed us down and then given her control over the direction of the conversation.

Carl Horton - September 11th, 2023 at 1:30pm

The Direct Communication sessions have been some of the most helpful and freeing sessions in our PCC course. Several things have stuck with me. All of them relate well to the ICF Coaching Competencies. In this case, the client is experiencing an uncomfortable sensation, described like a whirlwind. As a coach practicing direct communication, I would use the following tools:

1. Describe what I am observing in the client and use the words, images and metaphors of the client. Hopefully, that would evoke a greater awareness within the client of the blockage they are experiencing that is preventing progress. (6.1, 6.2)

2. Another direct communication approach would involve both the what and the who of the client - inquiring further about what the client wants to accomplish in this particular session and how this feeling is impacting them as a whole person. (5.1, 5.2) The client's comment about not being able to "enjoy the moment" could be explored as the "what" and their experience of that could delve more deeply into the "who."

3. Challenging questions that help the client move beyond the current situation could be employed to help the client explore life after this circumstance. (7.2, 7.3)

Newer areas and tools of Direct Communication that I haven't used or was cautious to use include sharing personal experiences and making suggestions. These are both definitely direct, but really discouraged at the ACC level, so I still find myself hesitant in this form of direct communication with clients. I'm totally onboard with both of these direct strategies when offered at face value and with the permission of the client. I'm going to try to incorporate these tools and direct approaches into my coaching practice with existing clients and see how it goes. In part, I just have to become more comfortable with being direct. Radical candor will be a step further!

EMMANUEL JACKSON - September 12th, 2023 at 8:03pm

I am grateful for this post, and all of the valuable tools it offers in the art of direct communication. As someone who sometimes struggle with direct communication, I found this to be very helpful, especially the tool of empathy and presence. I would have never considered empathy and presence as tools for direct communication. This is helpful...because true connection requires empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.... requiring us to step outside of our own experience and inhabit, even for a brief moment, the reality of someone else.

Ed Horstmann - September 13th, 2023 at 10:30pm

I was thrown by this comment when I first read it (and still confused even after reading it several times). I think that Direct Communication would be helpful in various ways if I were to encounter this language in a coaching session. First, I would ask for clarification: "In your language I sense so many energies, some of which may be bumping into one another: tell me more!" Second, if we're working on the assumption that coachees know how to resolve the situations they bring to us, I would want to explore that phrase: "I can't identify it now." That sounds like a self-limiting belief, and with patient affirmation, there might be a breakthrough in that area. Finally, if the vagueness of the language was part of a much longer, meandering meditation, maybe there would be room for a well-timed interruption: an action to break the narrative flow and bring much needed focus.

In terms of competencies to be employed, I think 6.2, 6.3 and 6.7 would be helpful: trying to get to clarity through a lot of uncertainty. Also, 7.2,3,4 and 5 emphasize the value of questions that invite the client to move BEYOND current thinking and feeling. 7.6 affirms the importance of clear, direct questions, which also model a way of thinking that is able to identify the source(s) of confusion the coachee may be feeling.

I would say that an area of Direct Communication that is new to me (when contrasted with my ACC experience) involves the use of making suggestions. I can see how this approach would need to be used sparingly so as not to inhibit a coachee's pathway to discovery. But there can be something liberating about saying: "May I offer a suggestion?"

Tony Myles - October 7th, 2023 at 10:24pm

I'd want to let the client use his/her own words, and yet also try to find some summary words. An example might be, "I hear you saying this is hard to define. You used the word 'whirlwind' - what does that feel like to you?" and "When was another time you felt that way?" and "Imagine this may not be the only time in life you'll feel stuck. What do you hope to learn from this to apply in future situations?"

In all of this, we're being fully present and helping the client follow his/her own hunches. It does feel new to "go for it" at this level versus the ACC level.