What Happens In A Coaching Session?

What happens in a coaching session?

What happens in a coaching session varies, of course, but the general goal of coaching is to move you from where you are to where you want to be. Where you want to be could be anywhere: married or on your own; a leader in your community or an artist content in your studio; charging after your life’s mission or figuring out what that mission is, or; jumping from a boring job to a job that lights you up.

A single coaching session, then, moves you one step closer to where you’d like to be or toward the goal you’d like to achieve.

Request for coaching: what you’d like to achieve

At the beginning of each session, I ask the client what they want to accomplish in the session. This is called a request for coaching and serves several purposes. It tells me what it is the client wants to accomplish in the session; it helps to focus the coaching, so our conversation doesn’t wander aimlessly, and; it supports the client in thinking critically about what’s important to them in their progress towards their goals.

Typical requests for coaching could be: how to ask for a raise; keeping my temper with my direct reports; or asking a co-worker not to interrupt me.

Determining a coaching request can take several minutes—I’ve had it take the entire session—since a well-focused request will produce better results than a foggy one. Additionally, it often happens that a client’s initial request may not be the “true” request. A request of “how do I get my husband to stop mansplaining things to me,” might, on further investigation, be more powerfully stated as “how do I effectively communicate my feelings?” or “how do I stop training my husband to treat me as if I were helpless?”

Last week’s practices: achieving results

After the client has settled on their request, we review the previous week’s practices. Practices are actions that the client has taken since our last session. We design the practices to take what we’ve learned in a session and use it out in the real world. In essence, to put rubber to the road. Practices are a key part of coaching. If you don’t use the insights you’ve gained in your coaching sessions to change how you engage the world—you won’t make any progress towards your goals.

If, for example, you are working to manage your anger—a possible practice might be to replace anger with curiosity. What is going on with the other person? Another practice might be to clean-up any upsets you’ve caused. A third might be to take an improv class to learn how to creatively respond to others. Yet another might be to sing in a karaoke bar to become more comfortable making yourself vulnerable.

Practices are essential to your growth and development. Generally, the client and I work them out together, and, of course, the client doesn’t have to do them. If they are too confronting, we scale them back until they are doable—then move forward.


With last week’s practices reviewed and with a request for coaching in hand, the coaching begins.

Coaching is like an improvised dance between the coach and the client. We know where we are going (to fulfill the request for coaching), but the steps they will take to get there are unknown. Generally, the coach asks questions, and the client reflects and responds.

Continuing the previous example of the husband’s mansplaining, the coach would determine what results the client would like. This could be a stop to the mansplaining and a closer relationship with her husband. The coach also needs to know what she’s done so far to achieve those results, and whether she’d be open to trying a different approach.

Good coaches listen, not to a client’s explanations or interpretations of an event, but for the underlying dynamic or context. Meaningful change only comes from shifting contexts. The wife, for example, could be unconsciously communicating to her husband that she’s “not good enough.” He responds by explaining things to her. To change his behavior, she needs to address her sense that she’s “not good enough.”

Or, her context could be one of abandonment—that he’ll leave her if she tells him what she’s thinking. Or, it could be that by criticizing him for his mansplaining, she gets to evade taking responsibility for her own powerlessness.

Coaching clarifications

Note that it’s not the coach’s job nor is it effective to change the behavior of a third party—the mansplainer, in this instance. It’s the coach’s job to develop the client so she can respond to the situation in a way that produces the results she wants. As I’ve noted in other posts, I coach for personal leadership—developing people to take charge of their lives.

One last item to clarify–a coach doesn’t give advice; that’s a consultant’s job. There are times, however, when I think advice might be constructive. If so, I ask the client if I could stop being a coach for a moment and offer my thoughts. Several years ago, I was coaching a woman who was having trouble with her boss. Like the wife in the previous example, I was working to develop her personal leadership so she could effectively manage the relationship. However, after a harrowing description of an incident with her boss, I stopped being a coach and advised her that it would be wise to talk to a lawyer.

Toward the end of the session, we review the request for coaching. Did we fulfill it—or do we have more work to do? If we have more work to do, the client could make the same request the following week.

New practices to achieve results

In the final minutes of the session, we brainstorm practices for the coming week. For the mansplained client, for example, it might be telling her husband how she feels when he does what he does (he may be thinking that he’s doing her a favor) or to practice shifting out of her “not good enough” way of thinking about herself.

Depending on how avid the client is, we usually come up with three to six practices.

Finally, I check in with the client to be certain there aren’t any remaining concerns or unaddressed issues. We confirm our next meeting time, and then I wish the client well as they cast themselves back into their lives–each time with better and more powerful ways of engaging the world.

How long does coaching last?

It depends. Most of my clients accomplish their goals in six to twelve months. Some phenoms are in and out in three or four months, and some take on ever-larger projects and continue working with me for several years.

What happens in a coaching session changes your life

Coaching will change your life. Not only will you accomplish goals that you didn’t think possible but you’ll be a different person at the end of it. Just think what it’d be like if the self-sabotaging conversations you pester yourself with (I’m not good enough, I’m a fraud, people don’t like me, I can’t do it) were swept clean?  How much more meaning and joy you would find in life if you could successfully resolve issues such as mansplaining husbands?