Why Coaching Really Works


My car was low, bright red and Italian. It was as precious to me as a Ferrari although it was a very modest Fiat 850 coupe. It attracted admiring glances in the bright spring sunshine. There was a snag. It had picked that day, outside the local shops, to refuse to start.

I lifted the cover in the tail and knelt down in a familiar praying position to inspect the tiny engine. A shadow restricted my view. It was cast by a cute child whose earnest face was now on a level with mine. With all the solemnity of any concerned five year old he asked, ‘What makes your car not work’?  He knew what he meant and I knew what he meant. But the way his limited vocabulary forced him to phrase his question killed any thoughts of an instant technical, practical or age-related response.


I was asked a similar question this week. ‘Why does coaching really work’?

My instinctive and wisely withheld response was along the lines that if I knew that I would bottle it, sell it and make a fortune. So I paused for a couple of beats and suggested, ‘If you ask a thousand coaches you might get a thousand different answers and they could all be right’.  Now, several days later, that question still lurks in my mind waiting for an answer. I have one in a single word that I will share with you in a moment.

My rather flippant first answer did actually have a clue within it, despite the rebuff that it was typical coach speak. It revealed the fundamental key to coaching success …that it is not and should never be, an off the peg solution, expecting one size to fit every client.

one size does not fit all

A newly qualified coach will quite rightly think back to their tutorials and practical training sessions to determine why coaching works. A coach with a busy private practice may well draw on recent experience to cite successful examples from actual clients. Even here, the reasons for successful outcomes with private individuals are different from those in a corporate or executive coaching environment. We may just have this in common; that none of us knows for sure and with one hundred percent certainty why it works. We only know that it does work and the processes of how it works.

At least that is a step forward from ‘what makes your car not work’? The ‘why’ question is at least phrased positively instead of being negative.  In the same way that I was able to perfectly understand that infant inquisitor’s odd syntax back in my petrol-head days, I suggest that coaching really works because of communication. That’s it. There is the reason in a single word.

coaching really works because of communication

All effective communication is a two way street. It requires at least one speaker and a listener.  Just like an old fashioned two-way radio, it is impossible for one person to transmit and receive at the same time.  Coaching communication works because the coach recognizes the importance of listening as opposed to the sense of simply hearing. When a convenient opportunity arises in a friendly everyday conversation, just check how difficult it is to simply listen without thinking about what you want to say next, without interrupting and even without grunting in agreement.

Coaching may well be the first instance in their adult life where a client feels that they are truly being listened to. Trust arises from that feeling and from trust grows a willingness to accept suggestions for improving a situation or set of circumstances.

There is another aspect of communication in the mix of why coaching really works. This is when a stated or implied agreement exists right near the end of a coaching session when the coach sets one or two specific actions that the client agrees to perform before their next coaching date.

Take actions

Here there may be a gap of a week or longer between the ‘transmission’ and ‘reception’ and, rather than encouraging procrastination, this can allow seeds of guilt to mature to the level where the client finds it easier to follow through on a course of action than to have to confess that they didn’t do it. You will be familiar with those two powerful motivators where we either move away from pain or seek pleasure.  Yes, the coach has an opening to apply pressure for assignments agreed but not delivered, but always in that positive, encouraging and non-judgmental manner in which they have been trained.

When you can distill an answer down to its essence in a single word you can be sure that you are getting to the core of the question. My single word answer to that ancient automotive question was ‘broken’ and it was a delivered with a smile that sent junior happily on his way.

To take my leave as I began, my favourite transport is still low, red and Italian. It is a coach of a different sort. It is the bus that transports us from the airport to our holiday hotel in Sorrento.

Win win

And yet it isn’t really so different. It gets us from where we are to where we want to be in less time and more efficiently than we could do it ourselves. That is why coaching really works!

Colin Edwards


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