How do I coach if I’m not familiar with the topic?

Do you ever worry about coaching a client and not being familiar with the topic or scenario they present?

What if they need your help around relationships, career, spirituality or creativity? If you're not an expert in these areas how can you coach them?

These are familiar worries as a new health coach.

Last week I had the opportunity to witness a scenario where a student was coaching another student and she felt totally out of her element because she wasn't familiar with the topic.

Her mind was spinning, "I have no clue about this. I don't understand what she's talking about. I can't help her. I don't know what to do."

And she froze. She let these thoughts get the better of her, and she couldn't continue.

In the debrief after we talked about how the topic actually doesn't matter. If we're skilled coaches, we simply rely on our coaching skills and powerful questions to get us through. It's been said that if we are good coaches we can essentially coach on any topic.

So instead of worrying about becoming knowledge on every topic, which is impossible, what I recommend instead is becoming knowledgeable and competent in your coaching skills, the coach approach and process.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, here are a few tips:

  • Get curious and take good notes.
  • Remember the client is naturally creative resourceful and whole.
  • You're not there to fix them. You don't need to have the solution.
  • They have the answers inside of them
  • Practice active listening skills.
  • Reflect back to the client what you heard.
  • Ask high mileage questions.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for details and clarification, "I'm not familiar with XX can you tell me a bit more about it? I don't quite understand can you explain a bit more?"
  • Get a nice clear picture of the current state - "What's the struggle/challenge? How is this impacting you? How important is it to work on this right now?"
  • Invite the client to look ahead to the future state - "What would the ideal scenario be? If a miracle happened and this was all better, what would that look like? What would the benefits be?"
  • Finally invite the client to think of a few action steps they can take to move toward the future state.

It's actually very freeing to let go of having to know it all. You aren't the expert. If you aren't familiar with the situation, scenario or topic ask.

Trust in your coaching skills. Trust in the client. Trust in the coaching process. When you do this you can enter any coaching scenario with confidence.

Over to you: Have you ever been in this situation? What might you do differently next time? Tell me in the comments...

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