Coach as sounding board

Josef Gardiner
March 19, 2023


In coaching, you're trying to invite someone into a space where they're able to think, perhaps quite differently, about the challenges that are in front of them. And for that to happen, you need to invite them into a space where there's a good connection with the coach and where they feel as though they can trust the coach. There are a few things that we do in coaching that really support you to build that trust between two people. The first is really thinking about what's your intention as a coach. So, if your intention is to tell someone what to do, then you're not going to get very far. If your intention is to really bring out the best in somebody, then that's really going to help to build up that trust.

The words that we use also help to bring out and build the trust that we have with people. So, less is more as a coach. You want to be in a coaching conversation, speaking for about 20% of the time max as a coach, and you want to leave the rest of the 80% of that time for the coachee to explore their own ideas, their own thought lines, their own suggestions, and to figure out a bit of a plan of action for where they're going to go.

Now, you don't get that if you, as the coach, are jumping in all the time to share your own ideas. Many of the people I'm coaching are senior leaders of organizations. They don't get to share what's really going on with very many people because of the nature of their role. And so, it's really important that there's a strong sense of trust and confidentiality in the relationship that they have with the coach, in order for them to debrief around what's happening, to use the coach as a sounding board. And that's why trust and connection are really, really important ingredients for any coaching relationship.

So, if we've been working together for a while and you're using me as a sounding board, then I will remember things that you said three sessions ago. I remember the goals that you set out to achieve. I'll be able to bring those back into the conversation. I'll be able to notice when you are feeling particularly animated talking about something or when you're feeling really distracted or appearing really distracted or despondent about something. Actually bringing those observations into the coaching conversation is a way of being an extended brain for you and shining a bit of a mirror up and letting you see what I'm seeing and asking you questions about that.

It's that kind of extension of a sounding board that is really helpful in Executive coaching, in particular. And you know, if you're the CEO or the managing director or the CFO of an organization, people are often unwilling to let you know what they really think. And in coaching, we build up trust so that I can let you know how you're coming across, what is it that you are saying that is really resonating with me and I expect it will with others, and which parts of what you're saying need to be challenged.


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