Why Giving Advice Rarely Works — And What Great Coaches Do Instead


In our experience, many of the people who become coaches (and make great ones!) have a natural gift for helping people. They’re often the person their friends and colleagues turn to for guidance and advice, and they love being able to help in a way that makes a difference in people’s lives.

But what does it really mean to help someone in a lasting, sustainable way?

There’s a lot of confusion out there about what coaching is. In fact, if you feel drawn in any way to becoming a coach yourself, you might feel confused about what coaching really involves and how it’s different from giving advice.

The good news is, confusion is totally normal! But before we clear that up, let’s take a closer look at what coaching is not, in order to better understand what exactly it is. 

Here’s what coaching is NOT:

Coaching isn’t consulting.

Consultants focus on situations, while coaches focus on people. In other words, “expert” consultants are hired to help clients define their problems, formulate solutions, and sometimes even implement those solutions (often using their personal experience as a model for success). A coach, on the other hand, views clients as the “experts” in their own lives and businesses. Instead of telling a client what to do, a coach facilitates the client’s discovery of their own answers.

Coaching isn’t mentoring.

A mentor says, “Follow me,” while a coach reveals where the client is standing on the map and asks, “Where shall we go next?” Mentoring can mean serving as a wise role model and is usually about helping the mentee emulate the mentor’s own decisions and style. Coaching techniques, however, are designed to help individuals find their own way and discover their own strengths, skills, and blind spots. Coaching does not assume that everyone will be equally successful following the same path. And while a coach can have valuable experience and insight in the client’s field, their real value lies in helping people draw on their own experience and wisdom as they move ahead.

Coaching isn’t therapy.

Therapy examines the past to help a client cope with the present, while coaching builds on the present to optimize the future. Generally, therapists work to move patients out of a state of dysfunction, which often centers on resolving conflict within the individual or a relationship, overcoming past issues, healing trauma, and/or managing mental illness. Coaching clients, in contrast, are already working at a functional level. It’s the coach’s job, therefore, to help them see past the inner obstacles holding them back and empower them to take action so they can perform at an optimal level.

Coaching isn’t training.

Training is curriculum focused, while coaching is client focused. Training is an effective approach when specific skills or objectives must be mastered. A trainer/instructor establishes and presents the curriculum, meets set objectives, administers the same material to each person, and even conducts testing to determine whether students successfully acquired an understanding of the subject. Coaching, though, is about guiding individuals or groups as they set and reach their own objectives. Unlike training, there is no clear path or set curriculum; it is less linear and more organic.

Coaching isn’t simply giving advice.

A best friend or family member has opinions and an agenda, while a coach has a process. When you talk to your friends and family about something you’re struggling with, they will likely have their own opinions and judgements about the situation. Even if they have your best interest at heart, any advice your friend offers will be rooted in what they think is best for you. The coaching relationship is truly a collaborative effort based solely on what the client wants. Coaches are professionally trained to be completely objective and non-judgmental. They’re not attached to any outcome or decision their clients make, and they’re able to provide guidance and tools that help their clients implement solutions so they can get one step closer to living their best life.

What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Simply Giving Advice?

Now that we’ve defined all the things coaching isn’t, let’s get clearer on the difference between coaching and giving advice. 

As stated above, coaches are trained to be completely objective and non-judgmental. Your friends and family members have a stake in your outcome. They want what’s best for you (of course!) and this inherently creates judgment around the advice they give. 

Their judgment might be considered “positive”, but even a positive judgment is still a judgment. 

Coaches are trained to actively listen and help define what their client’s true goals and ambitions are, without any attachment to the outcome. 

Having this objective view is important for a coaching relationship. By coming in without attachment to any specific agenda or outcome, a coach is able to create a space which fosters collaboration, curiosity, and creative problem solving. 

Coaches will not offer advice; rather, they will create structure in their coaching conversations to lead to their clients to discover what best works for them. 

What works best for your mom or your partner or your next door neighbor might not be what’s best for you. 

Coaches Don’t Know Everything

Whew, what a relief, right?!

It’s understandable if you worry you won’t be a great coach for your client if you don’t know enough about their specific situation or industry to be able to provide guidance. Fortunately, coaches don’t need to know everything because what truly matters is what your clients know and want. 

Through iPEC’s coach training program, you learn how to coach anyone, on anything, around any situation. Typically, coaches choose to specialize in a specific area such as wellness, leadership, relationships, etc. iPEC even has a masters-level program to help our graduates level up in that way. But all iPEC coaches can coach anyone on anything. 

Because the coaching relationship is truly a collaborative effort based solely on what the client wants. And ultimately, being a great coach doesn’t require you to be an expert in other people’s lives; it’ll ask you to trust them to be the expert in their own journey, and support them along the way.

Curious About Becoming a Professional Coach, and Whether it’s the Right Path for You? 

Check out our in-depth guide to the field of coaching, and explore whether it’s the right match for your unique gifts and goals!

Access the ultimate guide to understanding coaching as a career field

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