8 common traps in coaching conversations and how to deal with them

That awkward silence…

That mini panic...

A client staring back at you.

”Sh*t!”...you think “I have no idea what to say!”

A common dread of budding coaches is going blank with clients. That fear that as soon as you hesitate, the client can smell it and the judgement will come - “Thought they were an expert. They look like they have no idea!”.

The reality is, not every session will go according to plan, and sometimes things do indeed occur that can threaten the session - like going blank!

Knowing how to deal with these scenarios is critical. If you don’t know what you are dealing with, you are likely to start floundering about asking irrelevant questions, or rigidly stick to your favourite coaching process. This makes the whole thing feel weird and ineffective for both you and your client.

On the other hand, when you are able to recognise the problem and how to approach it, you can keep things on track and turn ‘weird’ into ‘wow’ for your client.


So here are 8 common traps in coaching conversations and how to deal with them. 



1. When the conversation goes off on a tangent 

What to do -
Remember your purpose as a coach

Your purpose as a coach is to help your client get from where they are now to where they want to be. So in every interaction, your sole role is to ask questions and provide feedback to help them do that.

If you find the conversation is going off on a tangent, ask “how does what we are discussing now relate to your outcome?”



2. When you go blank and you’re not sure what to say 

What to do -
Start a recap

Recapping your understanding of the goal, the current issues and where you are in the conversation right now, is a great way to kick start your brain and get back on track. It will also help highlight anything that is confusing or doesn’t make sense, which you can then ask about to gain more clarity.


3. When the client resists, disagrees, or becomes argumentative 

What to do -
Gently point out the resistance and ask about it


Resistance can either be a sign of lack of rapport or defensiveness. If the resistance is arising because of a breakdown in rapport, go back to rapport building.

If the resistance is because the person is defensive about an issue, offer to go where the client wants to go in the conversation and let them decide. But also respectfully point out that if we dance around issues, we can’t resolve them.


4. When you get lost, because the client is too detailed 

What to do -
Ask them to summarise

Sometimes you ask the client one question, and 30 minutes later they are still answering. It can be hard to follow everything they’ve said, especially when there are too many details. If you find yourself getting lost, simply ask “Could you please summarise that in a nutshell?” or “If you could answer the question in one sentence, what would that be?”. This helps you and the client get clear, fast.




5. When the client is too vague 

What to do -
Get specific

Ask for examples and use questions that elicit the details. Questions like “how do you know?” or “what evidence do you have?”. You can also help the client be specific by asking them simple questions like “what specifically…how specifically…?”.


6. When the client isn’t giving you a lot 

What to do -
Point it out


Sometimes clients are shy, nervous, or uncomfortable speaking up and don’t share a lot. Gently point this out as a limiting pattern for the coaching relationship and that dialogue needs to be two ways if the relationship is going to work.

It’s also useful to set expectations upfront by sharing that the more the client is willing to get real and share what’s really going on for them, the faster you can go deep together and get results.


7. When there’s a strong habit that interferes with the session 

What to do -
Interrupt it and bring attention to it whenever it arises

Sometimes clients will have unconscious habits that kick in and interfere with the session. Some have a habit of disagreeing with everything even when you aren’t asserting anything, some will have a habit of denial, blame, or victim mentality.

Any pattern of behaviour that shows up repeatedly is something to interrupt and help them see. It’s also useful to set expectations upfront that interrupting is something you will do, so that you can help them see things they may not be aware of. This way they won’t be surprised when you interrupt, and prone to misinterpreting it as potentially rude.


8. When the client is staring blankly back at you 

What to do -
Ask them ‘What does this bring up for you now?’

Sometimes after you’ve shared what you think is an amazing learning, the client may just stare back at you and you’re not sure if they’ve understood. If this is the case - ask them “What does this bring up for you now?”.

This is like a reset question. You can use it to allow the client to share what’s happening for them, share what they think and what conclusions they have drawn, so that you have context for what’s running through their mind. This will inform you of whether they understand, are at a place of acceptance/resolution, or whether they are still struggling. That way you can determine where to go next in the conversation.



Remember your role is to help to facilitate change, that’s why they’ve come to you. But also that you’re human - it’s okay to get confused at times or to not know the perfect thing to say. Your client doesn’t need to be perfect in order to change and neither do you to facilitate it.

Rather than focusing on perfection, focus on practice. Coaching is a skill, and with every skill it takes effort and practice to become outstanding. Arm yourself with the tips above and through practice you will learn how to intuitively navigate client dynamics and deliver consistent results every time.

Which of these tips has been most useful to you? Let us know in the comments below.



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