non-directive life coaching
This is the “age old” question:Directive life coaching?  Or Non-Directive coaching?  Which is better?

And which approach should you use – and when??  The answer isn’t all black and white.  Your approach to coaching greatly depends on the client and your client’s needs and individual goals . . . so first, let’s take a look at what these two kinds of coaching are:

Directive Coaching

This coaching skill involves more input from you, the coach, rather than the client. You are providing advice, wisdom, and direction to the client based on personal experience or proficiency. You will see this a lot in mentoring, as mentors are usually guiding a less experienced person with their knowledge.

Directive coaching is beneficial when the client can’t find a solution or lacks the experience or knowledge that is necessary to find one. The drawback is that the client’s understanding won’t be his or her own, and so they may not take it to heart and act on it accordingly. It could also not be the correct advice for them personally.

Remember the old proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Directive coaching is giving the client the “fish”.

Non-Directive Coaching

This method allows the client to lead the way, forming his or her own conclusions. This coaching skill requires listening to and questioning the client to gently guide them through through their inner growth.

The benefits of non-directive coaching are long lasting. In fact, when business managers tell an employee something, only 10% of people are likely to recall it correctly after 3 months. If they give non-directive coaching, that number goes up to 95%! (The Power of Non-Directive Coaching, Lauren Buys, Human Capital Review).

With this method, the client comes to a solution that fits their individual needs, and is therefore more likely to act on it. Also, the coach doesn’t have to be an expert on the client’s specific issue in order to be successful. The coach simply needs to remain open-minded, non-judgmental, and keep their ears open!

The only drawback of this coaching skill is that it can take much longer to come to a conclusion. In fact, the client may not be able to come to a conclusion or may not be willing to in the first place.

So My Point Is . . .

Neither approach is “correct” or “incorrect” on its own.  It all depends on time available, the preferences of the coach and client, and how long its important for the client to retain the knowledge.  As with most things in life, balance is the best option. Understanding the situation and your client, then responding with the approach that best suits in the moment is a truly beneficial skill for any coaching.

But how to identify when to use which coaching skill?  This is something that comes with experience.  I myself have struggled with which method to use even while advising friends or acquaintances. My goal is always to help people when they come to me, but I quickly learned that the best answers are usually those that the person comes to on their own. In fact, giving someone a straight answer almost never works. They usually disregard it completely! Instead, I try to give people the space they need to stop, breathe, and become more aware of themselves.

Here are two basic examples to help you get started:

      • The client doesn’t know how to do something. Chances are they’ve tried to accomplish a specific goal, but they simply don’t have the experience necessary to complete it successfully. This is when directive coaching can be a real asset. Share your knowledge and experience to give the client understanding on how to perform effectively – but don’t tell them what to do! Explain how it works so that they understand it.
      • The client is undecided about a course of action. You may feel that you know which choice is correct, but this feeling usually comes from what you would do – not necessarily what the client should do. This is when non-directive coaching is most effective for a solution. This allows you to help your client understand and explore their personal values, desires, and purpose. Never underestimate the power of listening and careful questioning. It can allow people to find the answers within themselves. Of course, if the client is unaware of their options concerning the decision, this may require further knowledge. At this point, you may apply directive coaching and give them this knowledge so that they can make a more informed decision. So you see, the two methods can easily go hand in hand.

To learn more about Directive vs. Non-Directive coaching, listen to Dr. Ron Owens“Types of Life Coaching” (Module 2 of the Logical Soul Talk Coach Training Series with Dr. Craig). This series is a great resource and will only be available for free until September 2012. So check it out right now!

Another great resource for any coach is Dr. Craig’s free report. Find out what it will take for you to become a successful life coach.

So how do you approach your coaching clients:  directive or non-directive? Leave a comment below and let us know!