Coaching does not have to be like sales

Success coachingIn my opinion the field of coaching behaves similarly to the field of sales: gather data about a problem, ask responsible, caring questions, and then provide a solution. Similar to sales, coaches like to say that they really do care, that they don’t give answers, that they only provide data on relevant solutions. And yet, to me the models are quite similar, if not identical.

Coaches lose at least 50% of their clients after the first round of coaching. Just like sellers, coaches blame the clients.Where do the clients go? They weren’t ready to change/buy; they maintained their status quo; they used a competitor.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is that the coaching model (and here I’m going to buck the conventional wisdom) merely works within the bias of both coach and client, in the same way that placing a solution and asking information-gathering questions works within the bias of the seller’s bias and ability to fix a problem with their solution.


I understand that coaches – like sellers – pride themselves on understanding, wanting to help, caring, and being professional. I’ve spoken and met with dozens of coaches, from all levels of expertise and price – from $300 to $3,000 an hour – and I’ve noticed the same problem: coaching gathers data about ‘the problem’ so the coach can understand and then ‘lead’ the client to an answer.

Make no mistake: once someone is gathering data, the questions are biased. As a result, the responses will be biased.

But change isn’t based on information, and we don’t decide to change because we offer or hear cogent, rational data. Until or unless anyone is able to make internal changes that their current system (that currently holds the need or problem) is willing to adopt, no change will happen. And change rarely starts with a shift in behavior; change begins once there is a belief or values shift internally: then the behavior shifts accordingly.

Say you smoke and want to stop. If you really understand – I mean REALLY understand – that smoking is unhealthy (and you’d have to be living under a rock not to understand this by now), you would have stopped already. The fact that you haven’t means there is a much larger issue than a rational or behavioral issue.

What is causing you to continue? Why do you want to stop? What happened when you tried before?  Those aren’t the relevant issues. The most relevant issue is Who Are You. If you don’t see yourself as a Healthy Person, you may have a belief set that allows smoking to be a bad habit, or an indulgence, or something you deserve, or that you – like your grandfather-who-smoked-all-his-life-and-lived-til-100 – won’t be affected by it.


Coaching skills, as they are trained in the U.S. today, do not manage Belief Change. I have run coaching sessions with heads of the top coaching schools to show them the difference between what they are training and how to use decision facilitation skills to actually help change take place. They were all mightily impressed. One of them said she got more out of 45 minutes with me than her own coach after 2 months of working on the same issue.

But they all ended with the same comments: “This is so different from what we’re teaching we’d have to revamp some of our programs and we’re not prepared to do that.” Ah. Another paradigm I’ll need 20 years to shift! There aren’t enough years left!

Hopefully, you will read some of my books and learn some of the decision facilitation material to help your clients or your friends or your staff. The baseline beliefs are the same as sales:

  1. until or unless people are ready, willing, and able to recognize and manage all of the internal systems issues that have created and maintain their status quo, permanent change is not possible. That means they must address many of their unconscious issues, and regular questions only get to the conscious responses (vs. Facilitative Questions that get to the unconscious).
  2. information does not create a new decision to change. Change happens when the internal systems issues that maintain the status quo are able to agree with a change, and make room for it internally in a way that will enable the system to maintain congruence.
  3. the sorts of change that clients – buyers or coachees – seek require some form of internal change before anything new can be added to the internal system of behaviors. It’s necessary for their to be belief changes and systems buy-in as a precursor to behavior change.
  4. Behaviors change once the underlying system has room for something new and is assured it won’t self-destruct if it changes.

The person smoking would need to become a Healthy Person before quitting smoking – change at the endemic, systems, Identity level, not merely behavior. Learn how to lead your buyer or your coachee through the decision phases that will allow them to change from the inside out (see Dirty Little Secretshalf of the book is about how change happens). THEN you can gather data and offer your wonderful solution.


2 thoughts on “Coaching does not have to be like sales”

  1. HI,

    Just want to let you and your readers know, that not ALL the coaching models are the same. We’ve been doing this for 21 years now and i started training coaches 10 years ago, when there were only 18 schools and you’ve never heard of me, and i’ve never heard of you, so there is a lot either of don’t know about what’s out there, and i hate to be grouped with all those you pointed out.

    I’ve done similar pointing out over time, written some books about it, and Dr. Beck sent me your note on sales, sounds interesting and sounds like you understand influencing.

    Our model is developmental, you can’t push a string and you can’t changes someone’s beliefs, nor expect them to change their own because you intervene, guide or influence them…most of us have a trajectory of maturation which includes the shifts in our memetic landscapes or belief assimilation.

    In developmental coaching, we listen for as you say systems, but more so, the structure of the systems, one of the three building blocks of meaning making. I’ll pass this note on to my daughter who works with me, because she is designing approaches to belief formation (Bem, 1970 Stanford) that look at the coherence between emotional, as well as other systems which flag memescapes.

    Hope to meet sometime, to prove to you that there are coaches out there that are not only out in front of this, but have been doing it for a LONG time!


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