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  • Writer's pictureMaria Varallo

On the tip of your tongue, language in coaching


You don't have to be Shakespeare, for soothsakes, to know how important the language we use is in establishing rapport and building relationships. We hope, as coaches, with experience and good personal and professional development we learn to become flexible in our approach. In the way we use our words, our body language and mindset. Language is powerful and can exclude or include individuals and groups.


Words of encouragement at the right moment can be transformative, whilst unsolicited critical feedback can crush the best of us. I hope you've had more encouragement and praise than critical feedback.


This skill and awareness is often overlooked or misunderstood, it's something we are often expected just 'to pick up' or absorb through our work but it highlights the importance CPD and supervision to keep learning and be aware of the tempting short-cuts, for example assumptions and broad generalisations. 


As language can also be a tool for exclusion, reinforcing stereotypes, biases, and prejudices whether consciously or unconsciously, intentional or unintentional it can be profoundly damaging. When we feel listened to, understood, and valued, for being uniquely ourselves we are more likely to fully participate and open up to the coaching experience. And as coaches by prioritising clear, neutral language, being non-judgmental and using incisive questions we encourage open communication and the belief that change is possible.


We all need the protected space and time to think and talk without judgement, interruption or fear. This allows us profound self-reflection, enabling us to think in our own language, whether that’s through silence, symbols or words. If positive change is what our clients want in their thinking and behaviours then this is the purpose of coaching (Grant & Cavanagh, 2011; Stout-Rostron, 2012). it follows that changes in our language and words could generate the very changes we hope to facilitate in our clients. 


Language has been undervalued and under researched as an agent of change in coaching and there is so much potential in this area of our profession.


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