8 min read

When I was trained as a mediator – 10 years before embarking on my coach training in 1999 – we were also taught the importance of paraphrasing, reframing, and summarizing and that these competencies demonstrate good listening and empathy. I was happy they were considered core competencies by the International Coaching Federation when I started my coaching journey and had already developed strong skills in this regard. Then, a series of things occurred, and I began to question the extent to which these skills are always truly effective.

The reality is our perceptions of our clients’ words and experiences come from our lenses, our intuition, and our assumptions and do not necessarily reflect theirs as much as we may think. Our attempts to use these skills might not always be appropriate or well-received and expecting clients to correct us if we do not have it right may be more of a disservice to them.

A first realization that I was questioning these skills was when I was creating a model for coaching people to strengthen their conflict competence. Colleagues and I interviewed and coached over 50 individuals who participated in year-long research. During this time, we tried a range of coaching techniques to discover what worked most effectively to move people along the continuum of where they were to where they wanted to be. In doing so, we regularly included the above-mentioned techniques. Besides wanting to develop a specific coaching model I wanted to discover if the same techniques I had been using necessarily applied in the context of conflict management coaching and whether different tools might be helpful.

One of the findings was that most people involved in the study said they did not find that reframing, summarizing, and paraphrasing moved them along their journey. Nor, did they experience that these skills necessarily demonstrated empathy or good listening. I was surprised though admit many of the subjects’ comments resonated with my own experiences as a coaching client and what I observed about the impact of these skills when supervising trainee coaches. So, I undertook to find out why these skills were not well received by so many.

Pages 1 2 3 4
Download Article 1K Club
Load More Related Articles
Load More By Cinnie Noble
Load More In Evidence Based


  1. Ed Modell

    January 10, 2023 at 11:18 am

    Cinnie-I completely agree with you. I try hard not to use those General and broad coaching skills.

    What I often do with clients is to point out a specific word or phrase they have used that I believe is significant and then ask them to say more about it. I also point out when the tone of their voice has changed that they are more excited about one thing than another. I ask whether or not that resonates Athena and whether they are aware of it.


    • Cinnie Noble

      January 11, 2023 at 8:50 pm

      Hi Ed – I am not surprised that you would limit the amount you intervene in the client’s process of self discovery! Thank you for weighing in.


    • Cinnie

      January 12, 2023 at 9:20 pm

      Hi Ed- thank you for weighing on this – and I agree noticing changes in body language, tone of voice, facial changes- they are all important to raise.


  2. Chichi

    January 10, 2023 at 1:13 pm

    Hi Cinnie.
    Thanks for the reticle. I resonate with what you have shared and sincerely believe that, those principle are are guideline that may not be contextually for at the time or for the person being coached. Being present for me lap implies understanding the Coaching Client’s preferences and hearing their nuances without being invasive, domineering or condescending.


  3. Kevin Weitz

    January 10, 2023 at 3:36 pm

    I agree with your research results and interpretations Cinnie. My personal experience with this topic is my working relationship with a “big 3” consulting firm some years ago. After some weeks into the project (a large utility), the client leaders reacted to the frequent comment from the Big 3 consultants – “Help Me Understand”. While the intent was valid (I need to explore that my understanding is correct), the phrase appeared orchestrated and artificial. Given that the project was intense and stressful for many client leaders, this phrase became an irritant and a barrier to effective partnership with the consulting group. My coaching advice to these consultants was to be less orchestrated and more conversational with their client partners.


    • Cinnie Noble

      January 11, 2023 at 8:56 pm

      Oh yes, Kevin. I didn’t include all the comments that people in the study made but many stated emphatically a dislike for statements like “help me understand” , “how does that make you feel?” “So, what you are saying…” (one person said something like ” As soon as I hear the word “so” I cringe waiting for the interpretation that I don’t need or want to hear!”


  4. Cinnie Noble

    January 11, 2023 at 8:52 pm

    I really like what you said here Chichi – about hearing the clients’ “nuances without being invasive, domineering or condescending”


  5. Veronique Eberhart

    April 26, 2023 at 5:52 pm

    Very interesting article and comments. I believe that beyond the use of particular stereotypical words and expressions, the real crux of the issue for a client is the feeling to be part of a generic system that follows unchanging steps – like a recipe. It does nothing to foster trust and vulnerability.
    Nevertheless, those expressions can be useful when they are warranted and part of the normal flow of the conversation. The example of neurodivergent people is absolutely spot on. In one case, I would repeat verbatim what the client had just said over and over again… to his utter dismay and vigorous claims that I was ‘twisting his words’. I knew that he had a neurodivergent diagnostic, and cutting through his mind chatter was a completely different ball game. So, yes, there was a lot of ‘what do you mean when you say…’ or ‘What I heard is…’ etc…


    • Cinnie

      June 17, 2023 at 9:46 pm

      Thank you Veronique. I appreciate your comments here.


  6. whoiscall

    June 26, 2023 at 9:41 am

    Great post!


  7. JosephDr

    June 26, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    Cinnie, An interesting perspective. My question: if not these means done skillfully, naturally, and with right understanding, then what?


  8. Joseph

    June 26, 2023 at 2:56 pm

    Cinnie, if not these communications approaches applied naturally and skillfully, then what is the alternative?


    • Cinnie Noble

      August 22, 2023 at 9:21 am

      I find the alternatives are to ask the client more questions ( see the last part of my article for example), use silence that let clients find/use their words to describe their experiences and make observations of changes in tone, body language. I find that by trusting that the client can skillfully, naturally and with the right understanding identify their experiences etc. there is more insight and confidence gained.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

Evaluation of an INGO Leadership Coaching Programme

   ABSTRACT This study reports on the relevance and effectiveness of the ActionAid In…