Are You Coaching or Coercing

A few years ago, I did a presentation at a conference that posed the question “are you coaching or coercing”? I think this is a very relevant point as in my experience a lot of trainers (not all) believe they are coaching when in fact they are coercing. For a client to make a lifestyle change their level of self-efficacy needs to increase around the behaviour in question. At the same time the decisional balance needs to shifting favourably (PROS increasing, CONS remaining steady or decreasing). In order for this to happen there needs to be a shift in the client’s subconscious behaviour. The only person that can achieve this shift is the client. After all who knows the client better than the client themselves.

There are a number of traps a trainer/coach can fall into when trying to help a client change. These are as follows (1):

  • The expert trap
  • The question and answer trap
  • Scare tactics trap

The worst of these is most probably the expert trap. Setting yourself on a pedestal where you are the expert and have all the answers. The truth is you don’t, as the answers ultimately have to come from within the client. There isn’t scope in this brief article to discuss each of the traps but if you want a full description then take a look at the book I have referenced at the end. Part of falling into the expert trap is letting your “righting reflex” kick in. The client says something like “I don’t have time to do that” and straightaway you jump in with “well what I find works is ……” this is your righting reflex. That natural desire to want to offer solutions. Be very careful with this because what you are doing here is basically saying “I am the expert and I have all the answers” trust me, you don’t.

Continual assessment of a client readiness to change is crucial. It can take between 18 to 254 days (2) for a new lifestyle habit to be formed. This takes patience and in the interim period a clients resolve can fade. By continually monitoring their psychological readiness you greatly increase their chances of achieving a permanent change. By coaching the client, you can facilitate the required changes. If you use coercion you may achieve initial success but this will not last and it will not be a lifestyle change.


  1. Miller, W.R. and Rollnick, S. (2012) Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change (3rd Ed.) New York; Guilford Press.
  2. J. Soc. Psychol. 40, 998–1009 (2010)