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A Coach's Experience. Embrace it or Leave it at the Door?

Updated: May 11, 2021

Knowing too much. Sometimes it can be a bad thing, especially for coaches.

Imagine you are a parent and your child comes to ask for help with a math problem. Their goal is to solve their math problem. The problem? 3 + 2X = 15; what is X?

You, being the expert at all things algebra, immediately answer to them, 6. The answer was so glaringly obvious you did it in your head.

Did your child learn anything? Did they solve their problem?

This is a rather simple example of a known phenomena called The Curse of Knowledge. In the following quote Iwo Herka explains the curse of knowledge in his article Curse of Knowledge from

The term “curse of knowledge” was coined in a 1989 Journal of Political Economy article by economists Colin Camerer, George Loewenstein, and Martin Weber to describe a cognitive bias that makes people project their own knowledge and experience of the world onto others. The curse of knowledge makes it really hard to accurately reconstruct our own’s previous, less knowledgeable state of mind in which we did not know or understand something. In effect, we have a strong tendency to unknowingly assume that others know what we know or that it would be easier to learn it than it actually is.

In short the use of our own expertise and experience can actually be detrimental when coaching and teaching others, The Curse of Knowledge is a cognitive bias that coaches are particularly prone to fall for because we fail to account that we may know things our clients do not, or that we have a more objective viewpoint than them, furthermore that we may know what they know.

Let's take a closer look at the latter, that we may know what they know. As a coach, no matter how much we think we may know what the client needs, in truth we do not, because our experience could never be the same as our clients. Therefore our solutions may not be a good fit for them.

So what's the solution? Do we completely discount our experience? Do we need to throw our expert baby out with the bathwater?

In keeping with CLCI Live's March theme of Duality, a few of our recent Certified Life Coach graduates talk with Lisa Finck (A.C.C.), Brooke Adair Walters (M.C.P.C.), Jerome LeDuff Jr (M.C.L.C.) , and Daniel Olexa (P.C.C., C.C.H.T., M.C.L.C.) about the duality of our experience as coaches. Should we use it or should we ignore it?

When are we not the expert?

One of the most shocking things students learn in Level 1 is that coaches; Don't give advice and don't provide answers! As basic as this may seem to veteran coaches (Curse of Knowledge again...) it is our normal human reaction to want to come up with solutions to problems.

Our client may be struggling to reach their goals or have personal problems they want to resolve that you've personally been through. You may have the perfect answer or the most mind blowing knowledge bomb to drop. You may even be tempted to tell your personal story, in the hopes that they will be inspired by how you overcame your struggles.

The problem is....That is your ego speaking and those are your solutions.

In the coaching session, the client is the expert. It is our jobs as coaches to listen, learn, clarify, and ask the right questions so that our client's realize they had the answers all along and can build their own solutions.

Here are some examples of open ended questions that encourage your client to show their expertise.

  • What is preventing you from achieving this?

  • How would this change your life?

  • How can you achieve this goal?

  • Why is this important to you?

  • How significant are the steps in the overall goal?

  • Can you help me understand X?

  • Tell me more about X?

So what can happen when the coach assumes the role of "expert"

What being the "expert" does to you.

  • Puts you as an authority, not as an equal

  • Makes you responsible for the outcome

  • Builds you up rather than the client

  • Assumes your views are more relevant than the clients

  • Creates bad habits that are difficult to break

What being the "expert" does to the client.

  • Makes the client dependent on the coaches advice

  • Does not allow the client to fully enjoy their success

  • Allows the client to blame for giving bad advice

  • May demean or belittle a client's experience

  • Does not allow the client to design the change they want

Does this mean we humbly admit we know nothing? Do we completely discount years of experience we may have?

When you are the expert

Why do we even listen to experts in the first place? Isn't everyone's experience and viewpoint equally valuable? Why do we trust a scientist's opinion on Climate Change rather than our aunt's Facebook rants?

Essentially we trust experts because they have experience or authoritative knowledge in a given subject.

This aspect of trust will become very apparent when you begin to market yourself as a coach., especially as you develop your niche.

For instance, if you were to market yourself as marriage coach, your potential clients may be puzzled when they learn you've never been in a single relationship, let alone married.

Similarly, potential clients may not want to hire your services if you have no formal education or certification in coach. (We at CLCI LIVE highly recommend the Certified Life Coach Institute as a way to earn your certification in coaching). Shameless plug party of one.

When you are marketing your services: You get to be the expert and use, show off, share and give your expertise as much as you wish. So share your expertise without concern or fear on your websites, on social media, when speaking to people outside of a coaching session. Using your experience and your brand is what will allow your potential client to trust you before they decide to hire you as a coach.

Client's want to be confident that their coach can empathize with them and deliver results. What you will help them discover is that they are fully capable of delivering their own results. And guess what? Your expertise does in fact come in handy without having to give advice. The experience you have in your relevant field/niche will help you to ask effective and powerful questions that will open your client up to a world of possibility that they can navigate with confidence.

In our discussion, our facilitator Daniel Olexa brings up an amazing point. Clients want to know, like, and trust you. But it starts inside. You need to know, like, and trust yourself and confidently tell the world that you are a coach and your experience is valuable to others!

Thank you,

Mikia, Erin, Keisa, Karyll, and Rahkal for joining us for CLCI LIVE

and Thank you

Lisa Finck, Brooke Adair Walters, Jerome LeDuff Jr., and Daniel Olexa

Join us every Tuesday at 4 pm PST/7 PM EST for our CLCI Live Facebook Demos.

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