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Coaches, You ARE biased. Here's what to do about it.

A coach in session
This coach here. Chock-full of bias.

The title of this article may have you a little aghast or argumentative. But wait a moment and keep an open mind. Why? Because you ARE biased, and this article might assist you in learning about how your biases, whether you are aware of them or unaware of them, may help and hurt you.

Having bias is one of those "features" of being intelligent, conscious beings that we cannot escape. Kendra Cherry writes in an article published by A Very Well Mind;

"While people might like to believe that they are not susceptible to these biases and stereotypes, the reality is that everyone engages in them whether they like it or not. This reality, however, does not mean that you are necessarily prejudiced or inclined to discriminate against other people. It simply means that your brain is working in a way that makes associations and generalizations."

Our brain is a complex system that is constantly recording, categorizing, analyzing, and storing experiences and stimuli, even when we sleep our brain is still working. Is it so surprising that a system that is always working to understand, maneuver, and successfully manage our success, safety, and well-being might have a tendency to take a shortcut now and again.

We have a huge task just processing our environment and experience. But now let's factor in emotions like fear, pain, success, failure, shame, pride, and desire. It's a wonder we are able to function at all. It's because of the immense work-load and complex management & filing system our brain has to maintain that every human being on the planet has bias. Our brain uses its stored knowledge and information to assess experiences, people, and situations immediately so that we are able to move through life and survive and hopefully thrive.

The downfall of course of this very effective and efficient neural system is that it can cause us to feel like we know how any given situation is going to turn out. Which, while the patterns may exist and the outcomes might be consistent most of the time, there are always outliers and we can never know truly how any given situation, person, or experience is going to be. Our predictive nature is a double edged sword, one that we rely on to keep us surviving and thriving, but can unknowingly lead to hubris, arrogance, and ignorance.

The Duplicity of Bias

The Good

  • Often accurate ways of coming to general conclusions

  • Quick problem solving

  • Complex issues becoming simple and manageable

  • Less mental effort expended

The Bad

  • Prejudice

  • Racism, classism, sexism, ageism, etc.

  • Inaccurate judgement

  • Irrational behavior

  • False narratives & blocks

Do not fret, while we may be influenced by our biases, they do not control us. The first step is knowing that they exist.

This week Lisa Finck (A.C.C.), Brooke Adair Walters (M.C.P.C.), Jerome LeDuff Jr (M.C.L.C.), Anthony Lopez (M.C.P.C). wrestle with our biases and discuss what a bias is, what are the biases a coach has, how to deal with a clients bias, and the bias against coaches.

Explicit vs Implicit Bias

Every coach and every client is going to bring their biases to the table. The question is, how do we manage them?

When people first think of bias, the first thought that pops up may be examples of overt sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, or ageism. Individuals are fully aware of their biases towards certain groups or ideas and will actively behave in a way that reflects that bias.

As an example of a bias encountered frequently in coaching is age. Potential clients undoubtedly correlate age with experience & skill. On the flipside, clients could also correlate age with being out of touch. Both of these biases towards age are not necessarily true, but clients will nonetheless explicitly seek out coaches who fit their bias towards age.

For coaches, we will assume that you are free of any problematic explicit biases for now. The real trouble comes from our implicit biases and how they affect our behavior in the coaching seat

What We Don't Know Can, in Fact, Hurts Us

Our biases are like an iceberg. At the very tip of our conscious awareness are our explicit biases and voluntary behaviors. Underneath? 90% of our biases are implicit. They involve all of our gaps in logic, our subconscious perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs.

The problem that arises is that people begin to believe that if they don't exhibit explicit bias, then they have no bias at all. You're A-Okay in the clear. Right?

Research would say otherwise. A group of researchers developed a tool called the Harvard Implicit Association Test that could give people insight on there biases towards:

  • Gender-Career

  • Disability

  • Asian Descent

  • Presidents

  • Skin-tone

  • Race

  • Gender-Science

  • Transgender People

  • Sexuality

  • Weapons

  • Age

  • Arab-Muslim Groups

  • and Religion

The results may be startling but understanding your implicit bias is the first step in altering them.

What are the Cognitive Biases Coaches Often Use?

  • Confirmation Bias/Stereotyping: This occurs when we bring our assumptions to the table and presume things about our clients related to identity. We then seek out evidence that validates our beliefs and ignore the facts that say otherwise.

While coaches are supposed to acknowledge a client's identity, we don't put them into pre-defined boxes or assume things. Ask questions and be curious. Treat the client as a whole individual, not just a member of a category.

  • Status Quo Bias: It all comes down to money. Many coaches seek out long term clients because real change happens over long periods of time. Incidentally, long term clients provide a steady source of income. Some coaches might think "why change the status quo? I can have my long term clients become indefinite clients".

While there is nothing wrong with having even year-long coaching packages, it becomes unethical when you prioritize your income over a person's well being. Eventually, there will be a certain point where a client is ready to move on. Let them go. There will be more clients in the future, trust us.

  • Hyperbolic Discounting: Preferring short term gains over longer, lasting reward. If you ask a child if they would like $5 now or $10 tomorrow, they will most likely choose the $5. The same applies to us as coaches. Even though we know better than showering our clients with immediate praise, we innately like seeing the short term wins. But the question always should be asked, "How does this relate to a client's long term goals?"

In a previous blog we discussed how to set the session contract. Part of this involves taking the longer view and helping connect a client's short term goals to their long term plan.

  • Blind-spot Bias: When we recognize the biases in our clients yet fail to see them in ourselves. Studies have suggested that about 85% of people believe they were less biased than the average person. Statistically speaking, this is an impossibility and can only mean that people overestimate their non-bias.

Objectivity, non-bias, and being impartial. These are all standards a coach should ascribe to, but in no way should we falsely believe we have already attained. Coaches need to consistently evaluate and reevaluate themselves with the goal of becoming better coaches for their clients.

My Client's Bias

So your client has a bias. So what?

Of course, there should be clear, hard boundaries as far as prejudice goes. But, it's not the coach's job to be the fixer and correct the things we interpret as "mistakes" or bad judgement.

The times a coach should address a bias is when it directly hampers a client's goal. How? Asking how that belief serves their goal. What if things were different. Is that always true? Is there another way to look at things?

For example, you may have a client who has a bias towards pessimism and immediately anchors towards the first block that inhibits them. They might say:

"I don't have the energy to focus on working out today, I had to deal with a flat tire earlier and my kids made a mess I needed to clean up. These kind of things always happen!"

Questions to ask:

  • Do they always happen?

  • What would you do if you had the energy?

  • What would your future self, the one who has accomplished your fitness goals, tell you now?

  • How do you see energy? Is energy drained or generated? What story about energy are you telling yourself?

Keeping the client's bias in mind will help you redirect the conversation and give you insight on what kind of questions would best serve the client towards reaching their goals.

The Bias Against Coaching

If you've broached the topic of life coaching before, either becoming one or receiving it, you may have been met with puzzled looks or straight up negativity.

While this is purely anecdotal, I recently had an encounter that exemplified the bias that the coaching profession faces.

A few days ago I met up with a friend I have not seen in many years. We discussed our professions and how she was in school and currently worked as a counselor at correctional facilities.

I then asked her what her opinion was on life coaches. Her answer?

"My professors are against them and that 'coaches' try to do the same things as therapists/counselors, just with less education and higher prices"

I wasn't surprised by this answer, but this led to a long discussion on her and her colleague's thoughts on coaching vs. what coaching really is. The conclusion, ignorance leads to prejudice.

After having a candid conversation about who the ICF is and what we do at Certified Life Coach Institute, it's safe to say my friend became more open minded about coaching and its possibilities.

It's not enough to not be one of "the bad coaches"; you have to actively spread awareness.

This proactive way of thinking applies to fighting all forms of bias and prejudice. Complacent thinking is what leads to bias. Do good rather than "avoid bad".


CLCI Has Been Nominated!

We want to let you all know that Certified Life Coach Institute is being nominated for the Champion of Women Award! This award is ceremony is hosted by the Connected Women of Influence and the 2021 National Women of Influence Awards,

The Champion of Women Award recognizes a company or organization that provides internal programs and initiatives that are unique, cutting edge and specifically designed to support the advancement and acceleration of women in the workplace.

We would like to invite all of you to support CLCI in our nomination and join us for the virtual award ceremony on November 4th from 11:30am - 1:30pm

To join in the celebration of Women’s Achievements and Accomplishments in Business and support CLCI, register for your virtual seat here.


Thank you,

Lisa Finck, Brooke Adair Walters, Jerome LeDuff Jr., and Anthony Lopez!

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

We now stream from our site! Watch by clicking here

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Don't miss out on our 3-day life coach classes, it's an education that is beneficial for life, not just for life coaches! Want to learn more click here.

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