top of page

How to Use "I" without making it about "YOU"

I think this blog will be helpful for you, the reader. As a matter of fact, I KNOW this information will be extremely beneficial for all of you. After all, I am a Master Certified Professional Coach. Don't I know what's best?

Seems a bit presumptuous to be speaking this way right? Why is that so?

Is it because I'm departing from my usual 2nd person "you" and using the first person "I"? Does writing and speaking this way almost make it seem like I'm trying to be the center of attention?

As a matter of fact, yes, I am making myself the center of attention. But this is intentional and I'm making a point in regards to coaching.

As much as article writing is geared towards you, the reader; coaching should be focused on the client.

Which is why the most subtle and almost instinctual ways we speak can have the biggest effect in our coaching session and how our client perceives themselves vs. the coach.

This week on CLCI Live we talk about how expert coaches use pronouns; when to use "I", when to use "you", and when to use "we".

This week we are joined by Lisa Finck (A.C.C.), Brooke Adair Walters (M.C.P.C.), Jerome LeDuff Jr (M.C.L.C.), and Anthony Lopez (M.C.P.C) and together we suss out the finer points of the English language and discover how coaches can create a client-centered dialect.

The Various Ways we Misuse "I"

Sometimes it's not always about you

"I understand"

"I totally get it"

"Me too"

"I can relate"

"I know just what that is like"

In an effort to use filler phrases and empathize with our clients we may end up alienating them with this.

Telling the client "I understand" in its various forms is far too assumptive because while the situation they may have described is similar to something you've experienced, you most likely do not share the client's context, identity, environment, experiences, values, and beliefs. In a way, saying "I understand" has the potential to negate these fundamental perspectives a client has on a situation and only assume that the similarity in experience is good enough.

So what should we say instead?

We want to communicate that we are clear with what the client is expressing, one way to do that is by reflecting back what the client said and asking to dive deeper.

"I'm hearing you say X, keep going / can you explore further? / what does that mean? / can you share more?"

We are using that "I" but in a way that facilitates coaching by engaging our own curiosity and inviting the client to share more about their experiences in the moment.

Advising vs Coaching

  • "I would..."

  • "I have..."

  • "I think..."

The common misconception of coaching is that we are advisors or consultants in disguise, and we don't help clear up that misunderstanding when we use "I" phrases that inject our own perspectives or advice into the coaching session.

Most coaches rarely give direct advice, rather, the mistake they unknowingly make is leading the clients to the coach's conclusion using these sort of "I" phrases.

We may think we have the perfect answer to solve a client's problems but our job is to let the client design their world, experience, and solutions. And what if a client directly asks for your opinion or what has worked for you?

Simply state that while you do have your own opinions and thoughts, this coaching space is about the client; your perspective is not their perspective, so let's investigate further.

Using "You" Strategically

Try not to point at your clients

When addressing the client, it's obvious by now we aren't trying to advise them. Avoiding barefaced "you should" or "you ought to" in a session should go without saying, but are there better ways to use "you" in coaching?

One way to do this is when we make observations as coaches.

Part of our jobs as coaches involves noticing the trends in the client's behaviors, thoughts, and emotions across sessions and exploring the spectrum of emotions, energy shifts, and non-verbal's that the client displays.

There may be some interesting patterns that arise or some confounding cognitive dissonance and these perceptions can be used to clarify a point or expand a client's awareness.

For example, if one day a client takes a strong negative stance about their job, and then the next day they have a strong positive stance, you could say...

"I've noticed you've said these two different things about your job, would it be okay if we explored that?"

Or if a client becomes energized and motivated when it comes to a certain topic...

"When you talk about X, your eyes light up, you sit up straight, and you seem focused on what you are saying, what is it about X that may cause this?"

This is how we can use "you" to share our observations (without attachment or judgment) to create new learning for a client.

We're All in This Together

POV: A gang of coaches are about to facilitate your growth

Who said that? I never agreed that we are in this together, stop putting words into my mouth!

It can be tricky when using "we" in coaching. In many group/work environments we are conditioned to use "we" because we are part of a team or are representing an organization. But there are some nuances in the coaching session where this "we" may not be appropriate.

One common misconception that coaches encounter is that we (the coach and the client) are working towards the same goal.

If that goal in general is partnering with a client to maximize their personal or professional potential, then sure, we have the same goal.

If the goal is to lose 30 lbs. in 3 months then NO, the client and the coach do not have the same goal, and we mean this quite literally. You the coach are neither trying to lose 30 lbs. yourself nor are you doing work yourself to facilitate this process. If we are to keep to this example a personal trainer would be the most appropriate person to assume this role, but as a coach we need to make a clear distinction between the work that a client does vs. the work a coach does.

By avoiding "we" in the coaching session you maintain the boundary between coach and client and avert any sort of liability, responsibility, or attachment to the outcomes a client achieves (good or bad), and this is ultimately for the best.

Using "We" appropriately

Here are two good scenarios when using "we" is not only appropriate but probably necessary.

  1. When referring to the partnership between coach and client and the agreements made outside of the session. When defining the responsibilities, boundaries, and expectations of each party.

  2. When speaking about the coaching profession and ICF as a whole. You may have your own personal methodology but we (coaches) are beholden to a certain set of Standards and Code of Ethics that apply to all coaches who fall under the ICF.

With careful use of "we", "you", and "I", a coach can propel themselves to the next level and become experts in the subtleties of facilitating client growth. While these habits take time, an awareness of the language we use is the first step in having complete mastery over a session.


Announcement! Digital Badging is Now Live!

We are excited to officially announce to the world that CLCI is now utilizing Credly to offer our students and alumni digital badges when they become Certified Professional Life Coaches (CLC/CPC) and Master Certified Life Coaches (MCLC/MCPC).

Last week we began issuing all students and alumni these digital badges when they graduated from our programs, in addition to printable certificates.

What makes these digital badges special?

These aren't your old fashioned certificates. These badges are:

  • Shareable: Meaning you can easily post them on Indeed, Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. Or place them in an email signature or embed them on your website!

  • Verifiable: Each badge issued is uniquely linked to data hosted on the Credly platform and makes them more reliable and secure than a paper-certificate. No one except you can claim your credential and your associated identity.

  • Data Rich: Badges provide clients, peers, and family/friends concrete evidence of what you had to do to earn your certificate and what you’re now capable of.

Be sure to keep an eye out for emails from Credly or Certified Life Coach Institute in the future for more information.

For More Info on Digital Badging


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

We also now stream live on YouTube! Subscribe to our channel and don't miss out!

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.

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

It doesn't seem meaningful but it really means a lot to me and poppy playtime chapter 3.

bottom of page