Not long ago I was among a group of new coaches who were having an interesting discussion about coaching someone who was un-coachable.

As the situation was described, I realized the coaching conversation was actually between two friends, not a coach and her client. A friend was having a rough time and the coach, wanting to help, tried to coach her friend through it. It didn’t end well and they concluded the person was un-coachable.

That took me back to an unpleasant memory when I had just graduated from coach training 20+ years ago. Two of my good friends, who were married, were at my house for dinner and they started arguing.

Eager to use my coaching skills, I jumped in to coach them. It devolved into losing my friendship for a time. It was a harsh lesson that I clearly needed. And it helped me to understand the ethics of coaching at a deeper level.

Are there situations where it’s okay to coach without a professional coaching relationship? Let’s dig in to that.

Should You Coach Someone Because They Need Coaching?

In the stories I shared just now, both coaches were trying to coach friends. Both thought that if someone appeared to need coaching then that was a reason to coach.

And that is the big mistake – believing that people NEED coaching. Episode 99 is called What Coaching Clients Want Vs What You Think They Need and it goes deeper into this issue.

The truth is, no one NEEDS coaching. I know that might seem odd to say but it is true.

I get it. You have this fantastic new skill set. You’ve learned how to listen deeply. You know how to ask open ended questions. Aren’t those skills useable in so many settings?

Yes, listen deeply to everyone. Sure, ask questions when you are curious. But don’t step into the coaching role unless there is explicit permission.

One of the reasons why coaching is so effective is the co-creative relationship. It is set up between 2 individuals of equal power. Both coach and coachee are 100% creative, resourceful and whole.

There is no victim and no savior in a coaching relationship.

Coaching excels between a high integrity coach and a person who directly asks for or gives consent for coaching for a set period of time on a specific agenda. Ideally, it’s a professional fee based relationship with agreements. Those are the healthiest conditions with the least chance for harm.

What could I have done better in the situation with my married friends who were arguing? The best thing would have been to stay out of it. I could have provided a room where they could argue in private or gone to another room myself. I could have even suggested we reschedule and lovingly seen them out the door.

I cannot see any good scenario where I stick my nose in. Can you? I wish I’d known that 20+ years ago.

Can You Coach Friends and Family Ethically?

Are there any scenarios where it is okay to coach a friend or family member — someone you have a current relationship with? Yes, with consent. But dual relationships are tricky at best and require conscious careful handling.

I have quite a few friends who are coaches. From time to time, we coach each other free of charge and it always starts like this:

A powerful question! It’s open ended. It allows for the person to ask for exactly what they want. And it allows the other person to decide if that is a way that they are willing to help right now.

And as the conversation goes on, continue to check in because they might be “done” and not want a full-blown coaching session.

Coaching people without permission won’t have the desired effect. Have you ever resented it when others try to coach you?

Why Someone Might Appear Un-coachable

Going back to the group of new coaches discussing how the friend was un-coachable … I wonder if that was true or if the person was on guard because she didn’t give permission to be coached.

There are so many reasons someone could appear un-coachable. The first thing to explore is whether their lack of coach-ability has to do with you — the coach.

Were you given explicit permission to coach?

How are you showing up energetically in this conversation?

Are there any red flags in your integrity?

Is your own agenda manipulating this conversation?

This last one is so tricky. Training can only go so far in helping you remove your agenda from coaching conversations. Mastery requires continuous self-awareness and staying curious with clients.

How do you decide when it’s ethical to coach?