Andrew Armatas, ICPA Expert: How to use suggestive techniques in coaching.
Andrew Armatas - Coaching Psychology Services, 9 George Street, Athens, 10682, Greece.
Create positive expectancies
There is a relationship between what individuals expect and their experiences
of seemingly automatic responses, also known as non-volitional responses (Coe,
1997; Kirsch, 1985). It seems that response expectancies are sufficient to cause
non-volitional outcomes and tend to be self-confirming. Since suggestions often
mean coming to expect that the suggested event will or has occurred, coaches are
in a unique position to utilise them and create positive expectancies for their
It is recommended that the coach repeats the main message several times throughout the coaching session, thereby repeatedly directing attention to the intended goal or idea. This can be accomplished by simple repetition, by using synonymous words and phrases, by incorporating non-verbal behaviors or by combining direct and indirect suggestions. The latter may include the use of metaphors and stories conveying the same idea.
Being flexible means adjusting your pace to your coachee’s rate of response,
respecting the individuality of your coachee, evaluating what works throughout the
session and making the necessary adjustments.
Connect suggestion to a dominant emotion
This is of special consideration to those clients who use their emotions more than
their intellect in their decision making. Stir their emotions and connect suggestions
‘This is a plan you will want to follow because it just doesn’t feel right not to reach your full potential and I know you want to feel the satisfaction of making it.’
Link motivations and goals to suggestions
This may be a choice for coachees who emphasise logic and reasoning:
‘This plan suits you, it reinforces the kind of thinking that brought you here.’
Combine suggestive techniques
A coach can combine different suggestive techniques during the coaching process.
The following dialogue (after a brief discussion about strengths) incorporates a ‘yesset’ along with a contingent suggestion, a presupposition and a reference to other people’s experience:
So, is it clear now how using strengths can help?’
‘Yes, it is.’
‘Can you see the benefits of using this approach with you?’
‘Yes, it actually matches my way of thinking too.’
‘So, shall we continue in the direction that matches your thinking, yes?
‘Many people are not aware of their strengths and how to harness them until we start
talking about them’ (reference to other people’s experience and presupposition).
‘As we are talking about strengths, you may find yourself thinking about your own’ (contingent suggestion).
You can then add strategies, guidelines, or continue with your coaching approach,
knowing that your coachee is likely be more co-operative and motivated.
Use ego-strengthening suggestions and positive reinforcement
Identify, reinforce and compliment your coachee’s behaviors, emotions and cognitions that are in the desired direction. That requires attentiveness and focus
throughout the coaching session. By doing so, not only are you reinforcing responses that will lead to the desired goal but also strengthen the coachee’s sense of selfefficacy. We all want to feel good about ourselves.
Use positively-stated suggestions
The author was requested by a publishing company to give feedback on a book
where the principle of positively-stated suggestions was strongly supported. Its
author went to lengths to convince the readers of its importance. She reported
she would not even wear t-shirts unless mottos were written in a positive manner.
The principle that suggestions need to be positively stated (do this rather than
don’t do that) has often been overstated. Even so, it is recommended that
your suggestions gear them toward a desirable goal rather than away from an
Utilise coachee’s language and behavioral patterns
Listen for phrases, words, images or metaphors that your coachee chooses and utilise them in order to enhance your influence. For example, a coachee mentioned more than once that ‘I know if I put my mind to it, then I will make it happen’.
This same phrase was used as an embedded suggestion during a brief relaxation
‘That’s good, now as you exhale, notice how you have already started the process of selfcontrol. Continue relaxing just as you have decided to do so, after all if you put your mind to it, you will make it happen. So continue, relaxing even further’.
You may influence even further by appealing to all sensory modalities with a
particular emphasis on the one most suitable to the coachee, which you can pick
up by being attentive to the words most often used to describe experiences and
Use suggestions respectfully
Suggestive techniques ought to be used respectfully, keeping in mind the mutually
agreed upon outcomes. Respecting and accepting the coachee will facilitate an
acceptance of what one has to offer as a coach and hence a bigger suggestive
influence potential. The suggested response needs to be within the coachee’s
repertoire of abilities. It is recommended to start within a coachee’s repertoire of
abilities and build upwards (Heap, 2000). It is important that the suggestion is
acceptable to the client and compatible with the context in which it is given. The
better the fit between ideas presented and the client receiving them, the better the
chances for the desired response (Fourie, 2000).
Hold coachee’s attention
Anything that holds or absorbs a person’s attention could be described as hypnotic.
Hold your clients’ attention, detect the times they are mostly absorbed during the
coaching session and use those times for greater influence.