One way to coach a Client on their interpersonal skills

A Relational Way to Coach a Client on Their Interpersonal Skills.

Many coaching clients want to improve emotional intelligence and/or interpersonal skills as it can be a real deal breaker especially in the world of work. Relationships, whether with colleagues, employees and bosses are the lifeblood of corporations. Management can be said to be “getting the job done through people”.

Coaches often have avariety of tools and techniques to help clients navigate the choppy waters of conflict management within and between teams. Good listening skills, questioning approaches and the ability to give/receive feedback is a key non-negotiable skill. Most coaches have some great ideas for their clients to go off with to “practise” between sessions and then report back. And I am no exception when I’m coaching.

A Coaching Tool

One that have used is called “Gauging the Mood” and requires clients to a select a meeting where they are the participant rather than the Chair, so that they can sometimes “sit back” from proceedings and notice the interplay between protagonists at the meeting. These questions help them to focus on:



How do people look at each other? – do they make eye contact?

When a person speaks is there quiet except for the speaker’s voice or is there noise from people fidgeting?

Does the speaker focus on one person or around the group?

Do people speak stridently or hesitantly?

Do listeners stay focused or do their eyes wander?

Do you hear mumbled conversations as someone is talking?

Are people smiling, frowning, glaring, looking blank, smirking, and yawning?

Do people, yell, whisper, moan or interrupt?



After the meeting, look at what you have picked up from the meeting:


1.      What do you deduce about the mood of the group and individuals based solely on this information?

2.      Were people enthusiastic? And why?

3.      Did they appear to want to work together as a group?


The purpose of this exercise is to help the client to take a meta position (or to helicopter) above the content to observe emotions, body language and reactions of others and also their own emotional climate as they observe. Clients report being amazed how much is going on that they havenever noticed before. Many of us are so inside our own heads that we are not aware of what is happening for others.

However, a better way to help someone, is to make things as experiential as possible because this is how people learn the most readily and efficiently according to David Kolb’s Learning Theory. And often we are asking coachees to change behaviours that have become habitual over long periods of time. Of course, the above exercise on gauging mood can be deemed to be “experiential” although contrived within the setting of a meeting, but is it enough?

My experience as a coach, is that the more you can use “here and now” noticings (a technique from Gestalt) that are happening live in the moment inside the coaching room,then the better. A timely intervention as the client is talking and interacting withyou can be really helpful to capture not just what is being said at the time but also what emotions are arising at that very specific moment.

A Case Study

Many years ago, I met a new coachee, whose HR manager had said he tended to be abrasive and quite brusque in his manner to team members. Within 40 minutes of meeting we had an interaction where I suddenly became aware of an intense feeling inside me of being dismissed by my coachee. This stemmed from him dismissing any need to hear anything about me or my background, and as it was a first session where we were still rapport building, I was puzzled. My first thought was “Is this me? Has he pressed one of my ancient buttons to do with imperious males? Or has he just demonstrated to me in the here and now exactly how he treats others?

I took a risk and decided to share how that felt for me. The response was amazing. The client was utterly flabbergasted by my honesty and openness but also because this apparently, was certainly not his intention to have this impact on me.

From this point, we were able to have a fruitful discussion on if he was capable of doing this with me, without awareness, where else might he be doing it? Of course, a lightbulb went on for him as it chimed with feedback he had received before which had had less of a visceral impact for him and therefore it had never previously “landed”.

Thus, he could see how his interpersonal skills may be impacting on others.

Improving Emotional Intelligence

Improving his emotional Intelligence was also part of our agenda and I was able to use our relationship to help him work out how he labelled his emotions in the moment with me. On occasions when he deflected a question, I could bring him back and urge him to stay with the uncomfortableness of that emotion to describe it and say how it felt right there. My coachee started to see that how I experienced him was a microcosm of what was happening outside in the world of work.

Put your Brave Pants On: Fearless Compassion

The coaching space is an ideal place for clients to get objective feedback with no conditions attached. It is about the coach using fearless compassion and of course role modelling in real time what it looks like to be emotionally intuitive.

Dr Peter Hawkins says that sometime we have to metaphorically hold our clients’ feet to the fire until they smoke a little! This is more likely to enable a real shift in thinking, emotions and ultimately behaviour to occur.

So, the next time you have a coachee who needs to change a behaviour why not use what is actually happening there and then rather than manufacturing a “pretend” activity. It’s likely to hit the spot in a bigger way.

If you would like to learn a relational coaching approach that is much deeper psychologically than pure tools and techniques then contact me to find out how supervision can transform your coaching (and your client!)


10 months ago : Jun 2, 2017

By Julia Menaul


Julia was professional, friendly, knowledgeable, engaging, thought provoking and an excellent coach, it was an absolute pleasure to meet her and work with her. I was incredibly impressed, and I hope to meet her again in the future. Kristian Taylor-Beaumont, Fragrance Training Manager, Kenneth Green Associates

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