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Coaching Styles

Coaching Styles

The ways and means by which we can assist the coaching process are many and various. Even though some of the approaches can be more effective than others, in this brief article, the aim is to introduce a simple 4-quadrant grid framework that can help considerably in every coaching discussion. Like all useful models or frameworks, the situational coaching style approach is not intended to be a panacea. We all know that coaching can be extremely complex and often involves a wide variety of factors that can make the coaching experience more or less successful. This approach is therefore just “one more tool in the toolbox”.

Before we look at the situational coaching style model specifically, what do we mean by “a coaching style” and also at a few of the contributing factors (both positive and negative) that can help or hinder the effectiveness of our coaching efforts. Although it cannot take account of all of the factors that influence the success of any coaching effort, the Situational Coaching model simply assumes that use of a variety of coaching styles in differing circumstances or situations is likely to be more effective than the use of a single style in all coaching discussions. Let’s briefly define what we mean by “Style”.

As we define it, Style refers to: “a particular pattern or way of behaving”.  Put another way, Style is: “a consistent approach that one person may take when communicating with another”. At its broadest level (and if we draw from our own experience) many “patterns of behavior” or styles can be described. These various styles have been broadly classified into Push and Pull categories.

Push styles of Coaching

Push styles of communication are usually relatively fast in delivery and led by the coach. They are called “push” styles because fundamental aim is to actively coax, cajole or convince the person being coached to accept a message. We suggest that there are two main push styles that can be adopted:

1. A More Directive/Assertive Style

A Directive/Assertive style of coaching communication typically implies simple statements or repetition of comments, ideas or particular goals accompanied by basically supportive non-verbal expressions. It also entails some limited acceptance of the other party’s viewpoint in response to what has been stated.  In some coaching situations, a Directive/ Assertive style can sometimes create willing compliance rather than independent commitment. This style tends to work best in coaching when the coach has a lot of knowledge or expertise and the coachee needs to learn from this –a tennis coach trying to teach an individual how to play a new shot would be an example in the sporting world for example.

2. A Selling/Promoting Style

A Selling/Promoting style of coaching communication basically means literally selling or promoting a particular goal or outcome by describing it in the most positive terms.  This can be done ethically by describing real benefits and advantages or unethically by distorting the information about the goal to achieve a result on any terms.  The selling/ promoting style usually needs a strong sense of trust and can consequently sometimes run the risk of the other party feeling manipulated. This style tends to work best in coaching when the coach is trying to lift deal with a performance shortfall or lift individual performance to a higher level (where a degree of “selling the benefits or pointing out the dis-benefits of not acting or changing need to be promoted strongly).

The above styles are ‘push’ styles because they are typical exerted pro-actively or initiated by the coach in the relationship – that is they are often presented without invitation by the coachee (or foisted upon him or her) and with the primary aim of seizing the conversation initiative and pushing for an outcome that the coaching desires.

Pull styles of coaching

Unlike push styles of influence, pull styles seek to draw out the message or issues to be delivered or communicated at a slower, gentler pace.  They are called “pull” styles because the fundamental aim is to primarily or mainly listen and respond to the coachee (commenting upon their agenda rather than pushing an agenda of the communicator’s own).  We suggest that there are two main pull styles that can be adopted:

1. An Educative/Expert Style

An Educative or Expert style of coaching communication implies the provision of information to help guide the coachee but it is likely to be information on what might be unknown to the other party rather than presented as superior knowledge.  Hence a coach might present “Did you know that….” type of information as part of the discussion.  In using this style the information needs to be relevant and reliable, and typically offered in a quiet non-directive way to a coachee. This style tends to work best in coaching when the coach needs to impart from specialist information to a coachee or tactical options perhaps but leaving the coachee to decide for him of herself having considered the input.

2. A Passive Involvement Style

A Passive Involvement coaching communication style usually means gently steering the conversation towards a goal or an outcome that has already been identified by the coachee.  This style entails considerable listening and paraphrasing and utilizing positive and encouraging language as much as possible (usually with considerably more listening to the coachee’s perspective rather than talking). This style tends to work best in coaching when the coachee is already knowledgeable and even knows that the options are but needs some minor levels of reassurance before acting independently.

Coaching Styles Diagram

This grid obviously gives us four very different style “types” that we can label. For the purposes of simplicity the diagram below labels each of the four coaching style types with one single adjective as follows:

Underneath each of these four quadrant headings or labels, this chart lists eight other adjectives (above the dotted line) that describe what a coach typically does in a particular quadrant. However, underneath the dotted line are a range of rather more negative adjectives. These describe coaching behaviors that can occur if this style is used too much. For example a positive convincing style will eventually become overwhelming if used to excess.


Varying a particular coaching style according to individual coachee needs is likely to be a very helpful approach for any coach to adopt. The situational coaching model described above provides four styles which can be used in different circumstances. However, care needs to be taken not only to match the most appropriate style in each situation but to ensure that it is not used to excess.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. lale turanJanuary 9, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Hi Jon,

    Very interesting topic ! Thank you for sharing, I will definitely keep it in mind for my next coaching session 🙂 Take care and looking forward to reading more of your blogs in the future.

  2. Sergio RodriguesJanuary 9, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Doesn`t a more agressive approach, like the first one, for example, carry the risk of creating a dependency from the coachee in the incoming sessions?

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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