'Speaking the Truth' from Leading with Intention with Lisa G. Kramer

Speaking the Truth

By: Lisa G. Kramer, MSW, PCC

“Whenever you have truth, it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” Mahatma Gandhi

In the coaching relationship, both the coach and the client expect the truth from each other. For clients, coaching is one place in their lives where they can speak the truth without worrying about being judged or having to look good. For coaches, being truthful is critical to a successful coaching relationship. In fact, many coaches include a sentence in their coaching agreement such as “I will be honest and straightforward in asking questions and making requests. I request your permission to be bold and forthright in all of our interactions.” Withholding the truth, on the other hand, serves neither the client nor the coaching relationship. “When the coach has the courage to tell the truth, the client gets a model of the art of being straight. And in the process, more trust is built between coach and client” (CoActive Coaching, 1998).

Why does speaking the truth require courage? The coach’s truth is based on what he is observing in his client combined with the coach’s intuition, feelings and thoughts. Being able to effectively speak the truth requires the coach to be aware of his own thoughts and feelings and to be able to separate them from what he observes in the client. This self awareness allows the coach to be sensitive to his client’s feelings and to speak the truth without judging or criticizing the client. It takes courage for a coach to look at himself honestly and take responsibility for what is his. And it takes courage to be bold and forthright in all interactions with a client.

Here’s an example from a recent Mentor Coaching Group:

Debra* has been coaching Greg* for approximately one year. When their coaching relationship began, Greg was in a career transition and could not afford Debra’s full fee. Debra agreed to coach him at a reduced rate, which she is still doing a year later. Initially the focus was on Greg’s career, and during the course of the first six months of coaching, Greg accepted a position that he left three months later because it was not what he had expected. As Debra processed her feelings about working with Greg in the Mentor Coaching Group, she realized that while she cares about Greg as a person, she does not look forward to the coaching calls and usually hangs up the phone feeling drained. Often times, Greg does not come to the call with an agenda, and he does not usually follow through with fieldwork. When asked what she was holding back in saying to Greg, her reply was, “I don’t think I am the best person to coach you. From what I see, our coaching relationship is not assisting you to move forward in your life.” She immediately felt relieved, and she realized that her feelings for Greg as a person had been interfering with her ability to speak the truth in their coaching relationship. She decided to discuss this with Greg at their next call.

*Not their real names

What are the key ingredients in speaking the truth?

  • Ask for permission: Set the foundation for speaking the truth by asking each client for permission at the beginning of the coaching relationship. Consider including a statement like the one mentioned above in your coaching agreement and discuss it with your clients during the intake appointment.
  • Know yourself: Make sure you are clear about your own thoughts and feelings that pertain to you and not your client. In Debra’s situation, her caring and concern for Greg as a person interfered with her ability to tell him what she was feeling about their coaching relationship.
  • Let go of judgments: Speak the truth from your heart with your client’s best interest as your priority. If you are feeling judgmental, spend some time getting clearer about the feelings that have been triggered for you.
  • Be unattached to the outcome: The purpose of speaking the truth is to for you to provide the client with your perspective and then to be open to his response. This is a rich opportunity to deepen the coaching relationship and to assist your client in learning more about himself.

About the Author

Philadelphia-based leadership/executive coach Lisa Kramer, PCC is founder and president of Leading with Intention, a coaching company that partners with organizations to achieve greater business and personal success through leadership and executive coaching, and coaching skills training. For more information about Leading with Intention, go to: and follow Lisa at

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