When is it Appropriate to Use Intuition in Coaching?

  • When is it Appropriate to Use Intuition in Coaching?

    Today I’m asking the question, when is intuition appropriate in coaching?


    The ICF core coaching competency Coaching Presence shows up through a number of behaviors, traits, and intentions. ICF describes one of these as when a coach accesses own intuition and trusts one’s inner knowing—“goes with the gut”.


    Intuition can be a powerful tool in coaching—and a perilous one. The trap is that many coaches aren’t clear about how and when it’s appropriate to use it.


    To be powerful and effective coaches we must understand where our expertise lies. In pure coaching, the expertise is in our craft. If we are offering clients expertise on the content they are exploring we are no longer coaching, we are consulting. We also move out of the coaching realm if we assume expertise on our client’s lives, their inner workings, or their relationships. A coach who has an intuition and decides they now know what is happening for the client or what course of action they should take, has essentially made an interpretation of that hunch. If the coach takes it a step further by verbalizing the interpretation to the client, they are simply giving advice. If you align with ICF, this is also not considered coaching . I’m not suggesting the interpretation won’t also feel right for the client—sometimes that does happen. It’s more about how we proceed to engage the client. Unless we are contracted to work with the client as an intuitive and to give our client an answer to their issue based on that intuition, we are violating our agreement with them as coaches.


    So, when and how is it appropriate to use intuition in coaching? My partner Dr. Jeff Evans recently said, “We need to determine if it is, in fact, our intuition or the ego speaking.” Indeed, the ego is a master of disguise, and our journey toward that most essential facet in coaching—self-mastery—includes being able to recognize which is which.


    Intuition is a facet of our humanity that is, as yet, largely unexplained by science, yet experienced by most—sometimes in the most extraordinary ways. It has influenced leaders to make bold judgments, guided life-changing medical and financial decisions, determined the fates of many who have stood trial, led to important long-term partnerships, and been behind some of the world’s greatest inventions. There are also many stories of intuition saving lives. However, intuition does not always lead to pleasant outcomes. There are also stories of people going with their intuition and the results being unwanted, even deadly. So, we must treat it responsibly.


    In coaching, we have an agenda to serve our client’s agenda. Our work is to guide a pathway, with our client’s agreement, toward greater clarity and understanding, and therefore more resourceful actions. The pathway is carved out with our coaching skills, with listening, awareness, presence, an unbiased determination of what is in front of us, and an intuition about what coaching direction might be the most powerful for our clients based on their agenda. That coaching direction is where intuition can be most powerful. If we use our intuition to guide us, rather than our clients’ lives, we will likely serve them better.


    Without hard rules on this subject, I pose some questions that might be able to guide us to use intuition appropriately:

    • How does intuition show up for me? Is it through emotions, colors, words, or images?

    • Is the message I am getting for me or for the client?

    • Does it serve their agenda?

    • How am I interpreting the intuition?

    • How do I stay with my intuition and not the interpretation?

    • What inquiry seems most powerful to explore next, considering the intuition?

    • How comfortable am I just sitting on the intuition and letting it guide me?


    To quote Dr. Jeff once more; He believes intuition is only appropriate in coaching “when it works for the client and we are operating within ethical guidelines as a coach.”  In such an undefined area, that sounds like a great guide to me!


    Here’s to your success.


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