Skip to content

Glossary of Coaching Terms

This definitive glossary of coaching terms explains the key coaching skills you can use whether you are a leader or a coach. Originally these useful coaching definitions were only available to participants on our Coaching for Performance workshops which are accredited by the ICF and considered the gold standard for those who wish to develop leadership ability. The glossary was then published in our bestselling book Coaching for Performance. Now, we have added the complete coaching glossary to our website to make it freely available to anyone seeking a greater understanding of coaching in the workplace.


Accountability: The coach TRUSTS the coachee and holds them accountable for progress in their thinking, learning or actions in relation to their AGENDA and goals, through structures and measures co-designed and agreed from the start, and without blame or judgment. The coach assists coachees in creating accountability structures for themselves with the mindset of “we are each responsible for our own development.” Questions to set up accountability include: ‘What will you do?’, ‘By when?’ and ‘How will I know?’ see also DESIGNING ACTIONS, MANAGING PROGRESS, REVIEWING ACTIONS

Acknowledgement: The coach senses and articulates a deep knowledge of the ‘Self’ within the coachee taking the action, developing the awareness or having the desire


Active listening: The coach listens with purpose and consciousness to understand the essence of what the coachee is communicating in words, silence, tone of voice, body language, emotions and energy, to hear the underlying beliefs and concerns, motivation and commitment, and to hear the coachee’s vision, values, goals and greater PURPOSE. The coach focuses on the coachee’s AGENDA without judgement and with NON-ATTACHMENT, integrates and builds on the coachee’s thinking, creating and learning, and encourages and reinforces self-expression and purposeful exploration. see also COACHING PRESENCE, INTUITION, BOTTOM-LINING, VENTING, SUMMARIZING, PARAPHRASING, REFLECTING

Agenda: The coachee chooses the focus of the coaching and the coach attends to this agenda throughout, with NON-ATTACHMENT to the outcome. Holding attention on the ‘big picture’ coaching plan or PURPOSE, desired outcomes and ACTIONS agreed see also PARTNERING

Agreement: Coach and coachee co-design at the start, and review regularly, their coaching agreement/alliance to determine what the coachee would like from the coaching interaction, whether there is an effective match between the needs of the coachee and the approach and methods of the coach and what the coach and the coachee’s responsibilities are. At the start it is important to ensure the coachee understands the nature of the coaching process and that they have options for responding to a REQUEST from the coach, and to establish what is appropriate in the relationship and to discuss specific parameters such as logistics, fees, scheduling see also AGENDA, ETHICAL GUIDELINES, PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Alliance: see AGREEMENT

Analogy: An analogy can contain METAPHOR or compare one thing as being like another but goes further, adding reasoning or explanation to illustrate a concept or process. It can help the coachee understand something complex by comparing it with something familiar as an example, exploring resemblances and relationships in something they had perhaps not considered. Sigmund Freud said of analogies ‘they can make one feel more at home’. For example, an analogy you could help a coachee to arrive at might be ‘I want my next bid to stand out from the rest – to sparkle like a diamond, to be strong under scrutiny and crystal clear in what I offer, yet reflecting different ideas depending on what the buyer wants to see’ see also CLARIFYING

Appreciation: Communicating to the coachee something you appreciate about them can raise their self-belief and confidence, and help them know themselves more fully

Articulate: the reality The coach says what they see is going on, eg an action the coachee has taken and the effect it is having on them, to validate or add insight see also REFLECTING/MIRRORING, SUMMARIZING

Authenticity: The coach needs to be comfortable with their own authenticity

Awareness: Self-realized, high quality, relevant input, gained through the mind, the senses and the emotions. Awareness may be of self, of others, of things or of circumstances. Coaching is about raising awareness in relevant areas in order to grow people and performance. It leads to enhanced learning, achievement and enjoyment. Awareness is the basis from which RESPONSIBILITY, self-belief and self-motivation can emerge see also EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE


Body wisdom: Awareness of sensations in the body from physical activity or emotional charge which guides one to act or get curious about what is happening for the coachee. see also INTUITION

Bottom-lining: The coach helps the coachee express the essence of their communication quickly, without engaging in or getting caught up in long descriptions

Brainstorming: Coach offers to brainstorm options with the coachee when they have exhausted their own resources, with NON-ATTACHMENT to the ideas offered. Both coach and coachee contribute. As the coach encourages the coachee to come up with ideas, this becomes an opportunity for the coach to encourage the coachee’s creativity and resourcefulness


Celebrating: Encourage and allow time for the coachee to own what they do, to really feel celebration in their body for their success and capabilities for future growth

Challenging: Invite the coachee to stretch beyond their comfort zone, and challenge assumptions, limiting beliefs and PERSPECTIVES to provoke new insight and possibilities. Without judgement or criticism

Championing: Hold the potential, believe the coachee is capable; manage your own limiting beliefs, suspend judgement and watch for coachee’s limiting beliefs

Clarifying: Express succinctly the essence/core of what has been said and add something valuable picked up intuitively from emotions, discrepancies in word and expression of face or body which hasn’t been said in words, to generate insight and clarity for the coachee and check you have understood (eg ‘It sounds like […] Is that right?’) see also SUMMARIZING, PARAPHRASING, REFLECTING/MIRRORING

Clearing: see VENTING

Closed questions: Tight questions leading to narrow answers that don’t require much thought, eg ‘Yes’, ‘No’, see also OPEN QUESTIONS, POWERFUL QUESTIONING

Coaching: Supporting people to grow themselves and their performance, clarify their PURPOSE and vision, achieve their goals and reach their potential. AWARENESS and RESPONSIBILITY are increased through inquiry, purposeful exploration and self-realization. Coaching focuses on the present and future, is a complete partnership between coach and coachee and sees the coachee as whole (not broken or needing fixing), resourceful and able to find all the answers see also TRANSPERSONAL COACHING
ICF Definition of Coaching Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential
ICF Philosophy of Coaching The coachee is the expert in his/her life and work and is creative, resourceful and whole. The coach’s responsibility is to: discover, clarify and align with what the coachee wants to achieve; encourage coachee self-discovery; elicit coachee-generated solutions and strategies; and hold the coachee responsible and accountable

Coaching feedback: The coach draws out self-feedback from the coachee, focusing on the goal, not the obstacle so that interferences can fall to the side, learning and new insights can occur and potential can come through. Enables the coachee to identify major strengths and major areas for learning and growth

Coaching mindset: The coach believes that the coachee is capable, resourceful, and full of potential. Believing in the dormant capability of a person will build their self-belief and self-motivation and enable them to flourish. And with that mindset, you can coach them to make their own powerful choices and find enjoyment in their performance and their success

Coaching presence: To create a spontaneous and deep relationship with the coachee, the coach needs to be fully conscious and flexible, open to not knowing, taking risks and experimenting with new possibilities, and confident in shifting PERSPECTIVES and working with (and not get caught up in) strong emotions, access own INTUITION and use humour to introduce lightness and lift energy see also DANCING IN THE MOMENT

Code of ethics: see ETHICAL GUIDELINES

Consulting: Giving advice and guidance

Contracting see AGREEMENT

Counselling: Personal problem-oriented support

Countertransference: Occurs when a person in authority (manager or coach) unconsciously reacts to transference from their own history (ie their own transference) see also TRANSFERENCE


Dancing in the moment: The coach is fully present and follows the direction and flow of the coachee, noticing changes in energy and creating from each moment

Declaration: Creating a space or environment for the coachee where the declaration or commitment they make will have a strong effect on them. This is much bigger than saying ‘yes I will do xxx’

Deepening the learning: The coach helps the coachee find the learning from a previous action or from current perspectives to set the stage for new action. The coach can invite the coachee to ‘do it now’ in their session and give support and immediate CELEBRATION on the success of the action or the learning that came from it

Designing actions: The coach helps the coachee to explore alternative ideas and solutions related to the coachee’s AGENDA and to define the actions they would like to take to move towards their goal see also BRAINSTORMING, ACCOUNTABILITY, REVIEWING ACTIONS, CELEBRATING

Direct communication: Using appropriate, respectful language which suits the coachee’s learning models, the coach effectively shares with and invites from the coachee new PERSPECTIVES, thoughts, INTUITION and feedback with NON-ATTACHMENT to support the coachee’s self-awareness and AGENDA see also REFRAMING, METAPHOR, ANALOGY

Disruption: Finding a way to disrupt patterns that the coachee wants to let go of. This might be a disruption of an activity (yelling at one’s employees) or a way of thinking (‘I have to be perfect’)


Effective questioning: see POWERFUL QUESTIONING

Embody: Using the body to strengthen a commitment or deepen an understanding or experience, eg standing as the powerful presenter when working on becoming a powerful presenter rather than just talking about it

Emotional Intelligence: Coaching is fundamentally about Emotional Intelligence (EQ), the term coined by Daniel Goleman in his book of the same name. EQ can be described as the range of emotional, social and personal competencies which influence our ability to cope with life’s demands and pressures. It can be broken down into a number of areas and competences which each impact on the way we approach tasks, activities and interactions. Coaching is about developing and using our EQ. All change starts within. Developing and accessing our EQ can shift our self-AWARENESS. This enables us to manage ourselves better and become more aware of others, thereby having a more positive impact and increased RESPONSIBILITY

Engaged listening: see ACTIVE LISTENING

Ethical guidelines: The coach has ethical obligations to the coachee and must understand, communicate and adhere to a set of ethical guidelines, eg ICF Code of Ethics see also PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Evaluation: To make an assessment or measurement of the outcome of the coaching in terms of its value added, both qualitative and quantitative





Goal setting: For inspiration, first identify the dream goal or purpose (the ‘Why’), eg ‘I want to alleviate suffering in the world’. This is very powerful and provides the context for the next level, the end goal, eg ‘I want to sell X number of X-ray machines next month’. The coachee cannot control an end goal, so a precise or specific performance goal (‘What’) is needed, over which the coachee has 100% control, eg ‘I want to build great relationships with our customers’. Finally, the coachee must decide on the process goals (‘How’) which support the higher levels of goal, eg ‘I will start work half an hour earlier every day next week’ and ‘I will spend 4 hours on sales calls today’. The coach needs to attend to each of these levels and revisit and check in on the goal because as the coachee’s awareness deepens, so will the direction of their desires and therefore their goal

Gremlin: A thought or feeling that keeps us from moving forward but once identified and named can lose its hold

Gut feeling see INTUITION


Hold the focus: The coach keeps the coachee’s energy directed towards their desired outcomes see also AGENDA

Hold the space: Honour the coachee’s dynamic space


Intuition: Directly accessing and trusting one’s inner knowing or ‘gut feeling’, taking risks to communicate what you intuit with NON-ATTACHMENT


Listen for potential: Focus on the coachee’s capabilities and strengths rather than seeing the coachee as a problem. What could they unleash if they had no limits?

Listen with heart: Listen to non-verbal messages such as voice tone, phrasing, facial expression and body language. When we are listening attentively at the level of feeling and meaning (the intent), our body language and facial expression show this and encourage the speaker to open up to us



Managing progress: Hold the coachee’s attention on their AGENDA and their coaching plan, ACKNOWLEDGE them for awareness/insight gained and for what they have done. Positively CHALLENGE them for what they have not done, and remain open to adjusting measures and ACTIONS. Develop the coachee’s ability for self-feedback see also ACCOUNTABILITY, COACHING FEEDBACK, PLANNING

Meet the coachee where they are: To have empathy for the coachee’s situation and to respect where they are, not to try to influence them to be somewhere else. To speak in their terms, using their type of language

Mentoring: Sharing expertise and some guidance

Metaphor: Introducing symbolism and imagery – something which is not literal but a figure of speech – helps the coachee to explore emotions and associations from another context (something they know) and draw on them to build a picture or sensation of what they are trying to express in words (what they don’t know or understand). When we use metaphor, we aren’t just asking the coachee to think of one thing being like another, we actually take the coachee a step further by inviting them to picture or sense that one thing is the other (X=Y, eg ‘When I give my presentation, I want to be the diamond on the stage’) see also CLARIFYING, ANALOGY

Moving the coachee forward: The coach can help move the coachee forward in many ways, including by BOTTOM-LINING, bringing the focus back to the goal, helping to create actions for the coachee and making a REQUEST of the coachee see also BRAINSTORMING, CHALLENGING, GOAL SETTING, PERSPECTIVES, VENTING

Mirroring: see REFLECTING


NLP: (neuro-linguistic programming) A model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (especially patterns of thought) underlying them, co-founded by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970s

Non-attachment: The coach remains on the coachee’s AGENDA and does not try to influence or have an opinion about the outcome see also PARTNERING


Open questions: Broad, open-ended questions, eg ‘What do you really want’, ‘What other options do you have?’, evoking clarity and insight see also CLOSED QUESTIONS, POWERFUL QUESTIONING


Paraphrasing: Repeat what is said but use slightly different word(s) which do not change the substance or meaning to show the coachee that you are listening to their words (the content), validate what they have said and help them to replay and perhaps revise what they said see also REFLECTING/MIRRORING, SUMMARIZING, CLARIFYING

Partnering: To ensure that the coach–coachee relationship is one of equals. To be beside the coachee when coaching rather than to walk ahead or stand opposed see also AGENDA, DANCING IN THE MOMENT, NON-ATTACHMENT

Permission: By asking if the coachee is happy to be coached in sensitive, intimate or new areas, or before offering a hard truth or speaking to a gut feeling, the coach creates a safe environment, helps to build TRUST and makes sure the coachee wants to be coached instead of having any other kind of conversation

Perspectives: The coach communicates other points of view which expand the way in which the coachee sees something, allowing them to examine their viewpoint and inspires commitment to shift to a more resourceful place with possibilities see also REFRAMING, BODY WISDOM

Planning: Create an effective coaching plan which integrates the whole of the coachee, addressing their AGENDA, concerns and major areas for learning and development, and with targets which are measurable, achievable, challenging and time-framed and potential to move the coachee towards their desired outcome see also GOAL SETTING

Powerful questioning: The coach first asks broad, inclusive questions which compel attention, thought and observation, and then tighter questions to increase the quality of focus, clarity, detail and precision and evoke discovery, insight, new learning, commitment or action towards the coachee’s desired outcome. Powerful questioning reflects curiosity and ACTIVE LISTENING, follows the coachee’s AGENDA with NON-ATTACHMENT, challenges their assumptions, creates a feedback loop, and carries no judgement, blame or criticism


Professional standards: The coach must conduct themself at all times in a professional manner and understand and model appropriate professional standards, eg ICF Code of Ethics see also ETHICAL GUIDELINES

Psychotherapy: Therapeutic support which explores blocks and past influences, particularly the emotional past. Coaches should clearly communicate to their coachees the distinction between coaching and psychotherapy and be able to refer coachees to a professional psychotherapist as needed

Purpose: The greater purpose or ‘Why’ that a person acts from is as important as ‘How’ they act or ‘What’ they do, and is the unifying and integrating factor in real change




Reflecting/mirroring: Repeat the coachee’s own exact words back to them to show you are listening to their words (the content), validate what they have said and help them to replay and perhaps revise what they said see also PARAPHRASING, SUMMARIZING, CLARIFYING

Reframing: Help the coachee to understand things from a new perspective see also CLARIFYING


Request: The coach invites the coachee to take specific action on something, eg ‘I would like you to complete X task by Y date’, and allows the coachee to say ‘Yes I will’, ‘No I won’t’ or make a counter offer. Ways of responding to a request are usually set up in the AGREEMENT see also MOVING THE COACHEE FORWARD

Responsibility: The personal choice to take ownership and to commit to take action. It cannot be imposed; it must come from inside. Coaching is about building AWARENESS and responsibility in order to grow people and performance. Increased responsibility leads to enhanced potential, confidence and self-motivation. It is the basis from which uniqueness, self-belief and ownership can emerge see also EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE

Reviewing actions: The coach helps the coachee to increase their learning and awareness, identify possible blocks and offer further support and challenge to meet the goal. Challenge the coachee to recognize if there is a separation between what they are stating and what they are doing. It is not about blame or criticism see also DESIGNING ACTIONS, ACCOUNTABILITY, CELEBRATING, DEEPENING THE LEARNING

Standards of conduct: see PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS

Structured/strategic daydreaming: The coach challenges the coachee to create a powerful vision of the future which will motivate them to pursue their own fulfilment see also GOAL SETTING

Summarizing: Repeat back what is said but more briefly, without changing substance or meaning to show the coachee that you are listening to their words (the content), check you have understood, help them to replay and perhaps revise what they said, validate what they have said, and enable you to interrupt smoothly when people are talking too much or repeating themselves see also CLARIFYING, PARAPHRASING, REFLECTING/MIRRORING

Systems coaching: Reveals the system to itself so that it can self-regulate see also WHOLE SYSTEM APPROACH



Transference: The displacement of patterns of feelings and behaviour originally experienced with significant figures of one’s childhood to individuals in one’s current relationships. In the workplace the most common form is authority transference see also COUNTERTRANSFERENCE

Transpersonal coaching: Responds to our yearning for something beyond the personal, beyond the material and the everyday. An empowering process which enables the coachee to discover who they are and operate from their core – the source of deepest values and qualities – a well-spring of real power, creativity and actualization

Trust: Coaching relies on a deep and trusting connection between the coach and coachee, built on intimacy, mutual respect, genuine concern for the coachee’s welfare and future, and requiring a safe, supportive environment, clear agreements, personal integrity, honesty and sincerity see also AUTHENTICITY, CHAMPIONING, PERMISSION


Values: The principles you hold of worth and which represent you right now are a good foundation for the coaching relationship. The coach can help the coachee to emerge their values and enhance enjoyment and performance, eg ‘How can you live your values /that feeling at work?’

Venting: The coach allows the coachee to clear an emotional state of being, without judgement and with NON-ATTACHMENT, so they are able to move on to the next step. The coach does not use any of this material to start a coaching conversation. The coaching starts fresh after venting

Visioning: Imagining what the coachee wants as if it has already happened or they have already accomplished it


Whole system approach: Recognizes the inter-connectedness of individuals, communities and organizations and actively engages our ability to work with and develop the systemic potential of these networks

Witness: The coach is a witness to the coachee. Sometimes a witness to a DECLARATION, sometimes just to hear their thoughts, ideas and feelings

Reproduced from Coaching for Performance: Coaching Foundations & Skills Manual
Copyright © 2020 Performance Consultants (International) Ltd