4 Powerful Communication Skills for Life Coaches
Updated: Apr 7
Communication is key for any relationship. Life coaches learn certain conversational skills designed to help bring out the best in people. (However, you don't need to be a life coach to harness these skills!)
This article outlines 4 simple communication techniques that will:
Help others feel safe in your presence
Make people feel seen and heard
Allow you to hold space for someone and empower them to access their inner wisdom
Investing in your communication skills can be so valuable because the way you communicate can have a profound effect on nearly every aspect of your life!
The 3 Levels of the Brain
First, it is important to have a basic understand of three key levels of the human brain. Each of these levels have a different function. Being aware of these levels can help you to know what kind of communication will be most effective and well received.
The 3 levels are:
Reptilian Brain — governs the need to feel safe; fight or flight response
Mammalian Brain — governs community, connection, empathy, and emotion
Neocortex — governs logic & reasoning
The Reptilian Brain
This is triggered by our most basic needs of survival. If we feel that we are in danger our fight or flight response is triggered, and it is very difficult to connect with others (mammalian brain) or think logically about a subject (neocortex). This state can be triggered not only by physical danger, but in this day and age financial and interpersonal challenges can send people into this level.
If the person you're communicating with appears panicky, angry, highly aggravated, or fearful, it is likely that they are operating from the reptilian brain.
When someone is in this state of mind, it is most important to help them feel safe until they are more calm. Offering advice or even trying to work towards a solution can fall on deaf ears to someone who is in this reptilian state of mind.
The Mammalian Brain
This part of the brain is most concerned with social connections. Once our reptilian brain feels safe and secure in our survival needs, the next most important thing the brain concerns itself with is it's social connections. This is because as a communal species, our connections and relationship with our "tribe" i.e. family, friends, coworkers, etc. is fundamental to our survival and wellbeing.
If the person you are communicating with appears very emotional (positive or negatively) and is focused on their relationships (how they are being perceived, how they've been treated, their belonging with a group, etc.) then they are likely operating from the mammalian part of the brain.
When someone is in this state of mind, empathy and open, softened questions (which we will talk about below) can be a powerful way to connect and support them.
This is the part of the brain that governs logic and reasoning. When we feel physically safe (reptilian brain) and socially secure (mammalian brain) we are able to use our mind to think about things from a more detached and "matter-of-fact" perspective. This is often the best level of the mind to formulate strategies and solve external problems.
If the person you are communicating with is focused on figuring out solutions or understanding something more clearly, they are likely operating from this area of the brain.
When someone is in this state of mind, asking powerful, open questions and backtracking can be great ways to support them in their deliberations and bring even more clarity to their thinking.
4 Powerful Communication Skills
When facilitating a pure coaching session, no advice is given, and yet a client is able to access deep wisdom and overcome inner and outer obstacles. How is this possible? These 4 communication techniques guide and support a person to feel safe and supported enough to open their mind and access their own inner knowing. Using these 4 communication skills allows a coach to help a client to soften their fight or flight response, feel safe enough to access their emotions and intuition, and to be able to see a situation from a different perspective and find solutions.
The 4 skills are:
Questions are the most powerful way to connect with someone and guide them to access their inner wisdom. A powerful question has many qualities, 2 of the most important qualities include — open and spiral up.
Open questions are ones that cannot be answered with a one word answer like yes or no. They invite reflection and deeper thinking.
Closed question: Do you feel good today?
Open question: How do you feel today?
Closed Question: Do you think there is a solution to this problem?
Open question: What might be some possible solutions?
Spiral up questions guide a client to a positive, future oriented train of thought. They are solution oriented and focus on what is in the person's control.
Client: I wonder if I'll be able to succeed at all. Sometimes I doubt I ever will.
Spiral Down: Why do you think you won't succeed?
Spiral Up: What does success look like to you?
Client: I'm feeling so overwhelmed!
Spiral Down: Why are you feeling overwhelmed?
Spiral Up: How would you like to be feeling instead?
Backtracking is the ability to reflect back a person's words to show that you're listening and to emphasize a particular aspect of what they are saying.
There are many backtracking techniques that can actually be ineffective. Phrases like "So if I'm hearing you correctly..." and "What you're saying is..." followed by echoing back a person's words can feel mechanical and insincere, and can actually break rapport. Instead, backtracking can be done most effectively by simply repeating 1 or 2 of the most powerful words, and then allowing some space/silence. Using these one or two impactful words to phrase a powerful question can be very subtle, yet effective.
Some examples are:
Client: "I feel very frustrated and just wish I knew what do. I want get clear on this so I can just move forward."
You: "Get clear" or "Move forward"
Example of a powerful question: "What might moving forward look like?"
Client: I'm trying to work out every day but I find myself missing many of them. When I get in the gym I feel great but I often just don't want to go in the first place."
You: "Feel great"
Example of powerful backtracking: "When you get in the gym you feel great.."
Softening is the ability to ask a question or offer an idea in a way that doesn't feel too confronting. Using word like "might", "maybe", "possible", "imagine", "could", or "what if" (to give a few examples) can help to allow someone to feel safe to answer a question and open up their mind to more possibilities.
Question: What are you going to do about it?
Softened: What might be possible for you to do about it?
Question: What is the solution?
Softened: Imagine there was a solution — what do you think that could potentially be?
The power of silence cannot be understand! A present silence is a wonderful way to hold a space for someone to feel secure while also giving them room to think, feel, and simply be. Allowing for silence gives the other person the opportunity to share more deeply, as well as the feeling that you're not just there to talk but also to really listen. Often when someone is seemingly finished speaking, if given a moment, an afterthought may pop up. These afterthoughts are often surprisingly intimate or insightful.
Some people can find silence uncomfortable. The thing is, if you feel uncomfortable so will the other person. But if you can hold a comfortable silence the other person will also feel comfortable in that space.
Client: I think I'll give them a piece of my mind!
You: (present, but silent for a moment)
Client: But maybe I don't need to yell... I think I can express how I'm feeling in a nicer way.
Learning to recognize these brain states and incorporate these 4 powerful communication tips takes some practice – but once you've integrated these concepts they become second nature. You'll start to find yourself responding and asking questions in ways that allow people to feel safe, heard, and to open up their minds and hearts.
If you're interested in diving deeper into these skills and getting more practice and personalized guidance on how to integrate them, they are taught in our Coach 101 training course.