Common questions about coaching

If the coaching-specific literature and the 2016 #ICF survey of coaches are anything to go by, a lot of people are interested in the impact and benefits of coaching. Common questions are:

“Does coaching actually work?”

“How much difference does it make in the real world?”

These are reasonable questions. Reasonable, but one-sided.

Whether coaching works or not doesn’t help us understand what coaching looks and feels like for the coachee. Nor does it help us to understand the barriers our clients face and how those barriers appear to them.

Barriers faced by clients

Many professional coaches know their clients face barriers, but they assume these problems will be overcome by good coaching. Consequently, in practice and in the research literature, there is not much interest in what these barriers look like to the client.

Recent Research

Recent research involving 296 coachees from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and North America provides some clues to the barriers coachees face when they engage in coaching.

This research strongly suggests most coachees know they have barriers that could affect their coaching experience. Among the respondents, 206 said they are aware of such barriers and only 9 thought they had no barriers. The study also gives us a clue to what those barriers are likely to be.

The researchers classified the barriers according to six types. These, and the percentage each was cited, are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Main Barriers as Perceived by Coachees

Barriers Prevalence
Coachees readiness and engagement 50.2%
Coaching experience 38.9%
Organisational culture 16.7%
Difficulties with coach 11.8%
External events 8.4%
Relationship between coach and coachee 7.4%

Table 1 shows coachee perceptions of the main barriers they face in coaching. Their main barriers relate to their readiness for coaching and their ability to engage in what is required of them.

More specifically, these are the reasons coachees identified as barriers to engaging with their coach:

  • I lacked commitment to the path of development
  • The timing wasn’t right for me
  • There was nothing challenging
  • I wanted to work on I found it difficult to grasp the coaching concepts
  • I was unmotivated
  • Emotions got in the way
  • I was defensive
  • It was hard to concentrate on the content

Why is this helpful for you to know as a coach?

It is important to recognise that concerns about readiness and engagement may be present in many of your coaching clients. Therefore, it is important to know how to help your clients overcome such readiness issues.

In my own research I have identified 2 key areas of readiness that coaches should explore in their clients. These are:

  1. Their engagement readiness – How ready are they to begin and engage in the change process?
  2. Their change fitness – How ready are they to succeed at the change process? In other words, how much psychological capacity for change do they have?

Some clients have strong change fitness, but, for whatever reasons, they are not ready to engage in the change process at the moment. You may be able to help them become ready (motivational interviewing?), or it may just be a timing issue. Others may be motivated right now, but if they lack change fitness it is more likely a readiness to begin the change process than a readiness to succeed at it.

To improve your understanding of how to build readiness in your coaching clients, learn more about The Change Gym services here:

Written by Steve Barlow.

1 Carter, A., Blackman, A., Hicks, B., Williams, M., & Hay, R. (2017), “Perspectives on effective coaching by those who have been coached’, International Journal of Training and Development, 21, 2, 73-91

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at