A coaching session without challenge is like having a pleasant conversation with a friend, where you comfortably discuss your situation without actually making any progress or achieving a solution.

At the ‘soft squidgy’ end of challenge, you’ll feel positively supported although might not feel like you’re moving forward.

At the ‘harder, tougher’ end of challenge you’ll be out of your comfort zone, significantly in the stretch or learning zone. You’ll be discovering new things about yourself, some you may not like initially, but you’ll realise how useful the stretch is, and you’ll see progress.

Challenge for one person, isn’t necessarily the same for another.

A skilled coach will be able to ‘judge’ the level of challenge suitable to you, your situation and how resourceful you’re feeling in that particular session, so challenge can differ from one session to the next.

I’ve had coachees come to sessions having recently had a significant knock to their confidence. They tend to want a ‘softer’ start to the session. But I feel it’s important to help them build a more resourceful state … and I use the skills of listening, rapport building, appropriate questioning and feeding back pertinent and confidence-building observations, so they can be more open to challenge again, and continue making progress.

What I love most about being challenged when I’m in coachee role, is that total belief my coach has in me.

They are there beside me, encouraging me to take a leap of faith, or believing what I want is possible – when I may be doubting myself.

These are behaviours I use to support coachees I work with too, and it’s with this mindset that I see most progress with them.

What needs to be in place for challenge to work

One of the first things the coach will do in the coaching relationship, even from the initial meeting, is build rapport and trust. These are key for you to feel able to open up and to be challenged.

Remember, the coach should have your best interests at heart … being mindful of your goal and what you’re aiming to achieve. It’s not about them, it’s about YOU!

When starting a new coach-coachee relationship, it is a good idea to ask your coach how they challenge. This not only helps to inform you, it also gets a potentially uncomfortable topic out in the open, making it more ‘accessible’ and easy to step into when you’ve hit an obstacle. Alternatively, you can trust and accept that challenge will happen anyway, and you’ll ‘go with the flow’!


A coach will challenge you in a number of ways, including:

Challenging limiting beliefs

They may hear you say things that you believe about yourself or the situation that are holding you back, or impeding your progress … “I’ll never be able to do …” or “I can’t …”

Challenge responses can include … “How do you know?” or “Who says?” or “What evidence can you think of that would contradict that?”

Challenging you to go deeper

This is about delving deeper into your thinking around a topic / your goal. It can feel challenging if it’s not something you’re used to doing, or have been avoiding doing it for some reason.

Relevant Core Competencies from the International Coach Federation include:

“Asks questions that evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action (e.g., those that challenge the client’s assumptions).” – Re 6. Powerful Questioning

“Helps clients to discover for themselves the new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, moods, etc. that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what is important to them.” – Re 8. Creating Awareness

Challenging inaction

Your coach will assist you in designing appropriate actions to deepen your learning and promote progress towards your goals. They will also be checking that these actions are within your control.

Coaches are realistic, and will accept that sometimes things out of your control can get in the way of you achieving actions following coaching sessions.

However, if the coach spots that you are developing a pattern of not taking action for things that are in your control, they will likely challenge this! If you want to avoid this, make sure you’re honest about the actions you’re choosing to do, and not just saying what you think your coach wants to hear.


In which other ways have you been challenged in coaching?

So how could you mentally prepare for challenge in a coaching session? If we go back to my initial statement at the start of this blog, challenge is an integral part of a coaching session so it should be expected. Preparing to be challenged is the same as preparing to be coached. I approach it from the perspective … “I’m going to learn something new about myself today – and I’m going to enjoy that!”

What would you say to yourself?