7 Tips to Deliver Effective One-On-One Coaching Sessions

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A one-on-one coaching business can help professional coaches make a meaningful impact in the lives of others.

At first glance, it might feel like you’re making a smaller impact than a group coaching program. Still, one-on-one coaching offers more personalized attention and accountability, increased support and guidance, and greater flexibility than group coaching.

By delivering personalized coaching, you can make a meaningful connection and a significant difference in your clients’ lives.

You share your innate strengths and skills as a one-on-one coach and answer the rising demand for competent coaches.

You’re in the right place if you’re considering coaching clients in a one-on-one program. In this article, we’ll offer seven tips so you can deliver individual coaching that matters.

1. Understand the Client’s Priorities

Effective coaching is client focused. This means your program and assumptions must take a back seat to the needs and expectations of each client.

Often, coaches create a coaching program based on the general needs of potential clients. However, clients may have different reasons for wanting what a program offers.

For example, different weight-loss clients might want to lose 20 pounds for various reasons: a 15-year school reunion, a wedding, a vacation, a new job, or a medical diagnosis. In their minds, they may not gauge success in terms of pounds; it’s in fitting into a dress or feeling confident.

Coaches can integrate the following elements into every coaching program to center their program based on their client’s priorities.

  • Onboarding: This should capture the needs and expectations of the client.
  • Coaching tools: Tools like MBTI or Wheel of Life uncover client priorities and preferences.
  • Check-ins: This includes accountability measures to mark progress.
  • Off-boarding: This measures results and creates a plan for continued growth.
Personality tests, like this free one through 16 Personalities, uncovers a client’s preferences
Personality tests, like this free one through 16 Personalities, uncovers a client’s preferences

2. Identify Key Areas for Growth

Another outcome of a good onboarding session with a client is identifying their key areas for growth. While all your clients might seek the same result, the obstacles preventing that result could be different.

Barriers generally include one or more of the following:

  • Lack of knowledge: They might not know because of a lack of exposure to the content or an unwillingness to research it.
  • Underlying beliefs: They may harbor old belief systems that prevent healthy growth in an area of their life.
  • Lack of skill: They might need more quality practice and feedback.

Your objectivity and wisdom help clients focus on the measures that matter for their specific needs. For example, if you coach clients in interpersonal relationships, you might have one client focus on initiating conversations with strangers, and another might journal daily to address beliefs about self-worth.

What’s vital is choosing growth measures based on what’s important to each individual client.

Here are some examples of how you can measure client growth:

  • Habits: Use a habit tracker to make success more visible.
  • Pictures: They take pictures of their meals or outfits to create pride in their choices.
  • Journals: They write morning intentions or evening reflections for increased awareness.
  • Milestones: Track improved results, like longer runs or decreased debt, as they achieve them.
  • Progressive difficulty: Have students start with easier goals and progress to more difficult ones, like speaking up in a conversation to speaking at an event.

These measures act as accountability measures. More importantly, they make success visible to your clients using criteria that matter to them. They can see their improvement and experience victories while in your coaching program.

3. Establish a Schedule

An effective one-on-one coaching schedule means the client gets the right level of ongoing support, and you don’t feel depleted while providing it.

To effectively adopt new practices, ongoing sessions are necessary. A predictable loss of knowledge can occur when we learn something and don’t use it. It’s called the forgetting curve. A spaced learning process, with well-spaced coaching sessions, helps compensate for this loss.

Your coaching schedule and the assignments you give between sessions let you incorporate spaced learning so clients remember what they learned.

Schedule coaching sessions far enough apart so they can complete the assignments and see their effects, but not so far apart that they forget what they learned.

Little Winks sleep coaching allows a week of using new sleeping strategies between sessions
Little Winks sleep coaching allows a week of using new sleeping strategies between sessions

The perfect spacing between sessions depends on your process and your client’s struggles. You can compare it to physical therapy, where more stubborn issues require more frequent sessions, and less persistent problems require fewer sessions scheduled farther apart.

However, as a coach, put your needs first. Consider how to manage your energy. You cannot help others and give them your full attention when you’re exhausted. Create a coaching schedule that works for your life, and then accept clients whose needs match what you can support.

These practices can reduce the time needed to support your clients:

  • Transcriptions: Use apps like Fathom or Tactiq to transcribe your sessions. These let you focus on your clients during sessions because they capture notes for you.
  • Review: Update your notes while the meeting is fresh in your mind — schedule time to complete this immediately following each session.
  • Preparation: Schedule time before each meeting to review your notes and prepare follow-up questions.
  • DM access: Some coaches might benefit by offering DM access to clients. It can minimize learning losses without scheduling additional sessions.
Tools like Fathom transcribe and summarize, making it easier to focus on clients
Tools like Fathom transcribe and summarize, making it easier to focus on clients

4. Foster a Positive Learning Environment

Coaching clients often want to reduce stress. This can be tricky because while too much stress decreases the learning capability of your clients, with too little stress our brains don’t remember as well.

A winning formula combines the right amount of stress with positive belief.

So how do you do that? How do you create a positive learning environment?

David Scott Yeager has done remarkable work in this. In his study, he improved the scores of students with one phrase, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them.”

This wise feedback phrase empowers others to stretch because it reminds them that they have great potential. 

Here are some ways to foster positive learning in your coaching:

  • Use the wise feedback phrase: Say, “I’m providing this feedback because I have very high expectations. And I know you can reach them.
  • Encourage discovery: Rather than focusing on telling clients what they need to know, use activities, assignments, and research that let them discover it.
  • Focus on the positives: Measure wins and successes so clients can visualize positive changes. Explore why the wins happened (rather than losses) so they can replicate the conditions of success.
  • Promote a growth mindset: Reframe failures as experiments and data so clients accept these experiences as instrumental to learning, growth, and success.

5. Establish Two-Way Feedback

While wise feedback is essential, so is the idea of feedback being a two-way device.

When our feedback only flows from coach to client, it creates a power differential in the coaching relationship. The coach is the only source of wisdom; the client can improve, but only when in a coaching program.

When clients are encouraged to provide feedback, however, it can boost self-confidence. They can get more out of the coaching because they learn to trust in their own power — something they’ll need for long-term success.

Here are some practical ways to encourage two-way feedback:

  • Client goes first: Before offering feedback, ask the client to provide feedback on their actions or thoughts.
  • Watch their body language: If they look disengaged, ask for feedback on what you just said. Did it make sense? Was there something you missed?
  • Promote self-discipline: Encourage clients to set their own goals and hold themselves accountable.
  • Encourage opinions: Listen carefully for what they share that doesn’t match your beliefs. Encourage them to share more about these.
  • Ask clients to summarize your lessons: This summary can offer insight into how they heard you and help you improve how you communicate a concept.
  • Collect standard feedback: Get feedback in an off-boarding session with an interview or survey. Will Thalheimer’s book on learner surveys is one of the best resources for creating performance-focused feedback questions.

6. Ask Quality Questions and Listen

Many clients use questions in a way that keeps them stuck — questions like, “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I do anything right?” By modeling and teaching them to ask quality questions, you disrupt this pattern.

Quality questions shift their focus toward solutions and create awareness of underlying beliefs and feelings. This includes questions like, “What’s a more efficient way to accomplish this task?” or “What will look fabulous on me today?”

Of course, the partner to quality questions is quality listening. Listening must be a core skill of any coaching style because there are four layers to communication — what the client means, what the client says, what you hear, and what you make it mean.

Recognizing the layers involved in communication clarifies how meaning gets lost
Recognizing the layers involved in communication clarifies how meaning gets lost

Any breakdown in these four layers and we have a miscommunication. That’s precisely why listening to how clients answer quality questions is essential. Their answers offer incredible insight.

Incorporate these tips to improve your listening and communication skills:

  • Full attention: Offer your total focus, putting aside your thoughts so you can understand what they’re saying and implying.
  • Rephrase for confirmation: Restate what your client said to confirm your understanding before responding.
  • Avoid judgment: Withhold your bias and assumptions, respecting the client’s right to their thoughts, feelings, and ways of interpreting their experiences.
  • Empathize: Consider how you might feel in your client’s position, considering their background and priorities.
  • Watch their body language: While body language isn’t an exact science, look for signs of openness and relaxation — mirror body positions to create greater ease.
  • Make connections: Consider what you’re hearing now and see if there are any connections to what they’ve previously stated or the results they’re experiencing.
  • Pause: When they finish talking, allow an extra few beats to see if there’s more to be said. Let them feel unrushed as they speak.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

– Robert J. McCloskey

7. Allow for Flexibility

You’ve likely spent some time considering the sequence and pace when you created your coaching program. However, one of the main benefits of one-on-one coaching is your personalization in adapting your coaching process to your client’s needs.

We create programs based on averages, and yet there is no such thing as an “average” person. Each client is an individual. You can help them meet their specific needs when you abbreviate, combine, or expand topics based on their experience.

It’s also helpful to have several coaching tools like the Five Whys or a Schedule Audit to try when a client seems stuck. These individualized situations can prove beneficial in experimenting and using unplanned strategies to gain further experience.

Conclusion

Overall, one-on-one coaching provides a valued service to clients who require personalized attention, accountability, and flexibility. It’s one of the most popular and effective types of coaching.

You can be confident that you’re delivering the experience your clients need when you follow these and other best practices.

While supporting your clients, get the support you need by continually honing your skills and seeking the tools and platforms that make your job easier.

Were there any tips that surprised you? Any tips you think were missing?

Be sure to share your thoughts and tips in the comments below.

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