How to Use a Client's Strengths for Change | Get "Heart to Heart" with Julie Johnson MCC

Client holding lightbulb with ideas!

In this "Heart to Heart with Julie" column, Julie Johnson MCC shares sample coaching conversations and situations to help you grow along with her learnings, ideas and practical tips to help us all become better coaches. These are real coaching experiences that illustrate common issues coaches face.

We encourage you to share your thoughts, learnings and own experiences in the comments below!

These articles were first posted on Julie's blog, The Coaching Cube, and have been updated for inclusion here.

In this month's article from Julie, she offers us a beautiful example of how we can help a client grow and overcome a challenge—using simple feedback and their strengths as a lever.

Background and the purpose of our coaching session:

Some time ago, I was heading into a two-hour virtual coaching session with someone new, and I remember feeling quite tired. Warning bells went off, and I prepared to manage my energy.

The moment we met, however, it all changed. I encountered such an energetic and positive person that I felt the fatigue leave my body, replaced by oodles of energy! I thanked her for her contagious enthusiasm, and we dove into the discussion.

Our job in this coaching session was to to debrief the results of a rich and complex personality assessment that the coachee had recently completed. We were to collect a list of strengths and development areas as they related to a challenging position she had just taken on. My role was to help her interpret her scores, and in particular to make the less-than-obvious connections.

Like many assessment debriefs, I had to do a fair amount of talking. And we discovered that the coachee's strengths included enthusiasm (indeed!), speaking her mind, positivity, curiosity, proactively taking the lead, and interpersonal relationship management.

And a pattern soon emerged...

Each time when we started to speak simultaneously (and that happened a lot), she would keep speaking over me.

I found myself backing down each time, even though I believed I had something of value to offer. I also tried several times (unsuccessfully) to keep talking until she would 'back down'.

Curious about this repeated behavior, I started to make mental notes of how it was making me feel: impressed yet annoyed, not valued, and frustrated because part of my job was to share my analysis and interpretation.

As we combed through her assessment results, we eventually uncovered a potential development area around pushing one's own views over others.

My light bulb went on, and I realized that this behavior had played out right in front of me, over and over!

Here's the coaching conversation:

  • "May I share something with you?"
  • "Sure!"
  • "I've been noticing that each time we start speaking at the same moment, you continue speaking, and I back down. I've been experimenting with continuing to speak longer (which is not my nature), and you continue talking, with a somewhat louder voice."
  • [pause]
  • "If I check in with myself, I realize that I stop listening and start turning my thoughts toward how to manage time, vacillating between, 'Do I push, or just give in?' "
  • Both of us digested the moment.
  • I continued, "I'm sharing this with you because I'm wondering whether it happens elsewhere. And if so, whether others stop listening, as well."
  • She replied, "I'm not sure if I recognize this."
  • I was on rocky ground. I sat there in silence to give it some time.
  • Finally, she said, "Well, it could be happening, when I am particularly enthusiastic about something, as I have been enthusiastic in this exchange. I'll keep this in mind."
  • "Perhaps you've just identified your 'alarm bell'—when you are feeling really enthusiastic."
  • "Yes, that makes perfect sense. Actually, that's quite helpful."
  • "How might your strength of curiosity fit in here?"
  • "Oh, that's a good one. I don't think I'm making use of it when I behave like this. If I could get myself curious about what others are trying to say (especially in those enthusiastic moments), I might be able to mitigate this."

A few days later, I received an email from her thanking me for the session and this discovery in particular.

Here are my 3 takeaways from this coaching session:

  1. When we stay in touch with how we're feeling and what we experience during our encounters with our coachees, we place ourselves in a position to offer valuable feedback. However, when offering your feelings and/or experience, be sure to share it without judgement—and stay away from adding your own interpretation.
  2. Strengths, when overused or used unintentionally, can be counter-productive. In this case, my coachee's enthusiasm without boundaries or awareness led to her overriding others—a less than ideal behaviour.
  3. When discussing a development area, it can be really helpful to remind coachees of the strengths they already have that can help them improve. In this case, my coachee's strength of curiosity became a powerful addition to how she interacts with others—and a helpful counterbalance to her rampant enthusiasm.

Now it's your turn:

  • What did you notice or learn from this coaching conversation?
  • What takeaways do you have from this?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you liked this "Heart to Heart" column from Julie Johnson, you may also like:

Julie Johnson

Contributing Author:

Julie Johnson MCC, MIM is an Executive Coach, Coach Supervisor and Author. Her purpose is to help motivated people be at their best. She's passionate about spreading quality coaching conversations farther and wider, impacting the lives of people she'll never meet. Julie helps leaders develop an authentic Coaching Leadership Style so they grow next-generation leaders - and scale their own leadership. She also loves creating synergies by connecting 'the right people' with each other. Meet Julie in this short video here and learn more about her on her website here. You can also sign up for her monthly blog The Coaching Cube.

Learn more about Julie & see all their articles here >>

Image of Inspired client holding lightbulb and pointing. by krakenimages via Kraken Images


  1. Kitty Koniali

    This was a great, deep reminder to mindfully allow myself time and space to check in with myself and listen to what I'm feeling. Although, I can feel "red flags" or uncomfortable feelings, I don't really give myself the time to bring them forward. I'd like to work on that more, so I can "get real" with coachees and not play along, ignoring my instinct and gut feelings.

    • Michela Phillips

      Gut feelings are there for a reason, Kitty! Glad you're opening up and getting real with your coachees!
      - Kindly, Michela

    • Julie Johnson

      Yes, it is wonderful to access this possibility. I call it 'using yourself as a tool, in service of the coachee'. I also tap into how I feel when I'm about to start a coaching session (and why I might be feeling that way) - very interesting info. Enjoy playing with this, Kitty!


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