Meeting People Where They Are At

This is an expression many coaches use when talking about clients/coachees. In fact, many helping professions like social work or pastoral care use this phrase. Not all clients come to coaching with the same understanding of coaching, same ideas of where they want to go, nor same qualities and skills when entering the coaching relationship. So coaches listen, ask questions to understand where people are in their lives, relative to their goals so the relationship is on the client’s terms, at least at the start.

I met a new client recently who was required to engage in coaching as part of a leadership programme. The programme leader had explained coaching, had each participant complete a pre-coaching questionnaire. The first session with any new client is about getting to know each other, building trust, designing how we would work together, and identifying the coaching goals.

With this new client I had 50 minutes so I started asking:

  • How does he learn?
  • What is present when he’s at this best?
  • What qualities and skills would he be bringing to the coaching?


He responded “I don’t know. I don’t know what coaching is. I don’t know what you do.”

So I changed tack, “What would you like to achieve in the coaching? What are your goals? What would you like to be different in 6 months?”

He responded “I don’t know. Nothing really. Just for my team to do what I say.”


I had been told he liked animals so I asked “would you like to sit here, go for a walk or go to the zoo next door?” (Coaches let the client lead where the coaching goes).

Without missing a beat, he said the zoo and was out the door.

Walking through the zoo I asked about his business context – the challenges, objectives, his manager, his team. While looking at the penguins, one of them started screeching, I asked which team member was that penguin? He said John. There was a quiet penguin way off on its own, I asked which team member was that? He said Flossie.

Fast forward to the African Safari exhibit – while standing side by side looking at the rhinoceroses he said “I’m a rhinoceros and sometimes I shouldn’t be a rhinoceros.” I asked what it meant being a rhinoceros. Then followed up asking when he shouldn’t be a rhinoceros and what that means. After a bit of discussion I asked “what animal would you like to be when not a rhinoceros?” “A tapir.”

In conclusion, I asked “what if we work on that the next 6 months?” “That would be really helpful” he replied.

That’s meeting a client where he’s at, and moving him forward in a way that serves him.

What animal are you and which animal would you like to try being some of the time?