As a Master Trainer for my ICF Accredited courses, I often come across inputs and opinions that we must never give advice to our client, all questions must always be open ended, cannot ask any closed ended questions.
Let me bust some myths around the narrow perspective around this and open up a broader principle.
Here's the myth buster - Nothing in the ICF ethical guidelines / code of ethics specifically forbids you from giving advice to your client. Nor does it make it mandatory for you to ask only open ended questions and never ask a closed ended questions.
Having cleared that out of the way, let's explore the broader principle without which the above myth-buster can and most likely will get misconstrued, misunderstood.
1. The first broad principle is to have a deeper understanding of how ICF defines coaching. ICF defines coaching as "partnering with Clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."
What this means is that as a coach, your role is to be a partner with the client. In doing so, there will be times when the client will seek your inputs, your views, your "advice" - because that's what partners do. If you fail to provide your inputs and put it back on the client - that would just make the relationship one-sided and your partner would come to learn that he/she cannot rely upon you for your frank inputs.
This rationale definitely makes the case for you to share your views, thoughts, opinions, "advice".
At the same time, again remember that your role is to be a partner with the client in a "thought provoking creative process". And the moment you share your advice, you have put a stop to the thought provoking. So, this makes the case for NOT sharing your advice.
So, what is the balance between these two extremes?
The balance lies in keeping the conversation natural, without stopping the thought provocation.
And how would you do that?
Well, simply put, when the client seeks your inputs (or is otherwise totally stuck) and/or you are called upon explicitly (or implicitly) to share your inputs - you could always respond by expressing your inputs as your own experience and then inviting the client to mull upon it and check how he/she relates to it.
For example - you could say something like - "I have found from my experience that ........ . But while that may be my experience, I invite you to explore for yourself if and how my experience may or may not relate with your circumstances. Feel free to draw any learnings that you can and reject anything that does not work for you."
This same balance is expected even when you ask questions that are not strictly open ended questions. So if you are asking a closed ended question - ask it in a way the client explores multiple sides rather than one side.
For example - Let's say you as a coach determine that the client may be acting on an impulse and you ask - "Do you want to think about this before you act?". Instead of this you could ask "Would you like to explore the merits and demerits of acting immediately v/s putting some thought before you act?".
2. The second broad principle is that of a natural conversation. Anyone who has undertaken the journey from a beginner coach to ACC to PCC to MCC, knows and realizes this principle.
At the ACC level, it is often found that the coaching conversation is tightly bound within a goal-oriented boundary and as the coach evolves with experience, these conversations become much broader and exploratory conversations rather than tightly bound.
So think about it now. If you operate from a strict dogma, you operate from a strict set of rules and structure, how would your coaching conversation ever become exploratory?
And again at the same time, if you want the coaching conversation to be exploratory, you would need to allow the client to explore their own thoughts rather than proceed with the thoughts and views imposed by the coach.
How would you do that? Just like the examples in the first principle above. Share your thoughts but stay neutral without having any expectations or need for your client to accept your thoughts. And then, go a step further to invite the client to share their own thoughts about your views.
3. The third principle is that of non-imposition of your thoughts and views on the client. What the ICF framework clearly forbids you from doing is to impose your advice on the client.
So where, in the framework does ICF forbid you from this?
Because imposing your advice on the client violates several definitions provided by ICF:
a. Coaching definition - imposing your advice is no longer a partnering process
b. Conflict of Interest - imposing your advice is definite sign of serving an interest other than that of the client
c. Equality - the client no longer feels equally included in the coaching process
4. The fourth principle is that of your liability as a coach.
The moment you respond to your client's request for your inputs as a coach, you assume professional and legal liability. Even at the slightest perception on the part of the client that you gave advice (regardless of whether you did or not) he/she might hold you liable for the consequences of this advice.
This is where the crux of the matter lies. If you are ever asked to (or otherwise required to) share your thoughts, views and opinions - pause, reflect, introspect and recognize that what you share makes you liable. Hence it is of utmost importance for you to share you thoughts in a way that the client very clearly recognizes and accepts that your views are NOT a definite suggestion from you for the client BUT rather a sharing of your own experience from which the client could draw any learnings that may be suitable to him/her.