For those who are unfamiliar with coaching, it might seem like talking to a coach and talking to a friend aren’t all that different. Both listen. Both want to support you. And both can provide unique perspectives on your situation or challenge. And yet, that doesn’t mean that a coach and a friend are interchangeable.
A coach comes from a neutral place.
When I work with a client, I only hear their side of the story. I only hear the stories they choose to tell me. I hear it all from them, and nobody else. That’s very different than the dynamics in a friendship, especially if you’ve known the friend for a long time. Your friend might know your family, your current (or former) significant other, your coworkers, and more. They might be aware of, not only your opinion on the subject at hand but also the opinion of everyone you care about.
I’m not saying all this because I’m a coach; I truly believe that everyone should have a coach, and that includes other coaches. And I also couldn’t survive without my friends, whose advice and support I value immensely. It’s not about one person’s advice being better than the other. Instead, it’s about bringing in an outside perspective, influenced by no one but you, to help you find clarity in a situation.
Still unsure? Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re deciding whether to hire a coach versus talk to a friend.
1. Do you want to talk to someone who’s an expert in your area of focus? Friends are usually supportive of your goals and dreams, even if their own goals and lifestyles differ significantly. Sometimes, though, if you’re making a big life or career change, it can be hard to ask for advice while also explaining all the circumstances surrounding the situation. In these cases, it helps to bring on someone who is already an expert in what you are looking to achieve. I have had many clients hire me because their friends didn’t fully understand why they were starting their own business, rather than settling for a job that would bring stability. When these clients come to me, I know what they are going through. I’ve experienced, on a personal level, the uncertainties and challenges that come with entrepreneurship. I had friends and family who initially doubted that pursuing a career as a coach could turn into a stable lifestyle and thriving business. And I’ve worked with many clients experiencing the exact same thing. I understand where my clients are coming from and were able to jump right into the specifics of their situation.
2. Would you benefit from talking to an outsider who can be completely honest with you? I want to help my clients become the best version of themselves. To get there, I take an honest approach to our work together. I’ve written before about how my clients value my willingness to be direct and not sugarcoat things; that’s my personality, and I know that it makes me a better coach. While you might have that friend you can count on to be honest with you, sometimes even the most candid of friends think that supporting you means telling you what you want to hear. It really depends on the situation; what if you’ve previously disagreed about the topic at hand, and your friend is trying to avoid an argument? What if they’ve had a bad experience of their own, and want to protect you from experiencing something similar? As a friend, it’s natural to want to support and protect the people we love most, but it doesn’t always lead to the best advice. That’s where a coach comes in. As an outsider, it’s my job to listen without judgment to what my client has to say and then openly and honestly discuss steps for how they can move forward.
3. Do you find yourself using the word “should” often? When it comes to what we think we should do, we pick up ideas from every one us: our parents, extended family, close friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and beyond. The “shoulds” are usually well-intentioned, even if they don’t serve us. For instance, if you were a fantastic artist in high school, your oldest friends might ask why you don’t pursue art more seriously. In their mind, you have such talent, and you shouldn’t waste it. But what people think you should do often seriously conflicts with what you want to do, and it can be hard to openly discuss your latest goals if you feel like you’re disappointing the people around you. When clients come to me, they’re often consumed by other people’s ideas for their future, but those “shoulds” don’t factor into our work. As a coach, it’s my job to help clients understand all aspects of a situation and figure out the best possible outcome. I advocate for them without telling them what to do.
4. After talking with friends, do you still feel directionless or unsure? At different points in my life, I’ve debated whether to talk to a friend or a coach. Sometimes, I’ve decided to talk to friends, and after our conversations realized I wanted or needed additional thoughts from an outsider. I wasn’t discarding the input from my friends; I just knew that a crucial piece of the puzzle was missing, and that was the perspective of someone removed from the situation. If you discuss a topic with friends and still feel uncertain about a course of action after your conversation, consider whether bringing in a third party will help. Advice from one person does not have to cancel out advice from another person, and a coach’s role is to provide a new perspective while also helping you synthesize all the information and considerations you are already weighing. Ultimately, the goal is to help you move forward.