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How to help our clients access their own icebergs as a coach?

The iceberg theory exists in a coaching conversation

There are many methodologies that uses the iceberg theory as a base for discussions with the key being that we recognize that there exists the “seen” parts of our clients and then the “unseen parts”.  

What you see as behaviours, words, actions, the visible parts, are the what is known as the top of the icebergs.  The parts that protrude out of the water and are visible to you and me in the client.  An example is a client who sighs a lot.  It is visible to the coach that the client is sighing and exhibiting this behaviour.  Without making assumptions (that’s what lies underneath), a coach can reflect this behaviour back and inquire about it.  

Why the client sighs… is what’s unseen.  Are they troubled?  Are they tired?  Is something weighing them down?  As a coach, we can’t make assumptions to what we CAN NOT see.  That’s why the pieces of the client which sit underneath the water is what is NOT visible to the coach.


In support of LIFTING,


In transformative coaching and in true partnership with the client, we support them to set anchors in their own iceberg and through framing their content and pairing it with a reflective inquiry, allow the client to lift their own iceberg so that we can see for them. 

The key is to support them to lift, meaning the client is comfortable, ready, and able to show us more.  It is not to dig and look for it.  That space, that reflective mind, that readiness in the client is a process where the coach is able to create with the client, through a conversation.

It is the framing, playback, active listening, and partnership that allow this to happen, basically, all the core competencies of a coach (I follow International Coach Federation competencies) which we can use to support this LIFTING.

A few techniques to support the lift is to simply play back what we observe.

For example, a client can be speaking and table two different, perhaps contradicting views as they talk through it.  We can simply play back, I hear two different things here A and B, can you share with me what are you thinking?  We do not try to deduce or make conclusions why the client has tabled these two things, although we may have our own views.  We simply play it back as it is as a behaviour.  So we start with the top of the iceberg first.

Don’t use “why” to start your inquiries.  Use “what” or “how” instead.  When someone asks you “why do you think that?” or “why did you do that?” what is your first and natural thought?  To me, it come off a bit challenging and I go into justification mode.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the type of anchors we want to help the client lift can be more effective with “what makes it important for you to think that?” or “what makes it important for you to do that?”  



It is then, when the client is able to access parts of themselves they normally can’t easily see, that a shift can happen.  That is transformational coaching at its best. 


When the client can learn

something about themselves

 It is then we can apply a learning loop such as:

“With this new learning, how does this change the way you…. ?”

“How has this learning changed the way you now see yourself?” 

And through a second learning loop, the client can then begin to explore generative thinking within themselves to achieve sustainable change.  

So remember, transformative coaching is supported by this process of allowing the client to create anchors in their own iceberg and lift it, readily and willing, to allow a coach to access and see those unspoken, unconscious parts of their being.  This can include fears, assumptions, desires, thoughts, beliefs, concerns, and hopes.


Coaching the WHO of the client,

not the WHAT or their SITUATION



The key in coaching is to support the client LIFT their iceberg.  This demonstrates the competency of creating trust and intimacy.


I think a lot

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