Coaching vs. Advice

Why knowing the difference between the two keeps us from disempowering and belittling students, clients and colleagues

by Kris Ward

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Want to be a Smooth Operator with your students, clients and colleagues? Want to always ensure that you empower them and bring them to their own clarity versus disempowering, confusing, or even belittling them?

Of course you do! So here’s what we have to tease apart:

We must know the difference between coaching and advice, which to offer when, and for what purpose.

Let’s back up for a second and get some context. I’ll pull from my own experience.

It stings… A LOT… when someone we deeply respect belittles us. Truth be told, really no one can belittle anyone else (make them small) but it stings just the same when another person is trying to do for us what we wholeheartedly intend to do for ourselves – in our style, timing and flavor, and for our own reasons. My philosophy on WHY it stings is this:

We human beings are creators.

When we feel like creators and we believe in our ability to create beautiful things, we feel our natural sense of power and flow. When we feel like someone else is creating for us, we don’t feel like we have access to our own creative powers… we feel controlled, limited, inhibited. So let’s remember this:

When we try to CONTROL another person, versus RELATE to them, it will always backfire.

Despite our good intentions and despite the fact that we may wholeheartedly believe that what we’re doing or saying is right, better, or “for the other person’s own good”, if we deliver advice or take action on their behalf when they’re not asking for it or wanting it, and ESPECIALLY if that advice comes across as a very strong “should”, they will end up feeling disempowered, resentful even. Especially when they truly feel like, for now, they’re making the moves that feel right to them (knowing full well that they might change course along the way as more data and information is revealed to them via their own efforts and actions).

So even if we’re aiming to help them, and even if we DO help them, a part of them will resent us because we took some of their creative power away.

Understanding the following two definitions will help ensure that doesn’t happen.

Coaching = relating, inspiring and empowering via caring, really listening, inquiring and/or echoing back, all for the sake of helping the other person find their own clarity and remember what a powerful creator they are; suggestions are okay so long as they’re requested then delivered as a neutral option that the person can take or leave based upon what feels better to them

Advice = controlling via selling, telling, judging, should-ing, preaching or pushing one’s own ideas or agenda

A teacher is never a giver of truth
I recently experienced two such run-ins (two completely separate incidents) where someone I deeply respected and admired suddenly started “coaching” me (really they just dished out a hefty dose of unsolicited advice AND they did so in a tone that felt really condescending to me).

It’s not that what they had to say wasn’t potentially helpful. It WAS. But for all the reasons I’ve already described above, I wasn’t able to really use or receive their advice AND feel good about it, which is just unfortunate.

At the same time, as it turns out, it was exactly what I wanted. Because here I am now, writing this post (which hopefully you’ll find valuable for your own business and relationships – I sure have found this lesson really helpful when interacting with my own clients).

Uncomfortable interactions like the ones I had, they’re just the “lovely contrast” that shows us VERY CLEARLY what we DON’T want, then that helps us strengthen our resolve about what we DO want, which only amplifies our ability to create in a very powerful and deliberate way.

And when the discomfort we experience is pretty strong, it means the subject matter is really important to us. It also means, so long as we’re paying attention to our own interior and taking responsibility for the thoughts and actions we’re offering up and how they factor into the mix, we tend to get the learning FASTER, which is a very good thing.

So bring on the lovely contrast!



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Kris Ward
Kris Ward is a Lifestyle Design Coach™ Trainer and the president and founder of She has helped to educate and inspire over 100,000 people worldwide out of painful conflict around money, self-sabotage, and inhibited self-expression into having the freedom and abundance to do what they love every day, and more

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Read 4 comments

  1. Stephanie

    Thank you for sharing this truth… I was given some pointed advice to walk away from goal of mine from a friend who I respect and admire, and it hurt. A byproduct of the hurt was a feeling of being misunderstood, not taken seriously – basically I felt very sorry for myself. But reading this post illuminated the situation and released me from a lot of negative self doubt. The truth is that I need to be trusting myself. The truth is that in the midst of the negative that I felt from my friend, I dug deeper to realize my goal. And I know that I have also given unwarranted advice, usually because I want to be there for someone but am too anxious to just be WITH them in their situation. This post brought a lot of light to this phenomenon of life.

    1. Kris Ward

      Very cool. And I love what you added about what a gift it is and how healing and nourishing it can be for our friends in need when we just meet them where they’re at and be with them in the situation, discomfort and all. Not to wallow, but to stay and feel the humanity of it… to see what it has to teach us. Thanks for adding this piece.

  2. Karina

    Hey Kris,

    I asked a question a few weeks ago to a coach regarding why clients don’t enroll in my next program or sign on for private coaching, but I didn’t get the answer I was looking for. I REALLY resonated with your message because I think this is the exact answer why. The same wisdom from your message came to me in a whisper but it was unclear and I didn’t know how to change it. You just boldly restated that whisper and I know it is something I need to look at. I think that when I don’t feel confident as a coach and I want the client to think I am a great coach, I tend to belittle and give unwarranted advice to cover up my own insecurities. Thank you for helping me become more aware of this, cause of course, it’s never my intention to belittle anyone.

    1. Kris Ward

      Wow, Karina. Thanks for sharing. I can so relate to this. What great awareness on your part. I can feel your desire to really serve them coming through loud and clear. They’re lucky to have a coach like you with that level of honesty. Very inspiring.