Coach the Person, Not Their Problem - Dr. Marcia Reynolds


The Professional Coaches Alliance was once more gifted with a valuable and inspiring presentation by Dr. Marcia Reynolds, MCC, author, and president of Covisioning, who has over 40 years of experience developing leaders and 27 years of coaching and teaching coaching worldwide. Marcia’s topic at the September 12th Alliance Community Event was “How to Shift to Coaching the Person, Not their Problem- And Why you Want to do this, Especially Now.”

Marcia noted that we are coaching during dark times when people’s brains are trying to make meaning when there often is no meaning. The uncertainty of the pandemic and other events makes it difficult to imagine what’s possible. The less we know for sure, the more our brains tend to see disaster.

Why and how do we coach clients effectively? They’re stuck in their safe stories and believe their logical reasons for keeping them. We can’t just tell them to change and expect any long term behavioral change.

In the effective process Marcia has developed, we first listen to our clients describe a situation-who they are in it, and how they interpret it. Having noted any emotions and energy shifts, we then reflect back and encapsulate their feelings and thoughts, even if it makes them uncomfortable. We are what Marcia called “external thought disruptors.” We follow up with curious questions that lead them to pause and look inside, maybe discovering what’s blocking them from moving forward.

These steps give our clients the clarity and confidence to shift their focus and views and explore the world beyond their fears and doubts. We don’t need to fix them or show them the way. We are their “thinking partners.” As Marcia emphasized, “This is the gift and value of coaching.”

Marcia shared three mental habits coaches can develop to help shift from “coaching the problem to coaching the person.” The first is to deepen your presence during the coaching rather than perfecting your skills. Before every meeting, align your nervous system, breathing in the emotions you want to feel, such as compassion, courage, and curiosity.

Another mental habit is to receive, not just listen. You receive what your clients offer by listening for the emotions and shifts beneath the words. You share back what you think they might be feeling or thinking.

Thirdly, you catch and release any judgment. The brain must judge to know if it’s safe, so we tend to judge. When we give advice, we are judging that they need our advice because they are inadequate. Coaches might ask themselves to give up being the healer or fixer and return to a state of presence.

Marcia summarized these steps to practice as follows:
R- recognize your urge to fix your clients;

A- appreciate their experience;

R -reflect back what you hear or see as you listen;

E- explore their thoughts and doubts so they can more deeply think about their thinking

As an extra gift and powerful learning experience, Marcia offered to do a coaching demonstration with Cindi Britton, who shared a complex relationship issue. We all witnessed the helpful shift Cindi experienced through Marcia’s “coaching the person not the problem.” Make sure you look for this in the membership resources on our website.

Check out these other resources available through Marcia’s generosity: 

Thank you to the Professional Coaches Alliance for providing another valuable event for members and guests.

Summarized by

Virginia B. Berger
[email protected]


The Baby Boomer Retirement Coach