Coaching Presence: What is it and How to Develop it

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Coaching Presence: What is it and How to Develop it

ICF Core Competencies: Coaching Presence

By Lucia Baldelli

The concept of having a coaching presence is important for several reasons.  A good presence assures the client that trusts the coach, and the coach trusts the client and their abilities. At its core, the coaching presence is seen in a few of the ICF core competencies.  Specifically, competency 2 Embodies a Coaching Mindset, competency 4 Cultivates Trust and Safety, competency 5 Maintains Presence, and competency 6 Listens Actively. In this article we will see what is coaching present, what it means for a coach to be fully present, and how to develop it.

What is Coaching Presence?

To explain the concept of coaching present it is important to look at what “presence” is. In our common language, ‘being present’ means staying fully focused and engaged in the present moment, without being distracted by internal thoughts or external distractions. It involves being fully engaged in whatever we are doing or whoever we are interacting with, without allowing our mind to wander.   

We become more aware of our senses and notice the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and physical sensations around us. We accept whatever comes as it is, without judgement or the need for it to be different. We suspend evaluations, criticisms, or comparisons, allowing ourselves to experience and accept the present reality without resistance. 

Being fully present often goes hand in hand with mindfulness, which is a state of non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. It involves observing your thoughts, emotions, and sensations without getting caught up in them.

When it comes to interacting with others, being present involves wholeheartedly participating, listening, and responding with genuine interest and openness. It opens the door to deep connection and meaningful interactions with others.

In his book Presence-Based Coaching: Cultivating Self-Generative Leaders Through Mind, Body, and Heart, Doug Silsbee describes presence as “a state of awareness in the moment, characterised by the felt experiences of timelessness, connectedness and a larger truth”. 

Coaching presence encompasses much more than what we might think. It refers to the state of being engaged as a coach in the coaching relationship. It involves a combination of mindset, skills, and qualities that coaches cultivate to create a space that is safe enough to be transformative. 

What are some signs that coaching presence is being demonstrated? 

  • The Coach is listening without interrupting and is mentally focused on what is being communicated on the other side, instead of his/her inner talk. The Coach gives undivided attention to the other person and his/her body language shows genuine interest and engagement in the dialogue.
  • The Coach is responsive by acknowledging, summarising, paraphrasing, asking questions that are connected to what has just been communicated. 
  • The Coach is aware of the emotions in the room and notices tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language to gain insight into the emotional state of the other person. Empathy is a key ingredient to welcome their feelings.
  • The Coach is comfortable with whatever happens in the session. Even strong emotional reactions or opinions are welcomed with curiosity and no judgement to create a safe space for open and honest communication.
  • The Coach adapts the pace of the conversation to what is needed and allows time for silence and reflection to allow deeper insights to emerge. 

If you are interested to go deeper in how to demonstrate more curiosity in coaching, you can read our recent article.

ICF Core Competency 5: Maintaining Coaching Presence

Here is how ICF defines presence, one of the Core Competencies: the coach “Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.”

According to ICF, when coaching presence is being demonstrated the Coach 
1. Remains focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client 
2. Demonstrates curiosity during the coaching process 
3. Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client 
4. Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process 
5. Is comfortable working in a space of not knowing 
6. Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection

Here is an overview of the Updated Core Competency. 

When coaching presence is demonstrated, the coaching process is in flow and the Coach stops worrying about “doing coaching” and starts “being a Coach”. This allows the other person to do deeper work and enables greater trust in the relationship. Coaching comes with ‘ease and naturalness’.

The Updated ICF PCC Markers define what is being searched for in a recording:
5.1: Coach acts in response to the whole person of the client (the who). 
5.2: Coach acts in response to what the client wants to accomplish throughout this session (the what). 
5.3: Coach partners with the client by supporting the client to choose what happens in this session. 
5.4: Coach demonstrates curiosity to learn more about the client. 
5.5: Coach allows for silence, pause or reflection. 
adding an element of partnership and co-creation of what happens during the session. 

This can only happen when the Coach is comfortable not knowing what might happen and the direction that the conversation might take. 

Why is it Important to Exhibit Coaching Presence?

Exhibiting coaching presence is crucial for several reasons:

  • It helps to establish trust by creating a safe and supportive environment where the other person feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and challenges. 
  • The Coach’s genuine engagement and investment in the other person’s growth foster a sense of authenticity in the relationship. 
  • When the Coach is attuned to the other person’s emotions, this signals empathy and understanding, leading to deeper work and more impactful coaching.

How to Develop Your Coaching Presence

Looking for some ideas to develop and enhance your coaching presence? Here are some strategies and approaches that can help.

  1. Mindfulness Practice – Engage in mindfulness exercises and meditation to cultivate present-moment awareness and develop the ability to focus your attention fully. Mindfulness can help you become more attuned to your own thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, allowing you to bring a greater sense of presence to coaching sessions.
  2. Self-Reflection – Reflect on your coaching interactions and assess your level of presence. Consider how you showed up in sessions, what distractions or barriers may have hindered your presence, and how you can improve your focus and engagement. Journaling or discussing your coaching experiences with a mentor or supervisor can be helpful in gaining insights and identifying areas for growth.
  3. Emotional Intelligence – Enhance your emotional intelligence by deepening your understanding of your own emotions and learning to empathise with others. Emotional intelligence allows you to better connect with the other person and respond empathetically to their emotional experiences, fostering a more present and supportive coaching presence.
  4. Active Listening Skills – Practise and refine your active listening skills. Focus on listening without interruption, demonstrating understanding through verbal and non-verbal cues, and asking thoughtful questions that reflect your engagement and attention. Active listening helps you become fully present in the conversation and signals that they are valued and heard.
  5. Body Awareness – Develop awareness of your own body and its signals. Pay attention to your posture, breathing, and physical sensations during coaching sessions. Practising techniques such as grounding exercises or body scans can help you stay present in the moment and avoid being caught up in distractions or mental chatter.
  6. Supervision and Mentoring – Engage in supervision or mentoring relationships with experienced coaches who can provide feedback and guidance on developing your coaching presence. They can offer valuable insights and help you to see what you do not see.


Developing coaching presence is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, practice, and a commitment to continuous learning and growth. Through deliberate efforts and reflection, coaches can deepen their presence and create a more impactful coaching experience for their clients.


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