Coaching Check-In: Questions, Examples and Why is It Important
by Lucia Baldelli
Learning to check-in is a turning point in the growth of a professional coach. It is about making sure we are heading in the right direction, without making assumptions about where we are and what we should do next. In this article I will explain why check-ins are so crucial and how they can help you stay in partnership with your client until you reach the client’s destination.
What is Check-in in Coaching?
According to the Cambridge online dictionary, check-in means “to contact someone by making a phone call, short visit, etc., usually in order to make sure there are no problems or to tell them that there are no problems”. Something like: ‘Hey, how are you? Is everything ok?’
In organisational contexts, leaders use regular check-ins as opportunities to see how their direct reports are progressing towards achieving agreed-upon outcomes and what they can do to support them. Something like: ‘Are we on track? What work do we need to do next? What is challenging for you? How can I best support you? ’
In a coaching conversation, checking in is aimed at verifying whether we are still talking about the most relevant thing for the client and we are making progress towards what the client wants to accomplish in our time together. Check-ins are a feedback mechanism for the coach that allow us to stay in sync and walk towards where it is most useful to go, instead of choosing or assuming where to go. In order to leverage them as a powerful tool though, we have to be very clear on what the client wants to accomplish in the session and how we know we have reached our destination.
Checking in does not only serve the coach, it creates the space for the client to connect with his thoughts, body sensations and feelings and become aware of what is happening in the here-and-now before we decide the work we need to do next.
Checking in improves trust in the coaching relationship because we are demonstrating we are following the client’s agenda throughout the session and we are in service of the client’s learning and increased awareness.
Check-ins are therefore not to be seen only as a “remedy” or one more tool to improve our coaching practice, but a real opportunity to partner with our client and make our conversations more impactful and transformational.
How to Check In With Your Clients
If checking in means making sure we are heading in the right direction for the client, then it is essential to know where we are, where we are going and how we know we get there. Therefore having a strong session agreement is a prerequisite to any successful partnership during the session. This also applies to managers who are coaching their direct reports / employees.
Knowing What the Client Wants to Accomplish
Let’s start by exploring what the client wants to accomplish in the session by looking at some of the Updated ICF PCC Markers on Competency 3: Establishes and Maintains Agreements.
These are essential to consider to make sure we can check in effectively during the conversation.
Marker 3.1 “Coach partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what the client wants to accomplish in this session.” is about establishing the goal for the session.
- “What is the best outcome for today?”
- “What would you like to have by the end of this session?”
- “What would bring you value today?”
can help us define the destination of our journey together.
Marker 3.2 “Coach partners with the client to define or reconfirm measure(s) of success for what the client wants to accomplish in this session.” is about understanding how we know we get to that destination. The stated measure of success is what I normally refer to when I check in.
It could be:
- a tangible goal – e.g. the client wants some ideas about what to do in a specific situation
- an intangible goal – e.g. the client wants more clarity
- a different feeling – the client wants to feel more positive / energetic, less stressed, etc.
- a metaphor – e.g. the client wants to get out of quicksand.
It is essential to be as specific as we can about the measure of success because that will give us a measure of how close/far we are from achieving the session goal.
You can read my other post, if you want to go deeper on how to create a session agreement effectively.
Knowing How the Client Feels
Exploring who the client is in relation to the situation or challenge is another way to get started and understand how the client wants to feel different by the end of the conversation. You create the space for the client to connect with himself and discover more about what is happening.
You can easily explore the client’s relationship to the challenge by leveraging the SET framework:
- Sensation – this is about exploring how the client is feeling and connecting the client to body sensations to become aware of new signals.
- Emotions – this is about how the client feels and what emotions are present for the client.
- Thoughts – this is what is going on in the client’s head: inner voices, good or bad thoughts, needs, wants, etc.
I use this approach quite a lot and I love the way it helps me get to the heart of the matter: I am speaking to the whole of the client, instead of speaking to a problem.
Help the Client Meet the Desired Outcome
Marker 3.4 says “Coach partners with the client to define what the client believes they need to address to achieve what they want to accomplish in this session.” and is about partnering to agree what goes in the container of our conversation, what we need to discuss or resolve to get to the client’s destination. If we do not do that, we are making assumptions.
- “What do we need to discuss for you to get to this goal?”
- “Where shall we start working on this?”
- “What do we do next?”
can help you steer the conversation in the direction of the desired outcome and will keep you away from leading or making choices that we should not make.
Checking-in and Checking-out
Checking out is an important part of the closing and it is a space for the client to realise how he is different compared to the beginning of the conversation. We can use SET to check out too, refer back to the measure of success or simply ask “how are you different now?”.
It is too late to check-in when it is time to check-out. When we arrive, we can’t change our destination if we find out it is the wrong one. Therefore checking in is an important element of partnership throughout the session, not just at the end.
You can read my other post, if you want to explore more about different ways of partnering during a coaching conversation.
Curious to get more coaching tips and insights?
Examples of Coaching Check-Ins Questions
During check-ins it is crucial to use the client’s language and refer to the stated measure of success in the same way the client did.
Here are some more examples of how to check-in.
- “Where are we?”
- “How far are you from quicksand?”
- “Where are you with clarity right now?”
- “What is getting in the way of us achieving the goal for today?”
- “What do we need to do now?”
- “What is going on for you?”
These are all fantastic ways to enable client discovery and evoke greater awareness. They also help us establish the new direction of the work that is left to do, based on what the client has learned so far. It is like checking the compass at a crossroad and choosing the path to our destination.
When Should a Coach Check in?
Every coach should get into the habit of checking in several times during each session.
Some transitional moments are particularly appropriate:
- at the start, when we establish partnership
- when we are out of sync – e.g. the client has come back after a long silence
- when we sense that the client has learned something
- when we notice energy shifts
- before we close.
Conclusion: The Importance of Coaching Check-ins
Checking in benefits both the client and the coach. It is an invite to reflect and act for the client. It is a powerful feedback mechanism for coaches to eventually shift the direction of the conversation or make sure they are headed in the right direction.
If you want to learn more about coaching, we invite you to join our next transformational learning journey!
- What does partnership mean in coaching by Lucia Baldelli
- Establishing the Coaching Agreement by Lucia Baldelli
- The incredible value of checking in by Carly Anderson
- Updated ICF PCC Markers by ICF
- The 3 Levels of Listening by Karen Bruns
- Reflective Inquiry in Coaching by Karen Bruns
- The Arc of a Coaching Conversation: Fundamental Steps for a Successful Session by Chester Jackson
- Direct Communication in Coaching: An Essential Core Competency by Karen Bruns
- Emotional Intelligence and Coaching: the importance for effective practice by Raquel Silva
- Direct Communication in Coaching: An Essential Core Competency by Karen Bruns