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Coaching Presence and Use of Self

Use of self and coaching presence are terms often used by coaches, coaching authors, and coaching professional bodies, but what do these this mean? How do I ‘use myself’ and what is my ‘presence’? Is my ‘presence’, the same as being ‘present’?

Let’s start by considering ‘self’. This may be a bit elusive, as I am ‘me’ and I have been ‘me’ all my life, I take for granted who I am and how I do things, how I think, solve problems, engage with people, the questions I ask, how I listen, etc. There are clearly some obvious and visible physical attributes, such as my gender, my height, and the wrinkles on my face and grey hair give away my. But, besides these physical attributes, other things are hidden from other people and even from me.

So, if I was asked to define my ‘self’, I would struggle to know what to say, I may say only the obvious, “a white, middle-aged man, who is a leadership coach and coaching tutor”. But what else could I say about my ‘self’ and even more, how do I use my ‘self’ when coaching? That is the issue, If I am not aware of my ‘self’, I will not be able to use this consciously as a tool when coaching. So, what can I do? Firstly, I can aim to become more self-aware, deliberately focussing on self-reflection, and introspection to develop self-awareness. For example, asking myself, what feelings do I have, what thoughts do I have, and what conclusions do I draw? Also, I can ask for feedback and what people notice about me, what do they value, what do they enjoy about my company, what are my strengths, and ‘weaknesses’ when compared to other people they know? I can ask clients what they value about my coaching, and what would they like to see me do differently? If I ask several people, I can triangulate their responses, and linked with my increased self-awareness, I can develop a more explicit understanding of ‘self’.

Through self-reflection and by asking for feedback, I become more aware of self, I can now see the wood for the trees! This also links to the notion of Emotional Intelligence, popularised by Daniel Goleman in the 1990s in terms of awareness of my own and other peoples’ feelings and the impact I have on others. I could complete some psychometric profiles, helping me understand my emotional intelligence, and my preferences, etc. Through increased awareness, I can consciously use my ‘self’, as Gestalt psychology would describe ‘self as instrument’.

Building on this, what is my ‘presence’? Is this about the impact I have on other people and what does my presence evoke in others? Again, I might not be aware of my ‘presence’. When I am in a conversation with someone, do they act or respond differently to when they are with another person, and if so, how is this? When with me, are people freer to express their creativity, or are their ideas confined? Are they more insightful and deep thinkers, or do I stifle reflective thought? All other things being equal, the difference when in a conversation with me, as opposed to other people, is due to my ‘presence’, my way of being. Again, can I use my ‘presence’ in service of my coaching clients, or is this fixed and unchangeable.

Within coaching there seems to be the interchangeable use of the terms “present’ and ‘presence’. For example, the Core Competencies of the International Coaching Federation, defines the fifth competence, Maintain Presence as “Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident...” Describing coaching presence as being ‘present’ is confusing, these are similar, but different concepts. Being ‘present’ demonstrates that I am focused and attentive, I am with my client without distraction, I am actively listening, I am in the ‘present’ moment with my client. As Carl Rogers would put it, I am demonstrating empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence. The coach could say, “I see you, I hear you, and I am here with you” and the client would whole heartly believe them. This relates to something that I am actively doing as a coach. On the other hand, presence, is a way of being, it is how I am, how I show up. ‘Presence’ is different and more than being ‘present’.   Through this awareness I can ‘dial-up’ or ‘dial-down’ how I can consciously my presence, the way I sit, the way I ask questions, how I summarise, my tone of voice, my facial expressions, my use of silence, everything I do and bring to the coaching session, through awareness, becomes a tool.

Use of Self and Coaching Presence is one of the optional modules on the Warwick University part-time MA and Postgraduate Diploma in Coaching, next cohort starting April 2024 applications by end February 2024. Find out at:

About the author

Ian Day, Director at Coaching programmes, Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Warwick