Applying ICF Core Competencies in Client Sessions

Coaching Models
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Donovan - Life Coach

Founder and Owner


In the dynamic world of coaching, adeptly navigating the International Coach Federation (ICF) Core Competencies is pivotal for fostering transformative client experiences. These competencies, refined through extensive research and practice analysis, provide a comprehensive framework for coaches to engage effectively with their clients. This article delves into each core competency, offering practical insights on how coaches can apply them in client sessions along with sample questions to guide the coaching process.

A. Foundation

Demonstrates Ethical Practice

Maintaining ethical standards ensures the integrity and trustworthiness of the coaching relationship. Coaches can engage clients in discussions around ethical considerations, confidentiality, and boundaries. Sample questions include:

  • How do you perceive the role of ethics in our coaching relationship?
  • What are your expectations regarding confidentiality and privacy in our sessions?
  • Can you share any concerns or boundaries you’d like to establish for our coaching engagement?

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2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset

A coaching mindset rooted in openness and client-centeredness facilitates deep exploration and growth. Coaches can encourage clients to reflect on their responsibility in the coaching process and embrace a mindset of continuous learning. Sample questions include:

  • How do you envision your role in driving the coaching process forward?
  • What are your thoughts on embracing curiosity and openness to new perspectives?
  • How can we integrate reflective practices into our coaching journey to enhance your growth?

B. Co-Creating the Relationship

3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements

Clear agreements lay the foundation for a fruitful coaching partnership. Coaches can collaborate with clients to establish goals, expectations, and boundaries, ensuring alignment and accountability. Sample questions include:

  • What outcomes are you seeking to achieve through our coaching partnership?
  • How do you prefer to structure our sessions to maximize their effectiveness?
  • Can you identify any potential challenges or concerns we should address in our coaching agreement?

Cultivates Trust and Safety

Creating a safe and supportive space empowers clients to explore authentically and without judgment. Coaches can foster trust by actively listening, validating clients’ experiences, and demonstrating empathy. Sample questions include:

  • How comfortable do you feel sharing your thoughts and feelings in our coaching sessions?
  • What can I do to ensure you feel supported and understood throughout our coaching journey?
  • How do you envision our coaching relationship evolving to enhance trust and authenticity?

Maintains Presence

Being fully present enables coaches to connect deeply with clients and facilitate meaningful insights. Coaches can practice mindfulness techniques to remain grounded and attentive during sessions. Sample questions include:

  • How do you perceive my presence during our coaching conversations?
  • What cues indicate when I’m fully engaged and present with you?
  • How can we create more moments of presence and mindfulness in our coaching interactions?

C. Communicating Effectively

Listens Actively

Active listening allows coaches to grasp the nuances of clients’ experiences and perspectives. Coaches can encourage clients to express themselves openly while reflecting back their thoughts and emotions for clarity. Sample questions include:

  • How do you feel when I reflect back what you’ve shared during our sessions?
  • Can you elaborate on your thoughts and feelings about the situation you described?
  • What additional insights or emotions do you sense beneath the surface of your words?

Evokes Awareness

Facilitating client awareness catalyzes profound insights and growth. Coaches can employ powerful questioning, metaphors, or silence to prompt reflection and exploration. Sample questions include:

  • What are some underlying assumptions or beliefs influencing your current perspective?
  • How might reframing this situation from a different angle shift your understanding?
  • What metaphors or symbols resonate with you as we explore this topic further?

D. Cultivating Learning and Growth

Facilitates Client Growth

Guiding clients towards actionable steps and meaningful progress empowers them to realize their potential. Coaches can collaborate with clients to set SMART goals, design action plans, and celebrate achievements. Sample questions include:

  • How do you envision applying our insights and discussions to your daily life?
  • What specific actions can you take to move closer to your desired outcomes?
  • How can we acknowledge and celebrate the milestones you achieve along the way?


Integrating the ICF Core Competencies into client sessions elevates the coaching experience, fostering deeper insights, trust, and growth. By applying these competencies and asking thoughtful questions aligned with each, coaches can empower their clients to navigate challenges, unlock their potential, and thrive in all aspects of their lives.

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