Beyond situational coaching: being deliberate in how we foster deliberation

By Elisabeth Goodman, Sunday 18th July 2021

My blog on practising situational coaching has been one of my most widely read posts, with about 8,500 hits in 2020-2021 so far! I wrote it for managers who coach, but I suspect that many professional coaches and also coaching students are reading it too. If so, I think you may find that Maria Iliffe-Wood’s “Coaching Presence” (2014) has even more to offer you in this space.

We may be more or less conscious, when we coach, of shifting between pure intuition:

  • going with the flow
  • “dancing in the moment”

and deliberately choosing the nature of our next intervention:

  • what we say or do
  • the tools we bring out for the coachee to use.

Whether we go with the flow, or are more deliberate in our choice, either will determine the nature of our “coaching presence”, and the consequent nature and quality of the coachee’s thinking or deliberation.

Professional coaches, student coaches and managers who practise coaching as part of their ‘regular’ jobs, can all benefit from reflecting on what happened during a coaching session, and what they might do the same or differently next time.

Iliffe-Wood gives us a model that can help us be more deliberate in our choices during a session, and more analytical in our reflections following it. I for one have started to apply the insights that I’ve gained from her approach and I certainly feel that they are helping me to ‘up my game’.

Here is a somewhat basic and rendition of the essence of what I took from her book:

Four coaching modes and four levels of a clients’ thinking

As the illustration above shows, Iliffe-Wood suggests that there are four modes for our coaching, and four levels for our clients’ thinking.

The coaching modes

You might recognise that we tend to use some of the coaching modes more than others.

You might also have a sense, whether from your own reflections or from what you’ve been taught by others, that you should or shouldn’t apply some of these modes.

Iliffe-Wood skilfully shows that each mode does deliver value in terms of the impact that it has on our clients’ thinking.

I have a tendency for example to use the “evident” mode less: to not articulate what I’m noticing, and to not share personal examples. However, as I learn to do so more, I do find that this helps to raise the coachee’s awareness of what’s happening and what they are experiencing, to relax more into their reflections and to be more comfortable and find the words to share more about what they are thinking and feeling.

The “invisible”, “emergent” and “visible” coaching modes come to me more naturally. I particularly enjoy the magic that can happen when I offer a client a coaching intervention that enables them to think about their issue or situation in a different way, as in “emergent” coaching. I find that clients sometimes get stuck with simple verbal processing: whereas exploring their metaphors, drawing, using plasticine or even soft toys, or physical movement can dramatically open up their thinking.

Iliffe-Wood also cross-references the coaching modes to the competencies defined by professional coaching organisations. As I am working towards my next level accreditation (PCC) with the ICF (International Coaching Federation), all of this definitely supports “PCC markers” 7.5, which is where a coach evokes awareness by sharing “with no attachment – observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts or feelings, and invites the client’s exploration through verbal or tonal invitation.”

By the way, for anyone who is worried about the apparently over-directive nature of the “visible” coach mode, the ICF PCC markers couch this kind of intervention in terms of invitation or partnership. For instance:

3.1 Coach partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what the client wants to accomplish in the session

5.3 Coach partners with the client by supporting the client to choose what happens in this session

8.1 Coach invites or allows the client to explore progress toward what the client wanted to accomplish in this session

ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) Markers, Revised November 2020. rev. 06.25.21

The four levels of thinking

Iliffe-Wood suggests that we have four levels of thinking: the first being uppermost in our consciousness. This strikes me as somewhat like the most open window of the Johari four-box model: what we know about ourselves and what is also known about us by others. The levels go increasingly deeper into our subconsciousness, until we get to level 4 which includes things that are actually unknown to us.

So a coach can help clients to access the deeper thinking and, Iliffe-Wood suggests, may actually help further in the level 3 and 4 thinking by adding new information and knowledge for the client to reflect upon.

Each of the four coaching modes broadly maps to the corresponding four levels of thinking. However, we would in practice move in and out of each coaching mode, and as Iliffe-Wood says, the invisible coach mode is one to keep coming back to, to allow the client to deliberate more effectively on what they discover during the session.

Conclusion and a reminder of guiding principles

It would be interesting to hear if and how this approach to “coaching presence” deepens the practice of other coaches, student coaches and managers who coach: whether it does indeed offer more than situational coaching.

Iliffe-Wood’s book is definitely worth reading right the way through to get a greater understanding of the approach that she proposes. Her writing is infused with wisdom too: her principle and guiding beliefs are a salutary reminder for everyone and anyone who coaches.

Her principle belief is that:

“Every person that I meet has a deep well of inner wisdom that they can tap into… they can achieve whatever … they are aiming for… they are genuinely striving to achieve it and… they can do it no matter how high the aspiration.”

Iliffe-Wood (2014 p.5)

And her guiding beliefs cover the coach, the client and the coaching relationship. I’ve just pulled out a few of her headings relating to the client as these seem particularly relevant to me in the context of this blog:

Clients are whole persons. They are not broken and therefore they do not need fixing….”

Clients learn best when they have worked things out for themselves..”

Clients know much more than they think they know..”

Iliffe-Wood (2014, p.7)

Clients are the expert on themselves and their system. ..[they] know the situation, the organization, the people involved…and therefore they are in a better place… to draw conclusions, make judgements and work out any solutions..”

Iliffe-Wood (2014, p.8)



Goodman, E. (2019). The manage as coach: practising situational coaching. Retrieved from:

Iliffe-Wood, M. (2014). Coaching presence. Building Consciousness and awareness in coaching interventions. Kogan Page

Johari window. See for example:

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, specialising in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through group-coaching style workshops and courses, with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.

She and her trusted partners help RiverRhee’s clients to exercise choice and realise their potential in the workplace by recognising their individual values and strengths. Together they explore such topics as enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation, PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

She is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.

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