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How Critical Self-Reflection Makes You A Better Coach

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Life coaching, as derived from an integrated review of evidence-based literature, is a “long-term efficient relationship that allows clients to maximise their potential”.

It involves a variety of skills and approaches used to guide people to develop the awareness of their strengths, how they can tap into them and connect with the individuals they want to be. (Read more about what a life coach does here.)

Given the nature of the profession, many life coaches themselves are on a constant journey to learn, develop and advance themselves, personally and professionally.

While learning opportunities focusing on technical competencies are a Google search away, other skills such as communication and critical self-reflection – or as other may see it, self-coaching practices – may be less advertised.

Unsurprisingly, practices of introspection and self-reflection are necessary in this profession (and arguably, across all professions) – to ensure that a life coach is equipped and utilises the best practices with their clients.

In particular, we explore how one such specific practice – critical self-reflection – can be highly beneficial for coaches.

What is Critical Self-Reflection (CSR)?

CSR can be differentiated from what we use in everyday language as “self-reflection”. The term finds its roots in the adult education research.

Brookfield (2006) proposes it is the process we use to reflect upon the assumptions that inform our practice (p. 26). It has also been identified as one of the key elements in transformative learning among adult learners.

CSR for Coaches 

Within coaching, practicing CSR has been found to be, in fact, really beneficial.

It improves self-awareness, helps coaches provide flexible coaching processes, and to identify authenticity in their coaching activities. Exploring the impacts of train-the-coach courses on coaches’ personal development, self-reflection was seen to be a potential success factor for coach training and processes.

In a recent study, Shaw & Glowacki-Dudka (2019) examined the experience of five certified life coaches when they incorporated CSR into their lives. The coaches were asked to complete the Life Coaching Critical Incident Questionnaire (LCCIQ) after conducting each of their coaching sessions for 8 weeks.

The LCCIQ was adapted from Brookfield’s (2006) original Critical Incident Questionnaire, a classroom evaluation tool. The LCCIQ includes the following questions:

  1. At what moment in this session did you feel most engaged with what was happening?

  2. At what moment in this session did you feel most distanced from what was happening?

  3. What action that anyone in the session (group member, client, you, colleague) took in this session did you find most affirming or helpful?

  4. What action or experience in this coaching session did you find most puzzling or confusing?

  5. What about this coaching session surprised you the most? (This could be something about your own reactions to what went on, or something that someone did, or anything else that occurs to you.)

After the 8 weeks, participants met with the researchers for a concluding semi-structured interview. From the experiences they shared, five themes emerged:

1. Supportive Structure & Discipline

All coaches acknowledged that completing the CSR activities led to ‘slowing down’ and [becoming] ‘more focused’ (p. 103). Furthermore, CSR evolved into a habit and integral part of the coaching practice for them.

 2. Increased Self-awareness

The coaches highly valued the journal summary activity which helped them reflect deeper thoughts and emotions. Within their coaching practices, the coaches were much more aware of their listening skills. They practiced listening more as well as better so as to improve the coach-coachee connection, and focused on the client’s agenda. Interestingly, CSR also helped the coaches recognising the importance of self-care as a life coach, and its impact on their practice.

 3. Renewed Passion & Purpose

CSR allowed coaches to focus on the purpose of their coaching practice and what they considered meaningful. This helped them to select from coaching styles, populations to serve and niches to create.

 4. Tools for Professional Development

Practicing CSR reinforced and illuminated coaching principles, core skills and resources coaches used in their practices. They agreed that a tool like the LCCIQ would be beneficial as part of continuing professional development.

 5. Enhanced Relationships with Self & Others

Through the practice of CSR, the coaches found themselves more reflective about their individual lives. This involved them being transparent, accepting and honest with those around them.

As seen, this study comprehensively provides us with valuable insight into how life coaches should not only adopt CSR as a task for their clients, but practice it themselves as means of improving their practice.


To conclude, here are some tangible takeaways for fellow life coaches:

1. Employ CSR practices regularly to develop and broaden awareness of the self in the coaching relationship

2. Focus intentionally on self-awareness of emotions, presence, attending behaviours, perceptions and assumptions during coaching sessions, to be more responsive to their client’s needs.

3. Develop the practice of CSR using an available instrument easily adapted to one’s practice (a list to start: Empathy Maps, 5R Framework for Reflection)



[1] Brookfield, S. (2006). So Exactly What is Critical About Critical Reflection? In, J. Fook, V. Collington, F. Ross, G. Ruch and L. West (Eds.). Researching Critical Reflection and Research: Multidisciplinary Perspectives. (NY: Routledge (2016)

[2] Jordan, S. Gessnitzer, S. Kauffeld, S. (2017). Develop yourself, develop others? How coaches and clients benefit from train-the-coach courses. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice,10(2), p. 125 – 139.

[3] Mezirow, J., Taylor, E., & Associates. (2009). Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

[4] Kristal, Z. (November 18–20, 2009). Critical reflection in the coaching process. Conference paper presented at the eighth international transformative learning conference, Bermuda.

[5] Shaw, L., Glowacki-Dudka, M. (2019). The experience of critical self-reflection by life coaches: a phenomenological study. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 12(2), 93 – 109, DOI: 1080/17521882.2018.1489869.

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