I am lucky enough to coach a lot of people and was asked recently “How do you coach the uncoachable person?”. I thought that was a fascinating question and my first thought was to dive into what that person meant by “uncoachable” to which they replied:

“They aren’t interested in your feedback, they think they know it all…you know the type…”

Now this immediately led me to assume that this person might not be thinking of “coaching” as I see it. It appears from that explanation that my questioner is looking to change their colleague’s behaviour through feedback. Now this could be coaching…but quite probably isn’t.

You see…I think nobody is uncoachable; but equally all of us has the potential to be uncoachable…in certain settings.

What do I mean by this? Well, I think the apparent paradox in my statement above is explained by one word…permission.

My good friend Esther Derby once said:

“People should not go around inflicting their help on people”

And I think that is especially true of those looking to coach others. Coaching is a service that operates on the principle of ‘pull’ i.e. the person being coached should request some coaching, or at the very least explicitly agree to it.

I may well be a skilled coach (up for debate obviously) but it is not ethical, nor effective to coach others without their permission or participation in the process. Now I could surreptitiously coach people but this very often comes across as disingenuous, patronising or frustrating to those on the receiving end. They then become uncoachable because of my actions.

Of course, some people don’t want to open themselves up to themselves on certain topics in the presence of someone else. Does this make them uncoachable? To me, there is a long way to go before I would reach that conclusion. They may still be open to coaching from me on other topics. They may be open to coaching on those topics from someone else.

The effectiveness of coaching depends on more things than just the skill of the coach. The participation of the person being coached is critical as is the relationship between them and the coach.

The trust, the rapport, the respect and the neutrality are key but first of all, the openness of the relationship and the intent of the interaction need to be set clearly for all before coaching can begin.


Can you Coach The Uncoachable is written by Leadership Coach Geoff Watts author of five best-selling and award-winning books on leadership and coaching, a TEDx and global keynote speaker. Geoff has a 20-year track record of helping people from all sorts of industries and domains develop greater personal and organisational agility and resilience.

Watch this video where Geoff shares The Inner Boardroom technique

Read more blogs from Geoff – Exploring Resistance