Congratulations! You’ve got a new client and you’ve scheduled their very first coaching session. What do you discuss in an intake session? And how do you start an intake session to establish trust and professionalism? 

Much like how a compass guides a traveler through uncharted territories, the intake session directs the coaching journey to ensure that both the coach and client are aligned in purpose and understanding. In this post, you will learn the value of the intake process and explore the four most impactful coaching questions to ask during this introductory session. 

The Value of a Successful Coaching Intake Session

In this initial meeting, you as the coach, get invaluable insights into your client’s goals, challenges, preferences, strengths, and potential areas of growth. On the client’s end, a well-conducted intake session establishes confidence in the process and signals they are in a safe environment.

In coaching, where intimate personal details and deep-seated aspirations are shared, the initial coaching session often predicts the success of the coaching journey. A coach’s ability to instill confidence, inspire trust, and portray genuine interest during that first encounter can make or break the coach-client relationship. A positive first impression reassures the client of the coach’s capabilities and intentions: “All those glowing testimonials on the coach’s website weren’t just fluff. This coach really knows their stuff!” This sense of security allows the client to fully open up and actively participate in the coaching process.

While a coach must be warm and approachable, they must also display a clear sense of structure, expertise, and healthy boundaries. This balance creates a nurturing environment where the client feels understood while also feeling confident they’re in the hands of a skilled professional. 

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How to Structure Your Coaching Intake Session

The coaching intake session is not just the first step in a transformative journey. It lays the groundwork for the entire coaching relationship. A well-planned intake session can distinguish between a successful coaching relationship and one that fails to realize its full potential. Here’s the three-part formula for a successful intake session. 

Of course, it’s important to approach this session not as a static, one-size-fits-all protocol but as a fluid interaction. Use your intuition to guide you as you actively listen and pivot when needed.

1. Opening

The initial moments of your intake session hold immense weight. Start by introducing yourself, not just your qualifications or experience, but connecting with your client on a personal level. For example, sharing a relevant story of transformation from your own life is an invitation for mutual transparency.

Remember that establishing rapport is crucial. This means actively listening, making eye contact, and ensuring your body language is open and inviting. Simple gestures like nodding in agreement or leaning in to show interest go a long way in making the client feel valued and understood. The objective is to develop a safe space where the client feels comfortable sharing their deepest aspirations and concerns with a competent practitioner.

2. Listening

Once you’ve earned your client’s trust and set them at ease, it’s time to navigate toward understanding the client’s perspective. This inquiry phase is about asking the right questions. The questions should be gentle door openers, inviting your client to direct the narrative.

At this point, your role is to listen intently and read between the lines. Be mindful of what the client says and how it connects with the underlying emotions and unspoken words. Each response provides a clue into the client’s mindset, aspirations, fears, and challenges.

3. Partnering

The partnering phase of the intake session is where the core work happens. Based on the information shared, pose more probing questions like the four examples listed in the section below. This phase is also about co-creating a structure for the coaching journey ahead. You’re still listening in this phase, but doing a bit more talking now. Discuss potential intervention strategies and always involve the client in the decision-making process by asking for their perspective. 

Goals guide the coaching relationship, so another aspect of the body portion of the session is goal-setting. Work collaboratively with your client to establish SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals. Setting a goal during the intake session creates a sense of expectation and commitment from the client.

a coach smiles at a new client during an intake session

Four Ideal Coaching Intake Questions 

For a coach, the intake session provides direction for the remainder of the coaching relationship. Of course, your understanding of the client will grow over time, but even as early as the intake session, you should have some basic insights into who the client is and the transformation they desire. 

There are four critical questions that create a sturdy and insightful foundation for the coaching journey. Of course, reword these in your own voice and vocabulary if the phrasing or wording doesn’t feel natural to you. 

As you listen to the answers, clue into the client’s language. Do they use mostly away language in an effort to avoid or fix a problem? Or do they use toward language to move the needle in the direction of higher achievement? What themes keep popping up? Those are hints about deeper motivations inherent in the client’s personality: e.g., optimizing, learning, exploring, mastering, making an impact, excelling, or collaborating. Understanding the language of your client helps you speak to them in more effective ways. 

1. What are your primary objectives for this coaching relationship? 

This question is straightforward yet profound, allowing you to tap into your client’s aspirations. After all, if you can support your client to achieve their goals, you’ve done your job! These objectives inform how you tailor your coaching approach so that every intervention and strategy aligns seamlessly with the client’s desired results. 

2. What does success look like for you at the end of our coaching journey? 

Success is multifaceted and varies vastly from one client to another. With this question, you encourage your client to visualize or quantify their endgame. You get a more fleshed out picture of their goals and have clues about what they consider meaningful milestones.

Some clients may need a bit of help with this step. If success seems so distant that it’s hard to even imagine, you can ask more specific questions like “What does this success feel like? Who is around you? What tangible markers will signal this success? What can you point to and say, ‘See? Now I’ve made it!’?”

3. What are your current challenges or obstacles? 

No significant transformation happens without struggle. In order to guide your client towards their desired results, you need to understand the obstacles in their way. 

This question serves a dual purpose. First, it sheds light on the areas that demand immediate attention, making coaching interventions more targeted and impactful. Second, it allows the coach to anticipate potential pitfalls and devise strategies to navigate them proactively. The result is a coaching roadmap that is responsive and effective.

4. How do you prefer to receive feedback and communication? 

This question is pivotal in understanding the client’s communication preferences.

Are they receptive to direct feedback, or do they prefer a more gentle, constructive approach? Do they value frequent check-ins, or are they more inclined towards periodic, in-depth discussions? 

When you tailor feedback avenues and communication style to your client’s preferences, you cultivate an environment where the client is maximally receptive and empowered to grow.

The insights gathered from these four questions aren’t just data points; they are the shapers of the future coaching path. For instance, if a client’s primary objective is to develop leadership skills and express conflict resolution challenges, the coach can integrate conflict management techniques into the leadership coaching sessions. Similarly, the coach can incorporate tools like mind maps or visual progress trackers if a client prefers visual feedback.

There’s Power in a Successful Intake Session 

Every client enters this journey with a bag filled with aspirations, fears, and hopes. The intake session is the key to unlocking these and establishing trust. Your role as a coach in the intake session is not merely to gather this information, but also to understand and internalize it so you can craft the most transformative coaching path for your client. 

Take the tips from this article into your next intake session with this printable resource: Coaching Intake Questions. It’s part of the resource library available to all Coach Factory VIP members — and totally free to join. 

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Written by The Coach Factory Team

We're a team of coaching enthusiasts who hire and work with coaches. Members of our team run businesses in the coaching industry or provide services that support coaches, and several of us are coaches ourselves.

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