Coaching the ‘Who’ and ‘What’ of the Client

Feb 27, 2023

“May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul. May you realize that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe. May you have respect for your own individuality and difference. ”

John O’Donohue

When a client first comes into the coaching session, they come with a specific set of issues or challenges they are facing. We are made up of unique experiences, early contact with the environment, and our interactions with the people around us. All of these, coupled with several other factors need to be considered while coaching.

In our webinar on Coaching the ‘Who’ and ‘What’ of the Client, Master Coaches Cindy Muthukarapan and Vijayalakshmi S discussed the significance of context in coaching and the value it adds to the sessions. They talked about how we pay attention to how coaches respond, partner, and interact with individuals or teams to cultivate safe spaces in coaching. These spaces foster listening, evoking awareness, insights, and learning, and facilitating holistic growth.

The two Masters in Coaching laid out their experiences from coaching sessions and what a masterful partnering with the client entails. Here are a few takeaways and key highlights from the webinar summarised for you:


  • What is the who? In the initial few coaching sessions, clients almost always come with pre-defined goals, or the ‘what.’ However, as the sessions progress and these goals and obstructions are ‘unpacked,’ there are underlying things that show up. The internal change which the client subsequently starts to undergo is referred to as the ‘who’ of the client.
  • Context: To quote Viji, “context is everything.” While the context may not be something that comes up in the initial few sessions, as the coach spends more time with the client, the larger factors which affect a person come up. During a coaching session, the coach’s role becomes crucial in picking up these things which form the client. Without the context, the understanding is only limited.
  • Relevance of Competencies: The session was also an opportunity to discern how the updated core competencies connect with the who and what of the clients. The way the new competencies place importance on cultural, systemic, and contextual awareness forms the basis for the sessions and helps coaches in establishing a meaningful partnership with the client.
  • Defining Masterful Coaching: Responding to a question about how masterful coaching is different, Viji elaborated that when coaches are starting out, it is natural to have performance pressure because we are looking at the ‘what.’ However, as we grow and move forward in our journeys and pay more attention to the ‘who,’ that performance pressure eventually goes down. Cindy agreed and shared her experience of learning on the go. The value and essence of masterful coaching lie in focusing on the what while also working on the context or who.
  • Slowing down is speeding up: Underlying the importance of patience in coaching, the webinar was also a great reminder that patience is key to earning the trust of the client. Listening to the client and allowing enough room for them to open up makes sure they feel safe enough to talk about themselves.

My takeaway from the webinar was how contexts shape who we are in large measures. And this is why, not just in coaching, but in everyday life, paying attention to the context is immensely important. I would encourage you to watch this webinar to know more about what’s behind the whos and whats of the clients and to get a peek into masterful coaching. Please do share your thoughts with us on CoachNook or in the comments below.


Another in the line of understanding contexts, here’s an upcoming program on Systemic Team Coaching in organizations. And hey, it (also) earns you a credential.


Yamini Kandpal
Yamini Kandpal


Yamini Kandpal works as a Content Specialist at Coacharya. With a background in writing and editing as part of journalism, she has found her own corner in the stories of the coaching world. While away from work, you can find her traveling or scribbling her musings in a notebook.

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