How to partner when in a coaching conversation?

quality coaching Dec 20, 2021
Giuseppe Totino MCC ICF Mentor Coach - Blog - How to partner when in a coaching conversation?

Why is this important?

In their spare time, those of you who read the ICF Coaching Core Competencies (perhaps not that many out there…LOL) will have noticed that a frequently recurring word is ‘Partners.’ The same pattern emerges when reading the PCC Markers and the MCC Minimum Standards. The ICF definition of coaching states that ‘Coaching is partnering with clients.” Yet, apart from some noticeable exceptions, I rarely hear an equal amount of partnering when I assess recordings for my (‘junior’) mentees or ICF Credentialing applications, both at PCC and MCC levels.

This lack is unfortunate as exhibiting partnering skills is crucial to show competence (and get a passing grade) in several competency areas. 

In this blog post, I will discuss the meaning of partnering and how to show it.


In brief

Partnering is in the ICF definition of coaching and all Core Competency areas. It is a crucial behavior for passing an MCC or PCC credentialing examination. Yet, it is not as frequent in the recordings I assess. 

In this blog, I explore the meaning and explain how to show this behavior.



The ICF coaching definition states that coaching is partnering with clients. In the 2019 ICF Core Coaching competencies, partnering is directly or indirectly mentioned 17 times. In the 2020 PCC markers, there are 16 direct or indirect mentions of partnering behaviors, while for the current MCC minimum skills requirements, that count goes up to a staggering 40!

Specifically, the following competency areas mention partnering behaviors: 3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements, 4. Cultivates Trust and Safety, 5.  Maintains Presence, 7. Evokes Awareness, 8. Facilitates Client Growth. I know what you are thinking right now… LOL

But so, I wonder, why can I hear very little partnering behaviors in the recordings I assess? Why is this behavior not ‘embodied’ earlier in a coach’s professional development life?

One possible reason is that - perhaps - there is confusion or lack of clarity around the meaning of partnering. So, let’s begin with examining what it means and then move into how to exhibit this behavior.


What partnering means

In essence, exhibiting a partnering behavior means that a coach invites the client to make choices. Given that several coaching competency areas require a partnering behavior, the Core Competencies effectively demand a coach to place the client in a position of choice throughout the coaching process.

 To help us understand, let’s look at the most apparent requirements in Competency area 3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements. Sub-competency 6. reads: (the coach) partners with the client to identify or reconfirm what they want to accomplish in the session. 

All coaches, most probably without consciously knowing to be partnering, exhibit this competency when they invite the client to choose what to work on during the session. 


The invitation may take many forms, and there is no limit to the style or the manner of the coach’s invitation to their clients. For instance, consider the following invitations:


- What would you like to work on today?

- What are you bringing to our session today?

- How are you coming to our conversation today?

- What would you like to achieve from our work together in this session?

- What do you want to focus on today? - or even,

- Where would you like us to begin from in today’s session?


I am confident that you ask one version of the questions above.


When asking any of those questions, or any variation, the coach invites the client to choose what the client wants to work on and set the session agenda. Placing the client in a position of choice is essential in exhibiting a partnering behavior. Crucially, however, the client does not have to make a choice. A client can, for instance, respond with an “I don’t know.” It would then be up to the coach to apply their coaching skills to help the client move forward.



Now that we know what partnering means, let’s explore how a coach can show partnering throughout the coaching conversation.


Understanding it is simple, as the competencies system spells it out loud. Consider the examples below and please note that this is a partial list.


- From the 2019 Core Competencies:

C.C. 7.5. Invites the client to share more about their experience in the moment

C.C. 7.9. Invites the client to generate ideas about how they can move forward and what they are willing or able to do

C.C. 8.5. Invites the client to consider how to move forward, including resources, support and potential barriers.


- From the 2020 PCC Markers

4.4: Coach partners with the client by inviting the client to respond in any way to the coach’s contributions and accepts the client’s response.

7.5: Coach shares—with no attachment—observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts or feelings, and invites the client’s exploration through verbal or tonal invitation.

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

8.2: Coach invites the client to state or explore the client’s learning in this session about themself (the who).

8.3: Coach invites the client to state or explore the client’s learning in this session about their situation (the what).

8.4: Coach invites the client to consider how they will use new learning from this coaching session.


- From the ICF MCC Minimum skills requirements

C.C. 3: The coach invites the client to share his/her thinking on an equal level with the coach

C.C. 7. The coach frequently invites the client’s intuition to come forward, and additionally invites, respects, and celebrates direct communication from the client.

C.C. 7. The coach’s communication frequently invites the client to engage in broader learning and discovery and to integrate and apply that learning and discovery not only to present challenges and agendas but also to the creation of the client’s future.

C.C. 7. The coach fully invites the client’s participation in the coaching dialogue on an equal level

C.C. 8. The use of the client’s greatness, strengths, intuition, and learning style is fully invited and welcomed.

C.C.8. The coach fully invites and allows the client to use as coaching tools the client’s intuition, thinking, and learning.

C.C. 9. The MCC coach may, as a supplement to client development of tools, suggest tools, exercises, or structures, but invites the client to engage in full thinking about whether these suggestions are of use to the client and invites the client to modify the suggestions, or reject them and invent on their own.

C.C. 9. The coach invites full client participation in the design of activities.


So, there you have it! When studied more in-depth, the Core competencies provide clear guidance to the coach on how to exhibit partnering behaviors for each competency area.

Hopefully, by now, it is clear that adhering to what the competencies provide for is critical in developing one’s competence in partnering. Again, please consider that the above list is partial and that the system of competencies requires more partnering behaviors than the one listed.


To those who have read to this point, it should be clear that partnering is a required coaching behavior in all competency areas. It is also a behavior that invariably assessors will look for when assessing credentialing application recordings. This requirement is especially the case for MCC credentialing applications and, to a lesser extent, for PCC assessments. For ACC applicants, the bar is lower.


When preparing for an MCC or PCC credentialing application, strengthening your partnering skills will take you a long way to succeed in your application.


To learn more about other competencies, and read more articles on quality coaching and the ICF credentialing, click here.

Reference Material: 2019 ICF Core Competencies, 2020 PCC Markers, ICF Minimum Skills Requirements


 The EASIER Mentor Coaching Programs
Are you planning to apply for or renew an ICF Credential? Do you need Mentor Coaching? 

Explore our amazing Programs. We have designed programs with innovative approaches to learning and get ready for ICF Credentialing. 

Explore Programs

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing to receive valuable news, free resources, and mentor coaching contributions for a successful ICF ACC, PCC, and MCC Credentialing application or renewal.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.