“Calling Yourself A Coach?” – Demystifying Coaching In The Translation Community


There has been much debate in the translation community over the past few weeks about coaching and its value (or lack of) for our profession. As a qualified translator and qualified coach, I was sometimes shocked, sometimes hurt, sometimes encouraged and uplifted by the comments I read on various social media platforms. But one thing was obvious: there is a widespread lack of clarity and understanding among translators, and the general population, about what coaching truly is.

What is coaching?

Just like the translation profession, the coaching profession isn’t protected. This means that anybody can call himself or herself a coach, and the term “coach” is often used instead of “teacher” – most of the time by well-meaning individuals. But coaching and teaching are two very different things.

Coaching is also very different from consulting and mentoring. A consultant is an expert in a field in which the client has little or no experience, and whose role it is to solve a problem. A mentor is someone who has extensive experience in the same field as the client, to whom they offer professional advice and guidance.

The role of coaching is to “create the conditions for learning and growing”*. As a coach, I act as a catalyst to facilitate my clients’ progress towards defined goals through the use of skilled listening and questioning techniques.

Consulting Mentoring Coaching graph 2

The coach doesn’t need to be an expert in the industry his/her client comes from. The coach needs to be an expert in coaching, i.e. in facilitating growth. However, working with a coach who understands your industry and the challenges you are facing is likely to maximise the process and to save time (you won’t need to explain to me what a CAT tool is, or what LSPs are).

The International Coach Federation (ICF) provides the following definition:

“ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:

Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve

Encourage client self-discovery

Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies

Hold the client responsible and accountable

This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.”

Through their conversations with their coach, clients develop awareness about their strengths, their weaknesses, their challenges and their opportunities. Increased awareness (including self-awareness) enables them to make better decisions about the actions that they need to take. For example, they may realise that they are capable of working with direct clients, and that in order to do so they will need to target specific networking events and to finetune their translation skills in the field they wish to specialise in.

The role of the coach is not to present solutions to their clients, but to elicit solutions from them. This is a fundamental principle in coaching, and the main reason why coaching differs from teaching, mentoring and consulting. Coaches don’t give advice, except for standard industry theory (e.g. “Putting systems in place will help you to save time”, “Translation conferences are great opportunities to meet experienced translators and learn from them”, etc.).

By empowering clients to brainstorm ideas and find their own solutions, coaching promotes focus, confidence and self-motivation, leading to increased productivity and a stronger sense of achievement. This stronger sense of achievement is directly linked to the fact that, having come up with their own solutions and developed their own action plans, clients truly own their results.


Coaching emerged in the 1970s, when Timothy Gallway developed what he termed ‘The Inner Game’ as a way to help athletes overcome their mental blocks and boost their performance. It quickly spread to the world of business and executives, with the emergence of the G.R.O.W. model by Sir John Whitmore and his colleagues in the 1980s.

G.R.O.W. isn’t the only coaching model, but it is one of the most established ones and it can be used to coach business owners, executives, small groups or teams, as well as private individuals through personal or life coaching. The core principles of coaching remain the same, only the content changes.

I was trained to use G.R.O.W. as a basis for my one-to-one sessions with clients, to which I add various coaching tools according to my clients’ needs. The G.R.O.W. model uses a structured methodology to maximise the goal-setting, problem-solving and action-planning efficiency of coaching sessions by taking clients through 4 stages: Goal, Reality, Options and Will (or Way forward).

In the Goal stage, the coach helps the client to clarify what they want to achieve (e.g. work with direct clients) and to break it down into inspiring, achievable steps. The reason why we start with the goal, is because it’s much better to think about what you want to achieve before you start thinking about the problems or the obstacles that you may encounter on the way. The energy and motivation built during this stage will boost the client’s ability to think creatively and find solutions later in the conversation.

In the Reality stage, the coach and client explore strengths, weaknesses, challenges/obstacles and opportunities to boost the client’s self-awareness and awareness of the situation. The coach will challenge the client’s limiting beliefs about their situation and their ability to achieve their goal (e.g. “I can’t work with direct clients because I’m an introvert and I don’t do networking”).

In the Options stage, the coach helps the client to use the motivation and sense of direction developed in the Goal stage, as well as the awareness raised in the Reality stage, to come up with creative ideas that will help them to move forward towards their goal. This is a typical brainstorming exercise.

Finally, in the Will (Way forward) stage, the client commits to an action plan that they design themselves from the options brainstormed earlier. The outcome of these actions will be discussed at the next session, where the G.R.O.W. model can be repeated with the same or a different topic. Coaching is a process, and the number of sessions required will vary according to the goal the client wants to achieve.

While the G.R.O.W. model can be used by anybody to create action plans, it isn’t enough on its own to make anybody a coach. Coaching requires other key skills such as deep listening (or Level 3 listening), reflecting back, evidence-based positive feedback, non-judgement (or unconditional positive regard), questioning, reframing, and other coaching models which can be included in the various stages of G.R.O.W. or form a session on their own. These skills can be acquired and developed through professional training.

Who is coaching for?

Many people can benefit from coaching. People usually hire a coach when they feel stuck in a particular situation and want to get unstuck. For example, several of my clients wanted to get better clients. They were very competent translators, and had read books and watched webinars on how to work with direct clients, but a lack of confidence or clarity about their goals stopped them from moving forward.

Another client (not a translator) was very creative and skilled, but he wasn’t very good at focusing on the “boring” aspects of self-employment. He wanted to grow his small business and needed someone to help him to focus and strategise. Coaching him every other week helped to break things down into manageable tasks and to keep him motivated with deadlines.

Other people struggle with work-life balance, especially when they have a family and work from home. Coaching helps them to prioritise activities, get organised and overcome challenges without feeling too overwhelmed.

It’s important to point out that, while there is an element of psychology in coaching, coaching isn’t therapy, and it isn’t suitable on its own in cases of deep anxiety, depression, or when events or circumstances are a source of distress. Coaching is best suited for individuals who are ready to take action and move forward.

Other services offered by coaches

As well as offering one-to-one coaching sessions, coaches often give talks, and teach webinars and workshops. These activities are different from coaching as they’re usually targeted at large groups of individuals. During a coaching session, the client does 70% to 80% of the talking. During a talk or webinar, the speaker/presenter does most of the talking. Workshops can be somewhere in the middle. Talks, webinars and workshops are therefore better grouped under the category of Teaching or Training, but they will be based on coaching principles and theory, and some of these principles and theory will be shared with the audience/participants.

How to choose a coach

If you’re considering hiring a coach, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: “What type of service am I looking for?” If you want someone to share their translation expertise with you and to show you the ropes, then what you’re looking for is a mentor. If you want someone to solve a problem for you and give you solutions, e.g. financial or marketing advice, a consultant will be able to help you. And if you want to clarify your goals, overcome barriers, strategise, get motivated, etc., then coaching may be the right service for you.

Some professionals offer a combination of services, such as mentoring and coaching, consulting and coaching or counselling and coaching. Together you’ll agree on a programme that suits your needs.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, the coaching profession isn’t protected and many people who call themselves coaches aren’t actual coaches. The following questions can help to ensure that you’re dealing with a professional: Are they qualified? Can they send you a copy of their Code of Ethics? Do they belong to a professional body such as the International Coach Federation or the Association for Coaching? It’s also important to pay attention to the way your initial conversation with your coach makes you feel. A consultation (often known as “Chemistry session”) will help you to establish whether coaching is the right solution for you, and whether there is good rapport and trust between yourself and the coach.

* Sir J. Whitmore, Coaching for Performance.


I hope this post has helped to answer a few of your questions about coaching. Should you wish to keep up-to-date with my latest posts and announcements, please feel free to use the links on the right-end side of the screen (or below if you’re using a mobile device) to subscribe to my blog, follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page. I look forward to seeing you there!


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