How to Increase Engagement with Coaching Clients Using Adaptive Communication

by Nate Regier, PhD

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Recently I attended a coach training course with another member of our team. The two facilitators of this course, both experienced coaches, were extremely gifted at establishing rapport. They were able to create a safe place for the 25 plus participants to open up and explore difficult issues. And, they had something more. Both of them had an uncanny knack for adjusting the way they communicated depending on the personality of the person with whom they were interacting. I noticed one situation where one facilitator gave a participant high-five and exchanged joking banter. With another person, she sat down next to her and exchange warm, nurturing conversation.

This pattern continued through out the three days as they “read” the audience and individualized their communication and motivation for each person in the room. Furthermore, these two professionals demonstrated keen self-awareness and self-management around their own needs, preferences, and distress. Somehow they managed to be themselves by letting their personality shine through, while still adjusting to others.

Adaptive Communication and Coaching

I imagine what I experienced from these gifted coaches was an extension of the adaptive communication skills they use in their one-on-one coaching relationships. Adaptive communication is the ability to recognize individual differences in personality and communication and adapt our approach accordingly.

Some people are naturally good at it. Some develop it through experience. The rest of us can either wing it and take our chances, or learn how to do it. Ideally, coaches could fast-track their skills in this area since it is fundamental to developing rapport and nurturing an effective coaching alliance.

Adaptive communication does not depend on a formal personality profile on the other person, although these can be incredibly helpful to the coaching process. Adaptive communication requires the ability to assess and decode verbal and nonverbal communication and discern patterns correlating with someone’s personality structure. From here, a coach can adapt how he/she connects, motivates, and proactively deals with distress behavior.

Adaptive communication goes far beyond rapport, and helps coaches create a strong, trusting, working relationship that greatly improves the chances of helping clients achieve their goals. As it was with my coach trainers, it also helps coaches with their own self-care and self-management, a critical component of healthy, ethical coaching.

PCM: A Framework for Adaptive Communication in Coaching

Using principles from the Process Communication Model® (PCM), a behavior-based model of personality and communication, coaches can predict with high-levels of accuracy how to individualize their approach in order to quickly build rapport, enhance communication, properly motivate clients, and anticipate and respond proactively to sabotage behavior.

There are six different personality types that a coach might encounter. PCM represents personality like a six-floor condominium, with a preferred base floor, and five other floors arranged in a preferred, set order. Each floor has corresponding communication, motivation, and distress patterns. These are evident by decoding language structure and nonverbal communication. Connecting with, and leveraging a person’s communication profile can greatly enhance rapport, motivation, and success in coaching.

CAVEAT: Before reading further, I want to caution that none of the six types exist in isolation. We all have all six within us, arranged in a preferred, set order. And, we all have types that are more developed, more primary, and a stronger driver of our behavior. As a coach, you will likely experience one predominant type, and one or two other secondary types displayed in coaching. The predominant type will come into the foreground especially when personal/professional motivation is in focus and during distress.

Sweet Spots and Blind Spots

Every coach has a sweet spot and a blind spot. Sweet spots, the are where a coach can leverage their own strengths, but can also unconsciously assume that others see and experience with world that same way. Blind spots are where a coach can’t relate to a personality type that’s less developed in themselves, so they unconsciously have negative bias.

Meet The Six PCM Personality Types

For each type, I’ll outline how to quickly establish rapport, how to motivate them towards positive behavior change, what types of sabotage behavior is most likely, and how to respond positively. I will also include comments on self-care if this happens to be the coach’s personality preference.


Logical, responsible, and organized, Thinkers want data and facts so that they can form logical conclusions. Logic is their communication currency. Small-talk, sharing feelings, and playful exchanges can be distracting because they want a structured, linear flow that connects the dots. In distress they will disrupt by over controlling, dominating conversation with excessive over-explaining, and criticizing the logic of the coach’s and others’ ideas. Motivate them towards positive behavior by acknowledging their hard work and respect the value of their time.

If Thinker is primary in you, be careful of imposing your need for structure on other personality types. Take time every day to make note of your accomplishments. Respect your own time and don’t over-commit. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Have I used my time productively?”


Compassionate, sensitive, and warm, Harmonizers seek harmony. They embrace relationships and anything that will help people get along better. Compassion is their communication currency. They love comfortable environments where they feel safe to speak up. In distress they can interfere with the coaching process by losing assertiveness, not asking for what they want, and avoiding conflict. Motivate them towards positive behavior by affirming them as a person, attending to creature comforts, and showing you care about them unconditionally.

If Harmonizer is primary in you, give yourself permission to take elegant care of you and hold firm to boundaries. Be careful not to take things too personally, and practice leaving your clients’ problems at the door. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Have I nurtured relationships that I care about?”


Dedicated, conscientious, and observant, Persisters are the most skeptical of any new thing. They take time to trust and open up in coaching. Values is their communication currency. They seek relevance, connection to purpose and values, and credibility. Coaching works well for them because it is a good environment for exchanging values and opinions. In distress they will disrupt by questioning everything, including your credibility as a coach. They may even arrogantly and self-righteously crusade and push their beliefs on you or others. Motivate them towards positive behavior by eliciting their opinions frequently, respecting their value system, and acknowledging their dedication and loyalty.

If Persister is primary in you, be careful of pushing your beliefs on your client with unrealistic expectations or judgments. Take time every day to recognize your dedication and loyalty to the things you believe in. Regularly remind yourself that your truth and THE truth aren’t the same thing. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Have I made a positive difference?”


Spontaneous, creative, and playful, Rebels thrive on lively and upbeat interactions. They are up for anything as long as its fun. Humor is their communication currency. Active, stimulating environments best for them. In distress, they disrupt coaching by playing dumb, inviting you to rescue them and then blaming you and everyone else when they make a mistake or don’t follow through on commitments. Motivate them towards positive behavior by encouraging plenty of kinesthetic, lively, upbeat energy. Avoid cornering, pressuring, or preaching at them. They hate structure and conditional expectations.

If Rebel is primary in you, get plenty of your own playtime so you are have energy reserves for your Persister and Thinker clients. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Did I have fun today?”


Imaginative, reflective, and calm, Imaginers are quite introverted. They prefer alone time where their imagination can soar, and respond to a directive interaction style. Imagination is their communication currency. This may run counter to your coach training that emphasizes a more collaborative style. Imaginers are able to co-create, but need a very directive communication style. Avoid questions; use commands when you want information or participation from them. They learn best through tactile experiences with inanimate objects and metaphors. In distress they may not actively disrupt, but they inhibit their own learning by withdrawing and shutting down. Motivate them towards positive behavior by giving them plenty of space and time alone to recharge.

If Imaginer is primary in you, honor your own need for solitude so you can have the energy to engage other types at their level. Beware that your natural style may be too passive and nonemotional for other types. At the end fo the day, ask yourself, “Did I take the time and space I need to recharge?”


Charming, adaptable, and persuasive, Promoters are the catalysts. They are looking for action and will engage if they see immediate practical application. Charm is their communication currency. Enough talk, let’s do it. Coaching has to present exciting challenges that push them to step up, take healthy risks, and get immediate results. In distress they disrupt by creating negative drama and manipulating. They can easily sabotage a coaching relationship by turning the tables on the coach. They are masters of shifting responsibility and blame to others, particularly when being held accountable. For example, a Promoter coaching client who is not doing their homework and not seeing immediate results might say, “I really thought you were a better coach.” Motivate them towards positive behavior by inserting plenty of excitement, risk, and challenge into the coaching relationship. Dare them to prove you wrong by meeting a coaching goal early. Use healthy competition in coaching, such as rewards for meeting targets, challenging them to beat their personal best on a particular metric, or have prizes for performance.

If Promoter is primary in you, beware of your own tendency to turn everything into a competition, or to leave your clients struggling to keep up because of your fast-paced, action-oriented style. Find your own ways to get excitement and challenge so you don’t have to do it at the expense of your clients. At the end of the day, ask yourself, “Have I done something exciting today?”

Personality matters if two or more people are trying to get something done. Use these principles of PCM to enrich and enhance your coaching relationships, and take better care of yourself to stay energized and effective.

Post written by Nate Regier, Ph.D., CEO of Next Element Consulting, a United States distributor of PCM. Learn more at

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