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Why Your Best Friend Is Not Your Best Life Coach

If you want long-term change, use a life coach expert. Here’s how it makes a difference

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by Janice Holly Booth

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When it’s time for a transformation and you know you need help, do you invest in a life coach, or use your wisest friend to help you on your journey? Unless your pal is formally trained in the ways of life coaching, use that friend for moral support. Leave the coaching to someone who’s an expert in helping you become the best possible version of yourself. Here are six reasons why.

1. Your BFF advises instead of asks. “The crux of life coaching is asking powerful open-ended questions, which puts clients into a space of deeper thinking and self awareness,” says Kelley Doyle, an International Coach Federation certified professional coach. It’s in this self-reflective mode that people often find answersthat have eluded them for so long. Another drawback: your well-meaning friend may think he or she already knows your answers. Friends tend to offer advice rather than ask deeper, more probing questions that will lead to meaningful change. 

See also: If You’re Living Unhappily Ever After

2. Your BFF wants to stay that way. “If it’s your best friend you’re talking to, there’s a lot at stake,” says Doyle. “Your friend doesn’t want to lose the friendship or break the bond by saying something that’s tough to hear. So it’s a vested relationship and there are hard truths a friend might not broach. Friends tend to come to us to vent or unload. They’re not looking to be challenged in their thinking or see a different perspective, and that’s what life coaches can do.” The difference between what you do with a friend—commiserate, vent, share—and what you can expect from a coach, is that the coach is going to challenge you and help you determine how to move past whatever obstacles are in your way. “Life coaches have to have a good BS meter,” says Doyle. “A friend may hold back sharing a hard truth because she’s afraid of losing you.” 

3. Your BFF’s glasses may be rose-colored. Your wise friend is going to view you and your problems through her own filter. “Coaches don’t lose our filters, but in our training we become aware of when our own self-talk is entering into the conversation and we work to remain curious and neutral,” says Doyle. The result is a more clarifying experience for the client that leads to the desired transformation.

4. Your BFF wants to talk, not listen. “When we’re really hurt, angry and seeking advice, our friends can relate to the story we tell, and as they’re listening to the story, they’re thinking back to what’s similar in their own past and they want to share that.” Doyle says the listening piece is critical. “Is your best friend truly listening to your story, or have you just triggered for them a similar past experience that they can’t wait to share with you?” Active listening, because it’s a skill that has to be strengthened, is usually not a strong suit of our friends.

5. Your BFF comes free—and that’s not good. When you engage the services of a coach, you are paying for results, and the coach is committed to helping you reach your goals in an agreed-upon timeframe. Unlike a friend, who may listen to your story over and over again and never help you get out of that negative groove, a coach is determined to help you move forward. “A coach’s job is to show up, be ready to listen, to eliminate distractions, and be completely focused on you and you alone,” says Doyle.  It’s about helping clients bridge gaps. “Small gaps within the hour and larger gaps over time.” A friend is not likely to ask, “What are you going to do between now and the next time we meet?” “Life coaching is very action-oriented,” says Doyle. With a coach, there’s accountability for the client who must report back on progress at the next meeting.

6. Your BFF may not keep the confidence. One would hope you can trust your best, wisest friend, but, unlike a coach, there’s no confidentiality clause in the unspoken friendship contract. Yet major life obstacles are hewn from past mistakes that may be so painful or shameful that they’ve never been spoken aloud to anyone. “The nonjudgmental part of coaching is BIG!” says Doyle. “It’s in our DNA to judge; it’s part of our survival mechanism, so that judging filter is on all the time, but the best life coaches are trained to put that aside.” If part of your life change involves overcoming a past that causes embarrassment or shame, it’s going to be easier to unload to a stranger than to a friend. “Life coaches are trained to hold the client/coach space safe, and part of that is clients knowing that they are not going to be judged. While they’re with their coach, they’re inside a safe container.”

“By the way,” says Doyle, “friends don’t make good coaches for the same reason husbands and wives don’t make good coaches.” Friends are invaluable as cheerleaders, providing support when we do make the hard, courageous choices to reinvent ourselves or our lives. And that’s the best role for them to play.