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Beginning a Coaching Relationship

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Martin Hill, Senior Tutor

“Let us watch well our beginnings, and results will manage themselves” –Alexander Clark

In this blog I thought it may be useful to draw on the lessons I have learned from my own coaching and supervisory practice relating to the beginning of a coaching relationship with a new client.

Frequently coaches say that they achieved rapport and gained trust, but when asked what they did and how they did it, they frequently are unable to do so. This can even apply to experienced coaches. The risk as one becomes more consciously competent is that complacency can begin to creep in and we begin to take some skills and behaviours almost for granted, meaning we give them less focus and attention. I would recommend taking some time to review and reflect what you do and consider how you managed to create a safe environment that helped to build trust and rapport.

Here are some of the factors that I have noticed that help build an effective and successful coaching relationship:
– Preparatory Actions- Even before the first session is held, your preparatory actions can be critical in building a sense of trust and rapport with your coachee. Do you always follow up your potential leads? How is that done? Have you got your “elevator pitch” fine-tuned? Prior to a first session I forward my coachees a copy of my profile, a brief explanation about what coaching is, a copy of the proposed coaching contract/agreement and a copy of the Code of Ethics I follow. The advantage of that is that the first session spends minimal times on dealing with these “administrative” necessities, and the majority of the session is focused on coaching. The pre-session material outlines what the coachee can expect of me, and also the expectations of them.

– Research Preparation- taking the time to research the coachee and/or organisation is something that can potentially reap huge dividends- not only does it illustrate a professional and committed approach, but it can provide you with background knowledge that can be used to make the coachee feel at ease and relax, once they realise that there is some element of common understanding.  Some coaches take this a stage further and ask the coachee about their preferred learning style or their “challenge” preference/tolerance. This can enable the coach to adapt their coaching style to accommodate those preferences. Bear in mind, however, that sometimes it is useful to “stretch” someone by choosing a different style – but that is something that is likely to be more productive once the coaching relationship has had time to establish.

– Contracting- Again this is a preparatory element – who do you have to contract with? This could be a 2 way contract (between coach and coachee directly) or a 3 way contract (coach, coachee and sponsor). Take time to scope all the players involved as there may be a multiplicity of parties- for example, coach, coachee, sponsor (HR), line manager, department head, organisation etc. etc. This also influences what documentation may be needed – for example the “formal” legal contract (dealing with fees, deliverables, termination, confidentiality etc.) needs to be agreed with the “sponsor”, but I also ensure that the coachee in these situations completes a coaching agreement which outlines what they can expect from myself as the coach, what is expected of them, confidentiality and termination and cancellation). Think what may be needed for your own practice. Finally, this may also assist with who should be invited to attend the first session – I have found it useful to invite , having discussed with the coachee, the line manager so that the coachee and line manager can both hear me outline what will happen in the session and critically, what confidentiality means- which helps build trust as the coachee knows there is not going to be a separate conversation between coach and line manager ( which could create doubts or concerns about what will be discussed at that meeting) and also means that the line manager and coachee are clear about what the coaching sessions will focus on, which avoids misconceptions and misunderstandings arising.

– Chemistry Session- some coaches offer “chemistry” sessions or calls so that coach and coachee can discuss preliminary matters and establish whether they can work with one another. Some coaches offer the first coaching session as a “free” session at which they cover similar matters to those outlined in “preparatory actions” above- explaining what coaching is; dealing with the contract etc. This can be done face to face or by telephone or Skype.

– Location- This depends on how the coaching intervention is going to be conducted – it could be face to face or it could be done remotely via telephone or Skype. Whatever the method, ensure that the coaching room is a “safe” environment – not just for the coachee, but also for you. Make sure that the room is comfortable and that interruptions can be minimised, if not entirely avoided.  Make sure that you get there early to set the room up to ensure that the coachee feels relaxed and focused.

– Dress- wear something that helps you feel comfortable, relaxed and professional. It is worth checking as well with the coachee, if you are coaching at their organisation’s premises, whether they have a particular dress code that needs to be followed.

– Materials- Have you got everything that you need –pen, paper, laptop, charger etc.? Make sure you keep your “coaching kitbag” stocked and also make sure that you keep it current and topical to suit your practice.

– Authentic Self- Edna Murdoch once said “Who You Are Is How You Coach” – [2010] Personnel Zone. Make sure that you are behaving as your natural self and being true to your values and beliefs. Sometimes assumptions and presumptions can be made by a coach about what they think the coachee is expecting about how they behave and act and this can lead to the coach overcompensating or undercompensating their own skills and behaviours. If you are not being true to self, not only will you feel uncomfortable – but the probability is that the coachee will notice – at the very least it will affect the session flow and feeling of naturalness.

– Adopt a 3R Evaluation Approach- Review, Reflect & Revise- following each coaching session that you conduct, seek feedback from the coachee, but also take time to review the session, reflect on what you did and what the effect was; also consider what worked well, what could have been improved on or what could have been done differently. Finally, if the reflection leads you to conclude that something needs to change, and then revise your approach before the next session.

I hope that this has provided a catalyst for your own thoughts and reflections and I would be interested to hear from you with your own comments or observations.

In my next blog, I will look at the ending of coaching relationships.