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Permissions to Coach

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Martin Hill, Senior Tutor BSC

One of the recurring topics that I have noticed in my supervisionary practice is the issue of contracting within the coaching session itself. Most coaches put a lot of focus and attention on the formal legal contract which governs the coaching intervention-especially the bits about payment, cancellations, terminations etc.etc. However the informal contracting that arises within the session itself rarely attracts the same levels of attention and focus.

What do I mean by informal contracting? It is the practice of ensuring that you have the client’s permission, or consent for any new development or initiative that may arise within a session. For example, the client may start a session by declaring that they wish to discuss a particular topic or goal, but as the session develops a different one arises. How do you manage that when it arises within your own practice?  I check in with the client, highlight what had arisen and then ask which topic or goal they now wish to focus on. By actively seeking that permission, both the client and I were clear as to the focus for the rest of the session and the aims, outputs and outcomes that were to be aimed for.

Here are some of the occasions when the need for permissions may arise:
•    Boundary Management – you may have contracted to coach the client within the constraints of certain boundaries; for example, you may be hired by an organisation to deliver coaching for a particular organisational goal, such as leadership or management development. If the coachee then wishes to expand the scope of the session to their own personal development. Not only would the expectations of the coachee have to be managed, but it may also necessitate the coach having to “park” that topic until the permission of the organisation had been sought to expand the initially agreed parameters of the coaching intervention. (NB As you gain wider experience as a coach, you can often avoid such issues arising, by anticipating developments that may arise and addressing those in your initial formal contracting with the sponsor.)

•    Role Management – sometimes in sessions, subject to this being within the coach’s range of competence and ability, the role of the coach may need to shift, for example to mentor role, in order to assist the client’s learning or knowledge to enable them to develop their own options and ideas. By actively seeking permission to shift roles, and then to shift back, the client and the coach are both clear as to which role the coach is in and thus which boundaries or rules apply for that role- thus, managing expectations for each.

•    Confidentiality Issues – in the, hopefully, rare occasions when a coach is faced with a situation where confidentiality has to be broken because of something that has arisen in a session, it is critical that the coach explains that disclosure needs to be made and seeks the client’s permission to do so. This is a rare occasion where, if the client refused permission, the coach needs to explain that their professional and ethical obligations mean that the disclosure must be made.

•    Feedback – this is a key tool and skill that a coach can use to really help the client to gain a wider perspective and understanding. In order to “signpost” to the client, and thus ensure that they are actively listening and are focused, I find it is useful to say something such as “Would it assist if I provided some feedback?” or “May I provide some feedback or observations?”  This also provides clarity and understanding.

•    Challenge – although challenge is a key, distinguishing feature of coaching from other interventions, each client has a different “tolerance” level or preference to how that challenge occurs. The style of challenge is something I specifically address in sessions and seek permission, having agreed the preferred approach. Actively seeking this permission manages the client’s expectations and helps build rapport and trust. In fact, my reflection on my own practice is that the majority of clients actively desire a strong level of challenge, as and when appropriate.

•    Use of tools/models – it is often useful to seek client’s permission when thinking of using a model or tool as not only does this provide an opportunity to explain that particular intervention and how it will work, but it also helps build rapport and trust as it makes the client feel more comfortable and relaxed as they have a greater awareness of what is taking place.

•    Supervision – if planning to record the session for supervision purposes; or if it is to be an observed session – ensure that client’s express permission and consent is obtained. Even if your supervisionary practice is to engage in post session discussion  of anonymised sessions with your supervisor or peer or group supervision colleagues, then it is useful to explain this to your client and seek permission.

The above is not an exhaustive list. In short you will find that the more transparent and collaborative approach you take to informal contracting/permissions, the more successful the coaching interventions tend to be as there is greater clarity for both coach and client and thus greater rapport and trust.

Permissions + Rapport/Trust Building = Success

Success