Since the passing of our dog Stella a few years ago, we have adopted our neighbors dog Kensley, who spends time with us when her parents are out of town. That’s me with Kensley in the photo.
She’s a fairly timid dog and it took some time for her to fully trust us. The way she shows us her trust is by flopping onto her back and exposing her belly to us, which for a dog is the most vulnerable position to be in because they can’t successfully defend themselves from that position. This got me thinking about creating trust and intimacy with my coaching clients.
At PCC level coaching our goal is to create safety for the client, which to me means creating a space of non-judgment and full acceptance of the client.
At MCC level we start to create a deeper connection of intimacy. The moment of intimacy with Kensley is when she lets me stroke that tender, delicate skin that almost seems paper thin and in danger of splitting if I push too hard.
How do we demonstrate trust and deepen intimacy with our clients?
According to renowned researcher Brene Brown, “Trusting is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else.”
Establishing trust and intimacy carries an enormous responsibility for us as coaches. Connecting with our client creates the opportunity to build or betray trust in very small moments. If we are not fully present and connected to ourselves first, we cannot be fully connected to the client.
Clients often hire us because they have an unfulfilled aspiration. There is something that they want for themselves but don’t know how to accomplish it. In a world where we are raised and measured on having the right answers, “not knowing” is a scary place to be in. Add any feelings of unworthiness and we have a perfect cocktail of self-doubt and vulnerability.
The ICF defines “Establishing Trust and Intimacy” as, “The ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.”
If trusting is “making ourselves vulnerable to the actions of someone else,” how do we create a safe space for client’s to be vulnerable? And what are some things we may unconsciously do that breaks trust?
Who we are being with our client forms the fabric of the relationship.
As mentioned above, trust is created or broken in very small moments. As an ICF Assessor, I hear these “small moments” in coaching recordings show up in several ways:
- The coach demonstrating significant interest in the coach’s view of the client and his/her situation rather than the client’s view. Mutual respect requires accepting a person for what they are and what they have accomplished. PCC Marker #1 under Creating Trust and Intimacy states, “Coach acknowledges and respects the client’s work in the coaching process.” This can be demonstrated through language like, “it seems you have done some good thinking around this.” Or behaviors by the coach such as seeking the client’s opinion throughout the session.
- The coach does not express support for the client, which is Marker #2. The coach could evidence this again by specific language such as, “What do you need from me in this moment?”, or by expressing confidence in the client’s capabilities, for example: “You can do this. I’ve seen you when you call on your strengths.”
- The coach does not encourage or allow the client to fully express herself, and instead interrupts, speaks over, or disagrees with the client. (Marker #3) To evidence this marker, a coach must maintain silence until the client is done speaking, and use silence to allow the client to process their thinking and feeling.
You know you have gained your client’s trust when they share something with you they have not shared with anybody before.
Trust means you have created a deeper connection and they feel safe showing you their belly. They trust you enough to expose their vulnerable side and know you will hold an open space where the focus is fully on them. I call these “Kensley Moments.”
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