Relate with your coaching client

build rapport with your coaching clientIn an exam situation, the coach can become so focused on the coaching process that they forget that coaching is about being in connection with another human being which is Coaching Presence.

Understandably, the coach wants to demonstrate their applied knowledge of the coaching process and the ICF core coaching competencies. Yet if by being concerned about demonstrating coaching skills and getting to the coaching agreement the coach then misses being in full connection with the client, their coaching is weakened anyway. Coaching Presence is often most affected, along with developing deeper trust and intimacy with the client.

Building trust and intimacy with your client has a few aspects, one of which is how the coach relates with the client as an engaged partner, rather then being hyper-focused on leading the client through the coaching process.

It’s important that the coach bring themselves in to the coaching session too, in an appropriate manner. In situations where a candidate has coached me as part of an exam process, there have been many occasions where the coach has waited until after the coaching session has been completed before they share some personal piece of information that might have created a whole different level of rapport and intimacy if offered within the coaching session.

As one example, I’m originally from Australia and I’ve referenced being born in another country, without saying where. Then the coach doesn’t ask me where I was born. Having that information might inform their questions, which might then be more relevant to me.

What is most surprising is when the coach will finally ask me where I was originally from, but it’s after the coaching session has ended.  Even more surprising is when they will say they have a family member from Australia, or have traveled there. What!? That would have been a great relating point to briefly mention earlier in the session, because where we intersect in our experiences is an opportunity to build rapport, and can add to the deepening of trust and intimacy (core coaching competency #3) as long as the coach keeps it short and doesn’t put all the attention on themselves by sharing.


Your curiosity about a client is so important to demonstrate. Don’t wait until the end of a coaching session to share something that could lead to deeper trust and intimacy in the relationship. You can easily relate to the client without taking the focus away from the client.

What do you think? Have you ever had a great example of building rapport by relating with your client? Or maybe not? Please scroll to the bottom of the page and leave your comments.

6 thoughts on “Relate with your coaching client

  1. I can find many examples of when a question about my client or a story from my own life has deepened the trust and intimacy in a coaching session – so important. But what interests me most about your post is what happens in the observed coaching situation that makes it harder for the coach to open his or her heart and connect. In my experience, the anxiety that comes from worry about performing well, being good enough, being “watched,” is where some coaching training is needed. This worry creeps into coaching situations outside of exams too. If we are worried about our competence, a natural reaction is to close off our hearts – to protect them because we feel too vulnerable to judgment and criticism. If our hearts are closed, we are unable to listen deeply and therefore, miss potential connection. We can’t deepen relationship, because we have to focus on keeping ourselves safe. While each coach may feel this in varying degrees of intensity, it’s completely understandable, particularly when starting out.


  2. Judy, you make some great points. With performance anxiety, we have an opportunity to practice being more deeply present in the coaching relationship, and focus completely on being with the client. Performance anxiety is something I feel in situations outside coaching sessions, such as speaking engagements.

    I think fear is pretty natural and indicates a desire to do a good job. When it becomes crippling and takes you out of the flow of being present, I believe that points to an opportunity for personal inquiry and development. In my mentor coaching, I support the coach to imagine the client (even an assessor) was their best friend. It changes their energy and helps them to relax.

  3. Hypotheticals are wonderful, and these discussions are interesting, however great coaching and competency creates rapport and not the other way around, unless the coach really enjoys co-dependent relationships. Clients hire us to do a job, and that is to help them become unstuck, whatever stuck looks like to them. If you show the client that you can give them some clarity and create some focus out of the chaos, personal similarities or lack means absolutely nothing. When I become fearful of performing well, I need help. If you have that while coaching, I believe it`s an insult to be charging money to the client.
    I don`t want a heart transplant from someone who worries about performance. Why is it different when dealing with someones mind???

  4. Yes, Steven, great coaching and competency does create rapport, and rapport is integral and embedded in coaching competencies, especially Coaching Presence as defined by the ICF. A coach that treats me as a partner and is relating to me as a whole human being is going to take me to different places in the coaching session than someone who engages with me as mainly having problems to solve. I get vastly different results from the relating/whole human approach than the performance/results only approach.

    At the mastery level of coaching, the coach is allowing themselves to be affected by the client, and informed on many levels. Masterful coaching sounds like an integrated conversation that is simultaneously addressing the being/inner world/thinking and doing/outer world/action of the client. And the client is achieving results beyond their expectations.

  5. Hi Carly, great discussion.
    I think we should be genuinely interested and curious about clients – it’s part of establishing trust and rapport and done appropriately has nothing to do with co-dependence. A couple of moments to acknowledge, question and relate from a personal perspective can keep the coaching conversation heartfelt and present without going off track. A client takes on a particular coach because that person resonates and relates to them, as well as their competencies or credentials.

    I know I want my coach to relate to me as a person, not just my problems and challenges. And maybe this is a male/female difference.

    In the ICF exam instances, maybe this is something that needs to be taught that it is Ok to do and, in fact, I would even consider it a coaching competence to be included – i.e. the ability to establish rapport and trust – involved and interested yet appropriately detached. Then the examee might be relaxed enough to engage on a personal level and carry this through to their coaching.

    And about performance anxiety, even after 15 years coaching I still get it with new clients, but of course they don’t know.

    1. You are correct Wendy. Establishing rapport and trust is a coaching competency. “Establishing Trust & Intimacy with the Client” and “Coaching Presence” are where these show up the most. Trust is initiated through the coachs Way of Being with their coaching presence, along with their confidence in their coaching skills and the coaching process. Rapport is an output of their coaching presence, and feeling as if you have been understood and ‘gotten’ by your coach..

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