Types of trust in a coaching relationship

 

When we engage in coach training, we often hear the idea that our client has all the answers within them and our role is to help them get in touch with those answers.

While I agree with this in principle, from my experience, it’s not always true that the client has all the answers within them, at least at this moment.

Our client definitely has a lot of self-knowledge and information about themselves. And our first priority is to ask questions that connect our client to that self-knowledge. Once we do that, it might be that the client has their ‘answer’ to how they might proceed. Or they might not have found the answer that feels right for them yet, and need more time to reflect, or to collect more input.

The ICF Core Competency of “Establishing Trust & Intimacy with the Client” is defined as the “ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.”

Three types of Trust

When I think about types of trust in a coaching relationship, I think of these three:

  1. Trusting my client, and that they know themselves better than anyone else does, although may not be in touch with all they know.
  1. Trusting my coaching skills, and my ability to use the appropriate skill at the appropriate time. This includes (but is not limited to) knowing when to stay silent for longer, asking mostly open-ended questions that support the client to access their self-knowledge, and offering comments that allow the client to consider themselves in their situation from different perspectives.
  1. Trusting in the coaching process. This includes knowing how to structure a coaching engagement, and how to set a client-driven agenda for each coaching session. As an ongoing relationship over a number of sessions, the coach knows there is a cumulative impact of coaching. There is built-in support and accountability when the client comes back for the next coaching session.

Using the ICF Core Competency definition, as well as these three types of trust, here’s a look at how each most often plays out, by ACC, PCC and MCC credential skill level.

For demonstration of ACC skill level:

The emphasis is on creating a confidential environment for the client to freely speak.

There is often low trust in the client’s ability to resolve their problem for themselves. Therefore, the coach may be more focused on problem-solving the presenting issue and getting the client to a result. This is often referred to as coaching the “What” or content the client brings.

Rather than using and trusting in their coaching skills, the coach often feels they need to help the client, and may lean in to suggesting, teaching, telling or advising.

The coach is often more focused on their own performance than trusting in the coaching process.

For demonstration of PCC skill level:

The emphasis is on creating a confidential environment that is safe and supportive for the client to freely speak. There is more ‘connected relationship’ noticeable, where the coach is more curious about who this person is, not just what they want to accomplish.

The coach has more trust in their ability to use their coaching skills, although may not trust their first question, or first comment. Instead, they’ll add further questions or comments, which can confuse the client as to what is most important to respond to.

While a problem-solving mindset may still be present, the coach is more curious and comfortable drawing out client self-knowledge. This means going deeper into the mindset of their client – how they think, feel, act, react. We often call this the “Who” content of our client.

There may still be some performance present in the coach, yet there is more trust in the coaching process.

For demonstration of MCC skill level:

The emphasis is on creating a confidential environment, where the coach is connected to their client as a fellow human being first and foremost. The coach completely trusts their client, their own coaching skills, and the coaching process.

A feeling of intimacy is often present as the coach works at the client pace, in the client learning style, allowing the client the space and time to reflect, think, process, and feel.

The coach’s presence is relaxed, and grounded, as they have let go of the need to perform; they know there is nothing for them to prove. They trust their coaching skills – their ability to ask deeper questions, to offer observations and comments. There is a flow to the conversation, where the coach stays connected and curious about Who their client is.

Oftentimes there is humility and gratitude present in the coach, for the honor and privilege of working with a fellow human being, going to their next level of success, as defined by them.

The coach trusts the coaching process, knowing that it is truly a process. There is no problem-solving present because the coach knows there is nothing to resolve. The coach comes from the truth that their client is already successful. Every ‘problem’ is just an opportunity to build confidence in their client’s ability to be more authentic.

In closing….

As coaches, we are given the amazing opportunity to support people to become more authentically who they are. Even if coaching in a work environment where coaching is mandated, we can still build a trusted relationship with our client, engaging in these three types of trust.

 

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