“It was my first day on the job.
I stood by the window, waiting for my first coaching client to arrive. I felt nervous, quite unsure of what to expect, but also mixed with a little excitement.
I was unsure of how I would relate to my new client group. Would I understand their views of reality? How would I relate to their stories? How would they relate to mine? How hard will it be to make a connection? Will they think I am any good?
There were no answers – yet. Time would tell. This was learning on the job.
As I stood at the window, a man in his early 30’s made his way down the pathway. He was empty-handed and alone. He held his head down, as if fixed on the pathway and his feet. He seemed very intense and I wasn’t sure how to read him. I wondered, was he my first client?
Then he stopped, suddenly. Something caught his attention – something on the ground. He made a quick movement, bent down, picked it up and put it in his pocket. I was curious. What did he find that interested him so? What made it important to him? Did he find some money on the ground? Or could it have been something more sinister?
I felt uneasy about what he had in his pocket. To be honest, I hoped he wouldn’t walk into my room.
But he did. He took a seat and looked at me. And so, the journey began.”
I tell this story because it reminds me of some of the challenges of starting a coaching relationship.
How do we build trust? Why has this client come?
How much awareness do they have of their needs? How will I come to understand what their needs are?
What do they want to achieve? How can I help?
Will we relate to each other? Will they be satisfied with who I am and how I coach?
How do I feel about myself as a coach?
This article might help if you’re new to coaching, and it is still relevant to those who are old hands.
Without mutual trust, you can’t get far. I could talk about authenticity and honesty and the need to establish trust early, but there’s no easy formula.
However, there are two questions I think you should ask yourself.
The first question is – is the client willing to become vulnerable? The word ‘vulnerable’ derives from a Latin word that means ‘wound’.
Someone who is vulnerable allows themselves to be wounded, hurt.
The opposite is self-protection.
People make themselves vulnerable because they either genuinely trust you or because they lack insight and trust people too easily.
People who are willing to be vulnerable will open up and be ‘real’ about their situation. This is a gift and they are investing in you.
The second question is – why is the client building trust? There can be various reasons why clients might want a trusting relationship with you. Perhaps they are looking for an ally to take their side and agree with them. Perhaps they are looking for a sympathiser to feel sorry for them, or someone to help them move forward. Try to work out what they want and think about what you want to get into.
Some clients are clear about where they want to go and how you can help them get there. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to make it work. We all love these clients. But many clients are not like that.
You need to define the purpose of the coaching and build engagement. What purpose is the client ready for right now? They might want a thriving business, a dream job, or a loving relationship, but what are they ready to do right now?
Going to a coach is not the same as changing. Turning up to a coaching session is not all they must do. People who think it is are all talk and no follow through. They must understand that nothing changes if they don’t engage.
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of anxiety. We want to do our best job and be effective. But there’s no guarantee it will work out like that.
Anxiety can be adaptive because it can make you alert and in tune with what is happening. You don’t want to become desensitised to a bit of anxiety, but you don’t want panic.
Panic means you’re not coping. If you experience panic, you need some help.
There are two points to make here. First, getting coach training doesn’t mean you’re cut out for coaching. If you’re cut out for coaching, you’ll love doing it, you’ll be effective, and people will love having you as their coach. Your identity as a coach shouldn’t depend on your training, or even how long you’ve been doing it.
You’ll know if you’re a coach.
Second, if you know you’re cut out for coaching, don’t worry too much about ‘failures’. You will have clients who make no progress and who complain about you. It’s easy to blame your coach if you’re not prepared to do anything.
Your job as a coach is to help them, not to do it for them.
Do the best you can; accept that some clients make fantastic progress, and some don’t.
I trust these ideas are of some help in your coaching career.
Steve Barlow has worked in the education sector in one form or another for over 40 years.
This has included university lecturing and anger management coaching in the correctional system. He specialises in how people change and how coaches and other professionals can help people progress through the change process more successfully. Steve has a particular interest in applying these principles within organisational settings.
He is a Director of The Change Gym and you can reach out to him at [email protected]
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!