Creating the Coaching Partnership

The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance—and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning. —Oprah Winfrey

Discovery sessions

Once you get that new client, some groundwork needs to take place before coaching can get fully underway. Many coaches make their first session a discovery session, which differs from a typical coaching session. A sample discovery session outline is included in Appendix I. While you can customize your discovery session, some common elements to include are:

  1. Making an empathic connection
  2. Creating a conscious relationship
  3. Clarifying values
  4. Establishing focus of coaching and desired outcomes
  5. Agreeing on Logistics

Making an empathic connection: Learn all you can about your new clients, connect with their deepest desires, ask empowering questions and give them the space to tell you all they want you to know about themselves. You might ask: Is there anything you want me to know about your spiritual life? Culture? Background?

Creating conscious relationship: In this part of the discovery session, you design your relationship. How will you create a relationship of mutual respect, trust, openness and honesty? How will you work with each other? How will you co-create the best coaching relationship possible? What do each of you need in order to step into a powerful relationship? What agreements do you want to make and how will you handle it if either of you needs to break an agreement? How do you like to receive feedback? What kind of accountability structures work for you?

Some questions to consider addressing when building conscious relationship with clients:

What would a great coaching relationship look like?

What do you want to get out of this relationship?

What do we each need for our relationship to thrive?

How can I best support you with accountability for reaching your goals?

How would you like me to handle it if you haven’t done what you said you were going to do?

How do you want me to be with you as your coach—do you want a hard-edged coach or one who is full of heart? Or both?

When you want more from me, how will you let me know?

What do you need from me if you get frustrated, angry or discouraged?

Discovery sessions are an opportunity for you to share your coaching style, concerns and preferences, for example:

I don’t take things personally, so you don’t have to pussy-foot around with me.

I like to take risks and want your permission to make mistakes—is that going to work for you?

I have a dog, so you may hear him in the background from time to time. If it bothers you, will you let me know?

If the coaching is not working for you, I want to know about it right away. We’ll look at what we might need to change in our agreements, or perhaps decide not to continue.

Our time is valuable, so I’d like to start and end each session on time. Does that work for you?

Values clarification: This process helps you understand what really matters to your clients so you can help them align with their deepest needs. Some coaches spend at least half of the discovery session on values clarification. Some sample discovery questions include:

What are you most passionate about?

What do you want to happen in your lifetime so that you consider your life satisfying and well-lived?

What are the experiences that have had the most influence in your life and had the most impact in shaping you?

Who are the people who had the greatest impact in your life?

What do you see as your greatest gifts, talents or strengths?

What has been your greatest success or proudest achievement?

Other discovery questions focus on vision, support, focus and changes.

Describe your support system. Who are the people in your life who believe in you, encourage you, challenge you and see you through the hard times?

Imagine your ideal life. What does it look like? Where do you live? Who are you with? What are you doing? How do you feel when you wake up in the morning?

What areas of your life would you like to make some changes in? What is one area that you would like to focus on in our coaching?

What is the greatest personal change you’d like to see in the coming year?

Establishing focus of coaching and desired outcomes: Determine the direction and agenda of the coaching relationship by visualizing the future and establishing personal and professional goals. How will we determine when the coaching relationship is no longer needed? How will we measure and celebrate success?

Agreeing on logistics: Make sure you are clear about scheduling, payments, missed sessions and vacations. This is a good time to clarify any agreements, including:

How many sessions are we contracting for?

What are the payment arrangements? What if payments are missed or late?

How will missed appointments or cancellations be handled?

Who will be calling whom? At what number?

How often will the relationship be reassessed and redesigned?

How will we give each other feedback and review the progress?

How will we end the relationship? How much advance notice will be given?

What will the completion session include and how will we celebrate?

Cross cultural coaching: If you and the client are from different cultural backgrounds, be alert for words, phrases, body language and cultural pressures, connections or traditions. While you do not have to give voice to the differences in your discovery session, reflecting what you see and hear can deepen the trust and connection and open more doors for the relationship. The awareness you gain and your openness to all that’s happening for your client serves to deepen your connection and trust.  

Agreements and relationship

Resist the urge to dive straight into coaching and skip the discovery and conscious relationship building. One coach offers a cautionary tale of a new client she garnered when she was a relatively new coach. The client had just finished working with another coach and understood a great deal about how coaching worked. They were both eager to start coaching, so they just did a small amount of discovery about the background of her situation and jumped right in.

About a month into the coaching, the client got angry with the coach about her handling of one of her issues and told the coach off. The coach got defensive and blamed the client for handling it badly and the situation degenerated into a “your fault—my fault” dispute. They each had their assumptions about what the other was supposed to do, but they hadn’t actually talked about it and shared their expectations.

The lesson for that young coach, now an instructor, was to design a robust, conscious relationship at the start, and set up a mutual agreement about what they would do if they ran into trouble. Building that conscious relationship can be like building a third entity upon which either party can refer when things don’t run according to expectations. It’s not a contract written in stone, but an agreement that the coach and client have created together that they can revisit and revise together as the need arises.

One never knows how things might have worked out differently, but the coach in this scenario is certain that creating a conscious relationship would have averted the dispute in the first place. Unfortunately, the relationship was lost. They were unable to backtrack and recreate a conscious relationship.

For more ideas and forms to use in getting started with new clients, see Appendix I.

Coach’s role

The coach’s role in any coaching relationship includes:

Creating a safe supportive environment

Respecting the client’s perceptions, learning style and needs

Offering support for new behaviors and learning

Challenging limiting beliefs

Requesting accountability structures to support movement

Believing more is possible than is seen on the surface

Client’s role

Coaches work with clients to create their own sense of power in the coaching relationship. Ask clients to:

Take responsibility for the content of the sessions

Express honestly what’s working and not working

Make requests to redesign the coaching relationship

Step wholeheartedly into the coaching process

The coaching relationship flourishes when based on partnership rather than domination.

Excerpt from Coaching for Transformation by Lasley, Kellogg, Michaels and Brown. 

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