JKWhitehead & Associates

What is Trust in the Coaching Relationship?

What is Trust in the Coaching Relationship?

trust2One of the great privileges of being a coach is the opportunity to listen to and get to know other people on a very intimate level. This requires a significant amount of trust on the part of both the coach and the client. This is obvious for the client, as most of the discussion revolves around them and their challenges. The client has to feel comfortable with the confidentiality agreement, believing that their coach will maintain a very high degree of confidentiality. Trust is a significant issue for the coach as well. He or she needs to know that the client is serious about the relationship, and the opportunity to work on and improve their identified challenges.

In his book Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others (Routledge) James Flaherty describes how the ability to have a complete and open, honest discussion arises from “absolute confidentiality”. It is the final component in having full, mutual freedom of expression, the other two being openness and listening (p. 46-47). Trust is also about clarity and commitment. Vince Malinaro in his book, The Leadership Contract (Wiley) uses the correlation to refer to leadership but I believe it is very applicable to coaching as well. When you are entering into a coaching relationship, trust is dependent on the clarity you bring to the relationship. The questions he asks us to consider as a leader are relevant to both the coach and the client (p.72-73). I paraphrase them for this context:

  • What are the roles (coach and client) really about?
  • What are the client’s expectations? (This has to be considered and understood by the coach as well).
  • What will success look like?
  • What value must I bring as the coach? As the client?
  • What impact must I have? (This is a more subtle question for the coach than for the client)

For the client there are a few additional questions (although you could argue these could apply to the coach as well):

  • Am I up for this?
  • Am I fully committed to doing what I need to do to make this process (coaching sessions) successful?
  • Am I able to handle the heat that I will be exposed to?
  • Am I prepared for the hardships that may come my way?
  • Am I committing to do this for the right reasons, or only to feed my ego?

As a coach I see it as my responsibility to set the stage for trust. Placing the confidentiality statement up front helps but that is only the beginning. I believe trust starts from a sincere desire to assist the client meet their objectives for hiring a coach in the first place. The questions above then help frame realistic expectations at the outset. One of my challenges as I build my practice is not to over sell what coaching can do, setting unrealistic expectations that if not substantiated will result in the lack of trust.

Finally I view trust as a two way street, but it is my responsibility to establish trust first. I also take the position that I will trust another until such time as they demonstrate that they are not to be trusted, that “I’m Ok and you’re Ok”. Trust is contagious—if I act in a trustworthy way as the coach, then the client is more than likely to do the same. If I say I will do something and keep that commitment then the client will also keep their commitment tackle a task, write in their journal or take an action.

If you are a coach, how do you develop, build trust with your clients?


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