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?