So, let’s start by looking at what having a professional relationship means.
First, I must tell you one thing I have learned early on. The best coaching outcome does not come from coaches with the best skills and knowledge, but from coaches who can establish the best relationships with their clients. Does this surprise you? The notion amazed me at first, too. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the logic. Most of all, deep down, people want to be accepted, respected, feel valued, right? None of the best techniques and methods can achieve that without a genuine connection between the coach and client. A good relationship builds on many levels, including:
- Making the clients feel secure.
- Increasing their confidence.
- Stimulating motivation and commitment.
- Making clients more willing to be flexible and try new things.
- Raising retention and completion rates.
- Encouraging clients to explore their feelings and emotions.
- Helping clients explore their vulnerabilities.
At our coaching school, we believe that these qualities all have a strong correlation with positive change. A coach can have the best tools, techniques, and education, but without a connection with the client based on integrity and mutual respect, the deeper engagement needed to persuade and motivate is just not there. I’m not saying that coaches do not have to have significant experience and expertise. Only that these qualities will be pretty meaningless if you can’t convey it to your clients in a believable way and make them want to stay and invest the effort to follow your plans. During your first contact with a new prospective client, you give information and explore a possible fit to reach a coaching agreement. This crucial first step in the relationship sets the tone for the future.
The Professional Relationship
#1 Pre-Agreement and Intake
This is something we always advise our students at our coaching school to do. Even before I talk about the softer, human qualities of any healthy relationship, we need to cover the administrative and regulatory protocols when establishing a professional relationship. When someone first contacts you, you set up an initial meeting if the interest is in private, one-to-one coaching. For online or group coaching the first discussion may also be in person but could be an email exchange, or video or phone call. The goal remains the same, namely, to explore working together and has two key elements. These are seeing if the needs of the client are a good fit with what you offer as a coach and reaching an official coaching agreement.
#2 The Working Relationship
When we have completed the information gathering, explanation, and administrative parts of the pre-agreement and intake sessions, the work starts! From here, it is vital to building on the established relationship. It can be done by continuing to manage expectations – there should be as little surprises for the client as possible, display trust, demonstrate values, exhibit fairness, and treat the client with integrity, respect, and clear understanding. Two more qualities needed to build any relationship are openness and spaciousness. The connection allows room for the client to create and experiment while the coach is open but unattached to the client’s choices and direction.
If this sounds a little laissezfaire or uncaring to you, let me explain. Being given autonomy is a sign of trust and respect in a relationship. It means your partner is confident that you will do the right thing and make the best decisions, or, at least, take responsibility and learn from any mistakes, which is an integral part of growth. A good coach does the same thing. I have learned from tough experiences that clients must be guided rather than instructed, shown instead of ruled, and allowed the freedom to take what you have taught them and apply it in their way to their own lives. It is the only way that they will feel comfortable enough to continue working in the right direction.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? They have to strengthen their wings and find their compass. You will not always be there to show them the best way. You may not still know the best direction for them to go in. After all, they are the experts in their experiences and lives. Clients take your experience and skills and shape them into meaning and form with your mentorship that fits their needs. If you get this balance right, I promise you, your relationship with clients will last many years, and you will be as amazed at how they thrive as I was.