In one of my previous articles, I explained how to find a good business coach. This article is complementary to that one. The stuff I share here is a secret coaching sauce unnoticeable for people who aren’t coaches themselves. I’m not covering the obvious points – that a good coach has a habit of using open-ended questions or doesn’t shower you with advice. I’m talking here about relevant small habits that can make or break the whole coaching process. And most of them pertain to the crucial coaching competence recognized by the International Coaching Federation called contracting.
What is it? A skill of creating kind of a deal between the coach and coachee. Like with deals, there are some standard elements and some optional.
Oh, and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council found out in their research that it is the weakest competence among coaches. Thus, it’s the easiest space to spot your eventual coach’s competence; to check if he or she has a bunch of good habits established.
The coaching contract gets hammered during the first or second session, depending on whether you include the initial ‘chemistry’ session as part of the coaching process or not. A good coach asks a few questions, and shares a few crucial points. With every single new client! Always. Omitting or avoiding those points can have disastrous repercussions down the road.
Habit #1: The Coaching Question
First of all, the coach needs to know how familiar you are with coaching. They should ask at the very beginning: What is your idea of coaching? Or something along those lines. You see, it’s a disaster when you try to coach someone who expects therapy, consulting, or mentoring. You need to be on the same page.
Habit #2: Ethics
Another obligatory thing is a sentence or two about the ethics of coaching: confidentiality and its boundaries, that only adults and mentally healthy persons can be coached, etc.
Habit #3: Coachee’s Obligations
It may surface with the Habit #1, but it needs to be said aloud: a client is the owner of the coaching process, is in control of it, and we are working on the client’s resources.
The ownership of the coaching process is a point where plenty of coaching processes fail. About the worst thing a coach can experience is coaching someone who is not interested, who contacted with a coach only because their boss or spouse told them to do so.
Habit #4: Sharing Coach’s Quirks
Of course, the coach will mention something about him. But we are not talking here about the canned response about their past successes or the profile of the clients they work with. Sharing those quirks is actually useful for the coaching process.
For example, I always warn my customers that I work with silence and, most of the time, it’s not intentional. I’m just the slow-line person who needs the time to process things through. And I’m silent when I’m doing that. Without such a warning, a long pause in the middle of the coaching conversation might’ve been very unsettling.
Habit #5: Technicalities
It seems obvious, but it’s not by accident that Contracting is the weakest coaching competence. You’d be surprised how many coaches don’t have a habit of setting up some boundaries: how long are the coaching sessions, how many sessions a coaching process usually takes, what are the payment terms, what are the means of communication, how you schedule the next call, and so on.
Habit #7: Asking about the Client’s Needs
“What do you need from me, here and now?” or a similar question is a great coaching habit to have. Nine times out of ten a coachee doesn’t have any additional needs or wishes, but at this 10th time it will be of great use.
Those needs may vary from trivial – adjust your volume, or look at them directly – to extremely serious – for example, a client’s close one died, and they need your extra compassion and tact in this hard time.
Habit #8: Asking for Feedback
Mentoring and supervision are great for improving a coach’s skills, but the direct feedback is even greater. A good coach has a habit of asking for feedback after the coaching session.
A pro tip for coaches: ask first what didn’t serve the client well during the session. Usually, answering to “What served you well?” causes no problems for the client (as long as there was anything serving them well ;). But if you ask about your stumbles after asking what you did right, most clients draw a blank; or pretend, because they try to be polite. When you ask about what wasn’t so good first, you send a signal that you are serious about getting the real feedback, not just feel-good affirmations.
Habit #9: Offering Feedback to the Client
And the key word here is “offering.” The coach shouldn’t shove the feedback down the client’s throat. If they don’t want to hear what the coach has to say, the coach should shut up.
But if the client is open to feedback, it may smooth out future coaching sessions. It is also a good opportunity to appreciate the client; I love to emphasize openness and trust of my clients, because this is a prerequisite for an effective coaching session.
Look out for those nine habits on your first session with your would-be coach. It can be a very handy way to discern between an OK coach and a great coach. And you can do it before you commit more time and money. If a coach misses a few of them, it’s not yet the sign of incompetence. But lack of most of them, or worse, all of them, is a sure warning sign.
If you have the choice between a coach who practices the above habits and the one who doesn’t, I firmly recommend the first one.
Hey, and by the way, you can always ask your eventual coach about any or all of the above points. Of course, you want to know the quirks of the coach, or when, where and how often the session will take place. Even if a coach doesn’t have relevant habits, their answers will reveal a lot about the quality of their work.