How to work with a coach, part 4
By Martin Vogel
Before you work with a coach, you should aim to meet two or three before deciding which to appoint. In part 3 of this series, I argued that you should never be choosing from a field of one.
When it comes to the meeting, your main purpose is to establish whether there is the potential for a good working connection between you both. At one level, this is a job interview and you are the recruiter. There is a certain amount that you have to ascertain in order to make an informed decision. You have to be clear in advance what information you need to get out of the meeting.
At another level, though, the transaction is more complicated than this. Coaching is what economists call an experience good. It is difficult to know the quality or value until the coaching is experienced. The personal connection between coach and client determines whether the coaching relationship will be successful, and this is established over time. Your initial meeting with a prospective coach is your opportunity to gauge whether the basis for such a connection exists. You have to give a bit of yourself in order to gain insight into how the coach can support and help you, and you have to concede space for the coach to demonstrate what kind of working relationship with you he or she might facilitate.
This puts the potential client in a more vulnerable position than that of the recruiter in a typical job interview. Not for nothing is the initial meeting between a client and prospective coach often described as a chemistry meeting, which hints at the centrality of the inter-personal dynamics which have to be tested before entering into a coaching relationship.
A good coach will be sensitive to this and will ask questions that facilitate your buying decision rather than give you the hard sell about the benefits of coaching. It’s important to understand why the hard sell should cause you alarm in relation to coaching.
Jenny Rogers, a leading UK coach and author of Developing a Coaching Business, argues that the old way of selling – bombarding customers with facts about the product and bamboozling them into the sale – works on the assumption that the customer is dim. A more facilitative way of selling is based on the premise that customers understand their own needs. The role of the seller is to work collaboratively with the customer to help him or her make the decision whether or not to buy.
Now think about what you want from a coach: someone who believes that you have the resources and the potential to make the change you want; who will challenge you to work out your own development needs, not lecture you on what you should do; and who will support you as you endeavour to make the change.
Who would give you more confidence that they would meet your needs: a coach who gives you the hard sell or one who collaborates with you through facilitative questioning? The latter is not only more congruent with what coaching is about but will also give you a representative experience of what it might be like to work with the person as your coach. A coach who asks facilitative questions in not only helping you clarify what you want but is taking the trouble to understand you as a unique individual. So you both have the opportunity to work out whether there’s a good fit and there is no shame in either one of you deciding not to proceed.
As you meet the person, it’s worth considering what constitutes a good fit. If the person is similar to you, would this work to your advantage in making it easier to open up or would there be a risk of you and the coach colluding not to make an issue out of certain weaknesses you may have? if the person is very different, would this bring valuable freshness that might challenge you in new ways or would it create an obstacle to working well together?
While I have suggested that you should expect the coach to facilitate your thought process and buying decision, it is still valuable to be clear about some things you need to find out. If you have followed my advice in part 2 of this series, and given some thought to what you want from coaching and what kind of person you would like to work with, this should give you some criteria to with which to think about about whether the person you are meeting would be a good coach for you.
You should already have some insight about the coach’s credentials so use the meeting to flesh out your understanding about his or her approach and philosophy. What influences does the person draw on? What experiences does he or she have that may be relevant to your coaching needs? What is the process by which the coaching happens? This last question covers logistical matters – such as the length of the sessions, the length of the programme, whether the coaching happens in a place which is private and conducive – and more contemplative ones such as what kind of areas the coach will explore, whether it is very focussed on the task at hand or will look at the broader context of your life.
You also need to gain some assurance on the coach’s professional values. What explanation are you offered about the confidentiality of the coaching? Do you gain a clear sense about the boundaries of the coach’s competence – in other words, will the coach know if the coaching is straying into areas better handled by a counsellor, therapist or just some other kind of coach who may be more appropriate for your needs? Does the coach work with a supervisor to keep a check on the integrity of his or her practice? And what kind of work is he or she undertaking to keep improving as a coach – in the jargon, continual professional development?
Finally, if the coaching is being paid for by someone else, such as your employer, you need to understand the coach’s perception of who is the client. What is the coach’s responsibility to your employer and how confident are you that you can trust the coach to put your needs first?
If you are satisfied that you have answers to these questions and you have experienced what it would be like to work the person you meet, you will be in a strong position to decide whether to commission his or her services. Part 5 will look at agreeing terms.
Other posts in the series, How to work with a coach: