Getting the coaching relationship established well at the outset probably accounts for 70% of the subsequent effectiveness. It’s important to get that clear connection and establish trust at the beginning because that foundation is what you’ll have to build on over time.
3 Essentials when Establishing a Coaching Relationship
1. Build Rapport
Rapport is about building trust, showing that you care, and making a personal connection. Even though coaching isn’t a friendship, establishing some relational foundation is necessary for working well together. Trust serves as the essential building block on which the rest of the coaching relationship rests. If the people you’re coaching don’t trust you, they’re not going to tell you what’s really going on and they won’t get the help they are looking for.
One helpful clarification that builds rapport is often a statement of confidentiality: assurance that what they share won’t go beyond you. Make your parameters of confidentiality clear: what is and what is not confidential. They need to know and remember that the coaching relationship is a safe place for their emotions. It’s a place where they have the freedom to think out loud, have bad ideas, or express frustration, anger, or hurt. They need to be able to provide the raw footage to you so they feel truly heard, then you can help them decide how they can move forward most effectively.
Learn their values
People you are coaching will be watching for whether you care about them or not. If you care for them as a person—believing in them and wanting all God has for them—that alone makes a huge difference. People can tell when you’re in their court, cheering them on, and when they’re just another appointment on your calendar. Take time to connect and ask about themselves at the beginning of appointments and then follow up later on items that are important to them.
It’s qualities like trust, confidentiality, and connection that really give coaching its power. Don’t skip over the time it takes to establish these characteristics. That’s a critical miscalculation and will cost you progress toward goals in the long run.
If you want to have impact, you must first have relationship.
What do they want help with? What do they want to accomplish? Ask them about their goals, their vision, and help them determine their general area of focus for the coaching relationship. Even though that focus may shift as the Spirit leads, it’s still best to start with a clear sense of direction. Ask questions like, “What do you want your life and ministry to look like?” “What do you want to get out of a coaching relationship?” and “How can I be helpful as a coach?” Their answers will help in establishing the focus for the coaching relationship.
Discover desired outcomes
Some coaches use a basic intake form to get a sense of the person’s goals for seeking a coaching relationship, but even then it should be followed up by a personal conversation to help them determine what they are really looking for. Sometimes people write down goals they think they should be working on rather than what they really want to accomplish. Make space for an honest exploratory conversation about what they need.
Agreeing on how to work together going forward is the next step in establishing the relationship well. What will the coaching relationship look like? What are the expectations? How will you work together? Have a clear conversation about what working together will look like. Cover the basics of when you will meet, where, how often, and what preparation or homework may be expected. Let them know how often and in what ways you are available to them.
Make it formal
Once you have talked it through, you’ll want to draft a coaching agreement that lays out those expectations in writing. It may seem tempting to skip writing it down, but this document serves as something you can come back to later to see if you are on track and if any clarifications are needed. It’s easy to go far afield without a written coaching agreement you can reference back to.
One simple step we highly recommend for moving the relationship forward is establishing a rhythm that includes prep questions. People should know they are expected to prepare before each coaching session. If they can identify where they most need to focus prior to the session, you can maximize your time together. Consider: if someone comes in not prepared with their agenda, it can take 45 minutes to get down to the real issue, leaving only 15 minutes for the actual coaching. On the other hand, if preparation is done beforehand, you can spend 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of the session relating, then dive right into where you can be most helpful.
We like to use prep questions to help people think through their agenda beforehand. Most coaches have a favorite set of prep questions that they send to clients before each session to help them prepare. These questions can be adapted to fit the situation. Here’s one list from Michael Bungay Steiner.
- What’s on your mind?
- What’s the real challenge for you?
- What do you want?
- How can I help?
“The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Steiner – used with permission
A set of questions like this is designed to cover the bare minimum to help a person navigate their coaching session agenda. Begin testing out lines of inquiry that you use consistently, then hone in on the set of questions that work best for you. That way, they know and you know what you’ll be focusing on before the conversation begins, allowing you to maximize the time you have together. Then they are set up to walk away with clear action steps.
Powerful Coaching Questions
This blog post is an adapted excerpt from Christian Coaching Essentials, a new book by Bob Logan and Gary Reinecke. Look for it to be released this fall!