The relationship is more than just a byproduct when we talk about business coaching—especially in the case of intense executive or leadership coaching. The coaching relationship is the vehicle for change—it is itself the tool, the means of facilitation of change and not the result of it.
(Related reading: The Hidden Reasons Why Coaching Fails)
Nothing will happen without psychological contact
There is an expression we have in psychotherapy—“contact before contract”. Essentially what it means is that before we can discuss objectives that a client wants to reach, there needs to be psychological contact established. This involves the sense of safety and trust for the client.
Coaching relationship is the vehicle for change
Coaching is no different. We cannot expect one to be able to change in the coaching relationship if they do not feel trust towards their coach or if they don’t feel safe exposing what they perceive as their faults. Even though coaching in no way resembles psychotherapy considering the depth of work one engages in, we still need to respect the fact that clients might perceive the areas of themselves that they want to change as faulty and hence associate a sense of shame with them.
People will only show themselves if they trust you
Coaching relationship is important because the client—in order to get most out of coaching—works on improving things they don’t do best; or things they do but have proved unhelpful; things that inhibit them—sometimes out of their awareness. They expose themselves, which can be hard for them. They are vulnerable talking about their faults—or at least what they perceive as faults.
When working in a coaching relationship, the coach and the client endeavour on the path of change of client’s personality traits, behaviour or thinking patterns that inhibit them with their performance at work, their professional relationships or even in general with their careers. When you take a look at it from this perspective, it is quite obvious why a client is reluctant to expose themselves to someone they do not find trustworthy or someone that they perceive as threat.
So, if as a coach—especially as an executive or leadership coach, where psychological contact is even more important—you find yourself with a client that doesn’t trust you, you will hardly be able to facilitate their change. The fact of the matter is—you have no proper coaching relationship in place.
The client changes, the coach only facilitates change
You cannot change another person. You can only help them achieve it. And they won’t be willing to undertake this path with you if they don’t put their trust in you. You’ll just be banging your head agains the wall and you’ll both part ways with a sower aftertaste.
Clients are changing aspects of themselves. And without a trustworthy coaching relationship they won’t be comfortable even showing and exposing the aspects of themselves that they might want to change.