The coaching relationship’s relevance to the field of coaching psychology

Given the findings of the link between the coaching relationship and outcomes (i.e. as a fundamental active ingredient of coaching), its relevance is clear to help coachees achieve desired coaching outcomes, as well as to coaching psychologists working on their coaching practice, and to coach training and supervision (O'Broin & Palmer, 2019).

How coaching relationship evidence informs practice

Moreover, the findings that the coaching relationship globally—as well as certain aspects of the coaching relationship such as trust, respect, transparency, collaboration—are useful and helpful to the coaching process itself, and to coaching outcomes, means that coaches should be mindful of and promote those aspects in their coaching relationships helpful with each individual coachee (see Gyllensten & Palmer, 2007). There have been calls in the literature for a more fine-grained research approach to coaching processes, including the interpersonal dimension of coaching. Research studies have begun to look in greater detail at some aspects of the coaching relationship, such as relational, situational, and behavioural factors in the building of trust (Alvey & Barclay, 2007), and reciprocal coachee-coach friendliness patterns positively associated with the working alliance scores (laniro, Lehmann-Willenbrock, & Kauffeld, 2014); both findings demonstrated over the course of the coaching relationship.

Findings, too, have begun to suggest that the link between coaching relationship and coaching outcomes is sometimes influenced by other variables, such as the number of coaching sessions (Baron & Morin, 2009) or coachee-coach match compatibility (Boyce, JacksonJackson, & Neal, 2010). These and other findings indicate a possible mediating role for the coaching relationship with other variables. We need more research studies to fully understand these finer-detailed effects.

Links between Working Alliance Theory and coaching practice

As we have seen in the discussion above, the coaching alliance is more complex and individual than broad-level research findings can, at this point, describe. It can be helped and hindered by the influence of the attitudes and commitments of coachee and coach, at both the general and specific level. Being mindful of the coaching relationship evidence base when working with coachees in our coaching practice can seek to establish, then develop, maintain, and end each of our coaching relationship as effectively as we collectively can.


This section on key themes, introduction to theory, and basic concepts provided a broad introduction to the coaching relationship, drawing upon Working Alliance Theory to describe the coaching alliance—a coaching relationship component gaining increasing prominence in research findings as a fundamental “active ingredient” in coaching. Given its importance to the coaching process and outcomes, actively fostering effective coaching alliances tailored to the individual coachee is advocated. Whilst linked to all areas of Coaching Psychology, four are relevant to everyday coaching practice—boundaries, different conceptual approaches, difficulties in engagement and strategies, and techniques. The relevance of the coaching relationship to coaching psychology is discussed, along with ways in which research evidence informs coaching practice.

Practice and application

Key themes applied in practice

As we can see from the theory and evidence discussed in the previous section, the coachee and coach need to work towards an effective coaching alliance appropriate for their coaching work together, and there are many considerations for both coachee and coach to take into account in doing so—both at the beginning and through the duration of their coaching work together. Coaching models, particularly older models, often emphasise rapport and initially establishing the coaching relationship as the first stage of coaching. Working Alliance Theory indeed emphasises the importance of engaging the coachee in establishing the coaching alliance at commencement of coaching, however equally proposes the importance of developing, maintaining, and (indeed) ending the evolving coaching alliance over time.

There are different objectives and processes emphasised at each of these stages of coaching alliance development, although these are interrelated. These will be discussed further in the Case Study section of this chapter (see also Figure 2.1).

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