Initial assessment, contracting and rapport building

One of the key components of the coaching relationship is rapport between the coach and coachee (de Haan, Culpin, & Curd, 2017). This can be built quickly and, if done effectively, it can really enhance the relationship. Without established rapport between the coach and coachees, any interventions or discussions are likely to be unsuccessful. Studies have shown that coaching effectiveness isn't due to the use of a particular technique or intervention but is more about the relationship between the two parties. McKenna and Davis (2009) describe four of the variants in successful coaching outcomes as client factors (40%), the relationship or alliance (30%), placebo or hope (15%), and theory or technique (15%).

The key to be successful are the relationship and factors within the coachee. A coachee may visit or speak to several coaches before deciding who to work with; they need to be comfortable on both a personal and professional level before embarking on an in-depth coaching relationship. So how can this rapport be assessed?

Many coaches will offer an initial session to coachees that may be free, and this initial conversation enables both parties to assess whether their relationship is likely to work. This informal type of assessment is based on how the interaction makes us feel, the aims of the coachee, whether coaching is the appropriate intervention, and whether it’s the appropriate time. Research shows that we make an impression about someone within a tenth of a second of meeting them and that these impressions are mostly reliable (Jolij, 2010; Willis & Todorov, 2006), highlighting the importance of that very first interaction and just how quickly we make assessments. After that initial snapshot assessment, a coachee should feel listened to, understood, welcome to express their views and that the coaching psychologist is approachable. They shouldn’t feel judged; the coach should not put themselves in the position of sn expert or parent, instead, they should offer a neutral ear. After the initial session, it is down to both the coach and coachee to decide if they feel the relationship will work and if they wish to proceed with the coaching relationship.

During this initial contracting stage, it’s important for the coaching psychologist to make an honest assessment of whether coaching is the right intervention for the issues the coachee presents and consider if they are the right coach for the coachee. Again, this is normally done very informally, simply through initial conversations. Importantly, Eniola (2017) suggests that for novice coaches, it can be difficult to distinguish the boundaries between coaching and counselling. This is a topic we will revisit later in this chapter when we look at signposting but for now, it is perhaps important to pause and consider how you might assess if a coachee is suitable for coaching. Grant (2005) describes coaching as a future-focused and aimed at individuals who are psychologically healthy. In comparison, he suggests that counselling is past-focused and aimed at clinical populations. However, it may not be quite that straightforward as Bachkirova suggests—coaches may also need to consider the link between a coachee’s past and their present situation (Bachkirova, 2007). Inevitably, a coachee will bring their past self into coaching, so the assessment here needs to focus on the goals of the coachee. For example, is it too centred on healing from the past—in which case counselling or therapy is likely to be more effective—or perhaps the focus is about moving forward towards a new goal—in which case coaching is likely to be suitable?

At any point during a coaching relationship (but perhaps particularly at the start), the coaching psychologist needs to make an assessment as to whether coaching is the right intervention for the coachee currently. Coaching is generally a future-oriented activity where coaches facilitate change within a coachee. Sometimes, this isn't appropriate, and the coach needs to be aware of working within their scope of practice and when to refer. Whilst there are many similarities between coaching and therapy, if a coachee needs support to address issues related to a mental health issue, it’s likely that therapy will be more appropriate (Griffiths & Campbell, 2008). Assessment of suitability should continue throughout the coaching engagement.

A more formal method for assessment during the contracting stage would be to consider the coachee’s readiness for change. An assessment of readiness enables the coach to assess things like commitment to coaching and behaviour change, in general. One of the ways to do this is to use a change model such as Prochaska and DiClementes’ (1982) Transtheoretical Model of Change (Passmore, 2007), as illustrated later within Chapter 9, which examines life and personal coaching.

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