Understanding the real purpose of the Coaching Agreement.
A recurring question I get at almost every practicum class or group mentor coaching program I lead is around establishing a successful agreement for each coaching session with a client. Somehow, this seems to be a Core Competency that coaches have a hard time understanding and demonstrating effectively.
I hope that by now we all agree on the crucial role the coaching agreement plays in the success of a coaching conversation. Coaching is an intentional process and without knowing what the client is truly looking for at every session, we will not be able to support them well. We may have an insightful conversation and even get to an action plan, but was this action what the client really needed, and most importantly, was our approach the most effective way of supporting the client to get here?
The PCC Markers are very specific about the assessors’ expectations regarding this competency. Four distinct points are made that help us grasp the concept of the agreement.
These are very tangible elements the ICF has identified as important to address while supporting our clients in designing the direction of the coaching conversation.
The problem here is when we start taking these points so literally that our questions become prescriptive and we are no longer present to the client and where they are in the process.
I am sure you have experienced that moment when asking the client “what do you want to have accomplished by the end of the session?”, the client stares back at you clueless of how to answer the question. This is not necessarily because the client is not prepared to engage in the coaching process. This is not even because the client does not know the answer to the question. Most likely what is happening is that the question came out of context and does not resonate with where the client is in the moment.
So, what to do?
I would suggest going deeper…
What is the real purpose of the coaching agreement?
What is the bottom line?
A successful coaching agreement is not established by asking formulaic questions simply to check the box. Coaching is an organic process. Every interaction is different. Every moment is unique. What we need as coaches is to be grounded in the intention of the process so we can artfully adapt to each situation.
The function of the coaching agreement is to give the client the opportunity to clearly identify and verbalize what they are looking for.
As coaches, we want to support the client to connect to the bottom line of their present moment. What is missing? What are you searching for? What makes it so important? How are you going to know you got there?
This process of defining the expected destination for the coaching conversation can take many turns. This will require presence, flexibility, depth of listening and complete partnership with the client so we can attend to what the client really needs in that moment.
So, next time you have a session with your client, be present, listen. Start by asking what’s in the client’s mind. What is the focus today? Let the client speak. Notice the nuances. Pick up on a few words that seem important. Build on the partnership. Eventually, see if you can bring the client to fully express what they are looking for, what they need the most in the moment. That is the coaching agreement.
No matter what, or how long it takes, remember that without knowing your destination you and your client will most likely be walking in circles, making the process harder and ineffective. At every session, aim for a clear direction and understanding of the client’s needs. This alone will set you and your client on the path for a successful coaching interaction.
As a mentor coach, I am always giving feedback to my students and mentees helping them develop their coaching skills and prepare for their certification with the ICF. ForCoaches is a place where I can publicly share some of my insights and experiences. What does it mean to be a truly effective coach?