One of the most essential elements of effective coaching is creating an environment of trust between the coach and the client. Trust empowers a client to explore deep and perhaps difficult issues in their lives and to share them without fear of being judged. This is the foundation for self-discovery, new insights and actions that achieve desired outcomes.
Trust goes both ways. The coach also has to trust the client to speak the truth, and believe in the client’s capability and resourcefulness to design their path forward and to make good choices. Without mutual trust, a healthy relationship cannot be sustained.
During one discovery conversation, a client openly admitted her inability to trust others. She felt betrayed repeatedly by the people closest to her and had built a strong wall around her real self, not trusting anyone. She came to coaching because she realized she was now trapped behind that wall, constantly living behind false faces. In the many conversations that followed, I learned much about building trust and the cost of losing it. Here are four simple but powerful truths about establishing trust:
- Trust must be earned. We might assume trust is automatically gained through our coaching agreement where the coaching process and confidentiality are outlined. Not so. Establishing trust takes time and is earned in seemingly small ways like respecting the client’s time, following through on commitments, or quickly clarifying a misunderstanding.
- You must be worthy of trust. This is a character challenge for the coach. You must genuinely be in the client’s corner. You must genuinely believe in her capacity to accomplish her goals and become who she dreams of becoming. It also means things like respecting the client’s right to privacy both inside and outside of the coaching conversation. Coaching is not just what we do but it is who we are, and clients discern our authenticity or lack of it.
- Speak the truth, in love. Direct communication is a coaching competency that encourages us to speak up about what we observe in the client, but the Scriptures also tell us to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We don’t sidestep the truth, but we offer it in a manner that shows respect for the client and honors the Lord.
- When trust is broken, make it right. We inevitably make mistakes. We must acknowledge what we did (be specific), sincerely apologize, then make it right. I love what Keith Webb said about apologies in his blog post, 5 Steps To Strengthen Relationships After Messing Up:
“Saying ‘sorry’ is easy, because we often have unspoken thoughts that follow: ‘I’m sorry… (you are being so sensitive right now),’ or ‘I’m sorry… (I got caught doing this).’ I prefer the two words, ‘I apologize’…” I believe the words “I apologize” shows ownership of one’s action.”
Take note of your own approach to establishing trust the next time you meet with a new client. Where might you need to hone this skill? What could you do differently? It’s worth the effort!
Cathy Lee of Cathy Lee Coaching is a Certified Professional Life Coach, receiving her ACC credential through the International Coach Federation and her CCC through Christian Coaches Network International. Cathy has enjoyed a diverse career, filling leadership roles in a variety of organizations. She successfully led a multi-million dollar business unit for a global leader of enterprise data, analytics and software solutions, serving Fortune 500 companies in the US and UK. As an entrepreneur, Cathy launched her own business consultancy, providing executive coaching, organizational training and public speaking.