When I get on an airplane, my sole purpose is to get to the destination. I look for the fastest route possible with the least amount of effort. In most travel, I don’t believe the journey is the destination.
As coaches, we can treat Establishing the Coaching conversation Agreement like a flight – get it over with as fast as possible and move on to the REAL coaching. This is a mistake.
Many coaches, anxious to help, go with the first thing the client says. Maybe they ask a clarifying question or two, but Establishing the Coaching Agreement, tends to be a cursory affair.
This is detrimental, since the Coaching Agreement sets the stage for all that will happen in the remainder of the coaching conversation.
It’s pretty safe to say that if you’re not exploring and establishing the coaching conversation agreement for at least 5 minutes, then you’re starting on the wrong track. A shortened agreement setting stage almost guarantees the topic is problem-focused, external to the client, and not going to be transformative.
An in-depth coaching agreement conversation will result in transformative topics that are by definition internally client-focused.
Here’s an example. The client wants to talk about time management. If you settle the coaching agreement on how to manage her schedule, you’re working on an external problem and will likely come up with some how-tos that may or may not help. But if you explore the client’s relationship to her schedule for a while, you may together discover she has a role in constantly overbooking herself, or she finds it difficult to say no, or she doesn’t want to miss out on any opportunity. Each of these are internal, client-focused coaching agreements that are more likely to be transformative than scheduling how-tos would be. If you take the time up front, you can surface these transformative topics from the beginning.
Here’s a 3-step process that will help you and your client establish more meaningful coaching conversation agreements.
- Go broad. Ask, What would be most helpful for us to focus on today? Then ask clarifying questions that go beyond informational questions. Ask evocative questions that focus on the person, not the problem. What causes you to do that? What do you gain by not changing? What are you protecting yourself from? What are you noticing?
- Go interior. Ask, What makes this meaningful for you right now? Draw out their motivations and their emotions around the topic. Why the urgency now? What will happen if this doesn’t get solved? What changes does the client need to make? What emotions are they experiencing?
- Go measurable. Ask, What results would you like to take away from our conversation? Pin down the Outcome to something that can be measured. Not just, “explore XYZ.” Make it, “explore why I find it difficult saying no, and create a couple strategies to change it.”
You can see with these questions, Establishing the Coaching Agreement could easily go 5-10 minutes of an hour appointment. By doing so you’re trading time for depth and meaning. Coaching doesn’t begin after you have Agreement. The Agreement setting process is essential coaching.
About the author: Keith E. Webb, DMin, PCC is author, speaker, and consultant specializing in leadership development. He is the founder of Creative Results Management, a global training organization focused on helping ministry leaders multiply their impact. For 20 years, Keith lived in Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore where he designed and delivered leadership development programs to leaders around the world.
He is the author of The Reflective Journal for Coaches, Coaching in Ministry, and The COACH Model for Christian Leaders. Keith is the immediate past-President of ICF Washington State and lives near Seattle with his wife and their two children. He blogs at keithwebb.com.