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In my experience of supervising people through their coaching qualifications, on the whole when contracting is done, it is done to a reasonable standard. And gets bette right practice. However I notice themes coming out where there is insufficient coaching contracting, which is worth sharing.
Scene setting coaching contracting
Coaching contracting is foundational activity, setting the tone and the course of the coaching relationship. It is about establishing how the coach and client will be working together during their coaching sessions.
Contracting has to be done thoroughly, otherwise it creates opportunity for risks and issues to crop up and not be managed correctly. This can have an impact upon both the working relationship and the outcomes achieved by the client.
Limited time given to the coaching contracting process
Good coaching contracting may take 30-45 minutes to complete effectively. Having conversations, sharing areas, asking questions, developing the relationship, involving the line manager, all these take time to do well.
If contracting is only taking 15-20 minutes then I find that the coach has either not covered all the areas, had no discussion around the contracting, or simply gone through the motions.
Contracting ideally should take place a week or more before the first session. This gives the prospective client reflection time and gets them ready for their first session. Having the contracting immediately before the first session doesn’t allow this reflection. It also means that the client is having to process both the contracting and the coaching session all in one sitting. This isn’t healthy approach. Many coaches I work with have tried this then changed their approach.
More telling than discursive
I encourage all coaches to develop a checklist of areas they want to cover in their contracting conversations.
A checklist as an aide memoire is fine. A checklist conversation, where the coach simply reels off do’s and don’ts is not fine.
The conversations should be discursive, with the coach combining sharing information and their experience with questions to explore and gain the clients understanding. For example the coach can tell about confidentiality, or they can ask the client on what they think the ‘rules’ should be around it. There is a key difference in delivery and learning here.
Understanding of coaching and mentoring
What can arise during supervision sessions is that I explore with the coach how they worked with the client to understand what coaching is and how it works. The coach say that they explained to the client what coaching was.
Later on in the conversation it transpires that the client, goes quiet or they ask the coach what they think they should do. This often shows that the client didn’t have a clear understanding of coaching.
Discussions and questions around coaching can be a way of ensuring a better clarity around the area. Sending out information or links to websites or videos before ether contracting is a great idea. Then in the contracting both parties can have a meaningful discussion around the subject. In this way the client is better prepared.
Similarly ensuring that the client understands the difference between coaching and mentoring. They are similar, but with key differences.
Client waiting for answers
Linked to the above section. Sometimes it crops up that the client starts to look for answers from the coach. Contracting is the time to create understanding that the coach’s role is not to supply answers, but instead to use the experiences of the client to drive answers.
Managing expectations for between coaching sessions.
This is a common area overlooked by new coaches. They focus just on the actual sessions. Between the sessions is as critical for the client as during the sessions. There should be expectations discussed around:
- Ensuring actions are worked on for the next session.
- Client perhaps seeking feedback from stakeholders.
- What support they will need and will be offered between sessions and through which medium?
- What happens if the parties bump in to each other. Do they ignore each other or is it ok to acknowledge the relationship between themselves and others?
- What isn’t acceptable in terms of contact for both parties?
Note keeping and supply of notes
This has cropped up a few times with new coaches and can take one of two forms:
- The client not taking notes during the session.
- An expectation that the coach takes notes for the client and sends them across subsequently.
My answer if posed these questions is to ask what is the purpose of the coaching? That is for the client to create their goals, use their experience and identify their actions. In light of this it is only appropriate that they also make they own notes during the sessions.
It is not the coach’s role to make notes for the client. They coach will make their own notes and both parties will ensure they have same agreed the actions at the end of the session.
Contracting is the place to be explicit about this and to discuss further what the client might need to take ownership of.
Establishing the relationship
As explored in a previous note, contracting is an opportunity to establish and build rapport with the client. This is done formally by asking questions and informally by observing and listening to the client and what they say.
Many new coaches focus on the formalities of contracting without investing in the value adding aspects.
Coaching is about people, therefore it is only right that coaches focus on their clients and see them as holistic beings who are driven by powerful elements, beneath the surface. The more the coach can access this the more personal change and growth can occur in their clients. In doing so, coaches move from fixers and problem solvers enablers of personal transformation.
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