A client asked me recently, “What are the pre-requisites for coaching to work? Are these things that can be taught? And what are the failure stories in coaching?”

When I talk to a new client, I am listening for signs that they want to change something in their lives, that they are open to a degree of self-analysis, willing to try new approaches or behaviours and have sufficient time and energy to commit to the coaching process. I’m not sure I would call these deal-breakers and I’m pretty sure I can’t teach any of them. I would have concerns if they were glaringly absent but with things like comfort with self-analysis and experimenting with new behaviours, these require trust in me as a coach and might take some time.

The idea of failures in coaching reminds me of another question,

“Are some people ‘un-coachable’?”

In my opinion the answer to this, broadly speaking is no. Since coaching is a process of being listened to and answering well-structured questions, shouldn’t everyone be coachable? I wonder if the question implies that successful coaching requires a particular degree of change? The degree of change really depends on the ctopic and to what extent the client is ready for change. I need to understand when and how hard to challenge, but also when to pull back and take things more slowly.

The fact that anyone is in theory coachable, doesn’t mean coaching is always appropriate. During coaching conversations things might come up that suggest an issue might better addressed through some form of therapy.

Coaching isn’t therapy.

There can be space for strong emotions and for appropriate deep discussion, but we need to know our professional limits, just as we would in our role as clinicians. There needs to be an awareness of red flags for things like past trauma or underlying mental health conditions, not to say you can’t coach someone with these things but you need to be able to raise concerns sensitively, make a judgement call as to whether coaching will be safe and effective, and refer on if appropriate with the client’s agreement.

Possibly a more important question is, can anyone coach? And, can you teach these skills? Coaching is different to managing or mentoring, there shouldn’t be much telling or instructing. It is essentially about listening and asking good questions, trying to draw out rather than feed in solutions.

These are high ideals, easy to say but hard to employ, particularly if you trained in a profession where you’ve been taught to give an opinion, a diagnosis, and a solution.

The following are crucial in my opinion (and a consistent work in progress for this coach)

  • The ability to create trust – successful coaching is impossible without it
  • Humility – you don’t know what is best for this person
  • Unconditional positive regard – they do know what’s best for them! And they have the skills to get there
  • Self-awareness – know your biases and default behaviours. Do you like to be right? Do you like to entertain? These things may be helpful to your client, or they may just serve you.
  • Self-restraint – stop talking! Do you need to say this? Do they need to hear it?

My friend Lisa Wynn, ex-physio and highly experienced coach sums this up with beautiful simplicity. Lisa says,

“Be a safe human”

I expanded on these themes in converation with Lisa on my podcast, You Matter. You can find the episode with the same title as this blog in the You Matter podcast library.

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