Trust is the glue that makes any coaching relationship exponential in its impact. Without it, a coach’s capacity to evoke change in others is hindered and, at times, almost impossible. Cultivating change in others requires their trust in you, your process and, most important, trust in themselves.
Trust always begins with you… but not in the way you may think.
Inside Coach Training World’s global classrooms we talk about the importance of being present and attuned to clients. Doing so allows the coach to fully witness their coaching clients and authentically reflect their words, key phrases, and gestures. Mirroring in this way demonstrates to clients that the coach truly sees, hears, and understands them. Developing trust, happens easily when your clients are confident in you, your perspective, and your process.
But these coaching tools and techniques assist your clients to trust you. In my mind, this is only part of the journey to creating transformational level changes in others (at least initially). Here’s why…
As a coach, you are the instrument of change
I began developing the Whole Person Coaching method in the early 2000s. At the time, I was working with leaders and teams as an organizational development consultant and leadership development coach. I had earned a reputation for my ability to cultivate change and generate harmonious workplaces within challenging contexts.
These settings were often fueled by conflict and distrust. Hired to shift uncomfortable workplace environments, my role was to motivate leaders and teams back to effective communication, collaboration, and productivity.
Each time I’d enter a new coaching engagement, I was met with intense resistance. There were usually multiple stories that never seemed to align between leaders and employees. Fingers pointed every which way. People didn’t want to be open and honest, especially if they felt it could come back on them.
Who would trust in such an environment? Everyone was simply doing their best to get through the day and navigate a workplace that was complex, chaotic, and ever-changing.
That’s where I came in. I was the one hired to mend the divide and build a new culture. Some employees readily embraced my presence. Yet most were skeptical. They doubted I could make a difference in a system that, for years, hadn’t worked for them.
Was their doubt warranted? In some cases, certainly. The prevailing sense of doubt was an innate response developed over time.
Being met in this way, I became intimately aware that who I was being with my clients was an essential element in our relationship. My presence and the energy I brought into the coaching relationships represented a make-or-break influence. The success of the coaching engagement was at stake.
Stop and think for a moment: when you first meet someone, how do you know you can trust them? Without an internal feeling of trust, it’s unlikely you’ll be open to sharing anything beyond causal polite conversation. Chances are good you may even be suspicious of their motives.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
The most valuable way to deepen trust is: believe in others
When you extend unconditional trust to your clients, you can see their best, even when they can’t. On occasion, this may mean you believe in them more than they believe in themselves.
Believing in others requires that you can envision and welcome the possibilities for someone beyond what you see, hear, feel, or experience from them in the present moment. It’s a practice that begins by adopting an unbiased and compassionate viewpoint.
A person’s behaviors, communications, and responses show us only one dimension of their whole potential.
The outer appearance is not the whole of who they are. It merely represents a thin slice of their promise.
Now shift with me for a moment…
Imagine an experience in which someone you either worked with or knew personally was doing something that didn’t make sense to you. Perhaps their behaviors seemed inappropriate for the situation, or their emotions were unpredictable and uncomfortable to you.
How did you respond? Did you meet them with curiosity? Or did you react to the way in which they appeared? Perhaps a little of both?
As human beings, we always have the capacity to shift how we choose to show up for others. At the same time, we are also vulnerable to the effects of our own past experiences and relationships. This includes the emotional and mental influences they have on us. But with consciousness, we are always at choice.
Believing in others (In Action)
In my younger years, I became a go-to coach within the conflict arena. I had a natural ability to pacify heated tempers and see past outdated and frequently inaccurate stories. Unfortunately, there were situations for which that was not enough.
I’d like to share one of my pivotal awakening moments…
I was hired by a tech company to work with one of their senior leaders. This individual was struggling as a newer leader to manage their team effectively. The HR department shared with me that the leader’s communication style was a tad abrasive. As a result, their attitude was deeply impacting employee morale.
I recall feeling the leader’s deep frustration during our initial meetings. From their words and energy, it seemed they were simply disregarding the employee’s concerns. These included complaints related to excessive workloads, lack of managerial prioritization, long hours (often seven days a week), and a company that was grossly understaffed (there were more than 100 open positions).
As a result, employees called in sick on a semi frequent basis, and more frequently when workloads piled up. Despite the relentless demands placed on them, they would take long breaks and spend considerable time in between complaining (often quite vocally) about their dissatisfactions. Other employees would overhear them. Clients would overhear them. On more than one occasion, employees aired their complaints directly to clients.
Not surprisingly, word of this culture made its way back to the HR department. I was brought in to fix “the situation.”
Despite my best coaching efforts, the newer leader was unable to see the opportunity they had to influence and shift their team into a more resourceful, productive output.
Many coaches, especially when just starting out, would probably have given up. But instead of remaining stuck trying to invite change from the leader, I turned my attention toward what was within my control: my role in this change process.
I asked myself, “how might I be getting in the way of this coaching process?”
I began to journal what I was observing in myself, the client, and the situation as a whole.
From my journal: “This isn’t just his opportunity to be a good leader, it’s his responsibility as the leader to listen, learn, and support his employees.” As soon as I wrote this down, I realized I had fallen prey to taking the employees’ side.
After being in the energy of this leader, I had become biased. As a human being, and an empathetic one at that, I had fallen into seeing only what was in front of me. Here was a person showing up in a way that left me feeling helpless to do what I was hired to do.
The issue was a belief I was holding onto. I felt it was “his responsibility,” and it blinded me from seeing what else factored into the situation. It was further compounded by my frustration with myself for not being able to help this person and the company that hired me.
I continued my exploration by asking these questions:
- “How can I look at this situation and leader more holistically?” Which led me to…
- “What might this person need to feel safe and valued as part of this system?” …and then to…
- “Who do I need to be with this person so they might become more open and receptive to my support?”
With these questions, I was able to shift. The part of me that initially felt responsible for getting this individual to a place where they could see their opportunity as a leader opened up to a state in which I could bring my compassionate self into the conversation. Instead of reacting to the leader’s abrasiveness, I welcomed the part of them that was unable to acknowledge their opportunity in the situation. I consciously looked for the wholeness and greater potential in this newer leader.
The result: the client’s defensiveness melted. I quickly learned they were overwhelmed by the chaos too, as well as a lack of leadership training. As a newer leader, they felt ill-equipped and suffered from imposter syndrome. They didn’t know how to handle things. Instead, the leader become overwhelmed which, in turn, affected their capacity to assume their role as they’d hoped. They were even considering leaving the company because they saw no other way out.
Together we discussed what was needed. The outcomes reshaped the entire organization. The company began supporting their newer leaders with more coaching, training, and mentorship from senior leaders. In the six months that followed, the company shifted to a more harmonious space despite the ongoing shortage of employees. And the leader not only stayed in their position but has since developed confidence and respect for their leadership qualities.
As an agent of change, the way in which you show up for your clients (and others) is essential. It is one of the core elements of your success.
Above all else, you must first trust in your clients as whole, powerful, unique, and connected. In this way, you directly support and enhance your client’s potential to make the seemingly unimaginable real. Self-innovation follows.
Ready to test out your ability to cultivate trust?
Now for some hard truth: believing isn’t always an easy task!
Even as highly trained changemakers, we are first and foremost human beings. Regardless of our skill or experience, even the best of us can still get caught in the emotions and reactions of others.
Yet there are ways to become conscious to “who we are being in the moment” and uncover our best. Here’s one of my favorites…
Imagine viewing yourself from above during a coaching session.
- What aspect of your persona is doing most of the coaching? Is it the empathetic part of you or the champion? Is it the problem solver who wants to truly make an impact or the curious part of you? Or some other aspect of you?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, what role does trust play in your conversation (with 1 representing uncertainty and 10 representing complete belief in the client and yourself)? How could you reframe your perception or shift your persona to increase that number?
Coaches are whole people too. Countless dimensions contribute to our inner selves. So in your next session, focus attention on how you show up with others. It can lead you to bring your best to your clients and make the process that much more enjoyable for both of you.
Trust is a gift
Trust is by far the most essential element in creating a safe, supportive environment – the optimal conditions for learning, growth, and change. Unfortunately, though it may be earned, trust is not permanent. It must be maintained and hopefully strengthened along the way.
Here are just a few other indicators that you believe in others.
- Show genuine concern for your client’s welfare and future.
- Continuously demonstrate personal integrity, honesty, and sincerity.
- Establish clear agreements and keep your promises.
- Demonstrate respect for your client’s perceptions, learning style, and personal being.
- Provide ongoing support for and champion new behaviors and actions, including those involving risk-taking and fear of failure.
- Ask permission before coaching in sensitive or new areas.
Your clients are looking for someone who can offer them a safe place to explore. Within this partnership, you champion them towards their very best by enabling them to pursue goals reflective of their true, authentic selves – not to mention their unique talents and gifts.
Trust builds with time, and so does the momentum of the coaching process. The results your clients achieve will grow and become more sustainable with each session.
It’s a practice that benefits you as well. Deep levels of trust enhance the financial stability of your coaching enterprise. Seasoned coaches often retain their clients for years on an “as-needed” basis.
This is great for your business. It also gives you the privilege to witness someone’s wholeness unfolding and the treasures they discover along the way – one of the highlights of professional coaching in my opinion!
What comes up when you hear this for you? Please share below!