Rethinking the Complimentary Coaching Session: Part 4. Applications for Coaching Practice

The first three instalments of this series on Rethinking the Complimentary Coaching Session have looked at the practice of coaches offering a free coaching session as a way of enrolling new clients. We’ve looked at the context (what are coaches doing and why) and the processes involved. We’ve also examined the research I conducted to test my hypothesis that the sales model used in the comp session was undermining the effectiveness of coaching.

Research really only matters when we can learn something useful from it – and apply it to our lives. In this case, we’ve learned a little more about what works in those initial stages of coaching – whether it be in a comp session or a screening call. But how do we integrate it? How do we apply this knowledge to creating more effective coaching? Here’s what I’ve learned from research and practice:

First Coaching Sessions: Conclusions

1. Hard sell doesn’t work  Even the current sales literature is clear – selling is all about the quality of relationship, not manipulating the client into buying. And, given the nature of coaching, it’s not the role of the coach to manipulate a client.

2. Repeat the mantra: The less directive, the more effective.  While the research suggests that it isn’t selling per se that is undermining the effectiveness of the first session, it does indicate that directiveness plays a major role. As we’ve learned from other helping literature, when you ask rather than tell, the client owns the ideas, understands the rationale and is more motivated to follow through.

3. Directiveness isn’t always bad  It may kill me to say this, but sometimes directiveness is useful. It could be in clarifying tasks or building the alliance that provides a structure for the client to work effectively. Directiveness becomes detrimental when it limits the client’s choices.

4. The coach-client match is a myth  There is no evidence to support the need for coach-client match. Many short-course trained coaches don’t get taught enough about building rapport. The coach-client match won’t mask this lack of skills. Instead, coaches can be proactive about developing a strong working alliance with clear goals, tasks, and expectations and bond-forming activities.

5. Build a working alliance in your initial conversations  The first contact between coach and client is about gathering the information to determine whether they can work together. As such, important questions are:

  1. Is the client’s issue suitable for coaching? (goal, tasks);
  2. Is the client at a stage of change where coaching is a suitable intervention? (Or how could coaching be a suitable intervention for the client?) (goal, tasks);
  3. What does the coach need to know to understand and convey that understanding of the client’s situation to the client, so a bond can develop? (goal, task, bond);
  4. How does the client know the coach is competent and can help in their situation? (bond, tasks).

(This is derived from the working alliance literature and the “screening interview” developed by Williams and Menendez 2007)

6. Be aware of client expectations   Whether it is the assumptions clients bring about what coaching is or how it works (“you’re going to fix my problems”) or the more culturally imbued assumptions of gender role expectations (“women are nurturing”), an awareness of the different and often unspoken expectations will minimise disappointment (of unmet expectations) further down the track. It will also give you an entry point for some important conversations about cultural and social influence on communication and behaviour.

7. Acknowledge the tension  Clients come to coaching with a certain amount of tension – fears, uncertainty – which can be used a valuable source of insight by both coach and client.

8. Be transparent in your process  The complimentary session is a sales technique; either present it as such so the clients know what to expect, or use processes that are congruent with the principles of coaching.

What did I really learn from all this?

In the end, it’s all about the beginnings. Get them right and you’ll have fewer headaches further down the track. Of course, as we move along we come across new information that may make our original beginnings naïve, inappropriate, or obsolete. It’s in these moments that we have the opportunity to begin again.  And so, coaching becomes a series of beginnings. Navigating these is what it’s all about.