This essay is one of three assignments I submitted to the University of Chester for my Postgraduate Certificate in Personal and Business Coaching. The assignment is illustrated with examples from my own coaching experiences with volunteer clients and fellow Barefoot Programme coaching practices, as well as my reflections taken from my Personal Learning Journal and feedback received from supervision and other sources. Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.
The terms ‘Barefoot Programme’ and ‘the Programme’ refer to handouts, notes or events from Barefoot Coaching Postgraduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching Course #42, which I attended between March and May 2017.
Academic references are provided at the end.
Coaching in an organisational setting
Introduction – coaching as human interaction
I came to coaching from a career in personal financial services. Over time, I appreciated that the relationships I developed with my clients were more potent than my extensive portfolio of solution-based models and techniques. Pelham (2015) articulates a similar view that tools and techniques receive undue preference over the relationship with the client because they provide structure and methodology in coaching. Similarly, Rogers (2012), who began his coaching journey seeking to change a person, now emphasises the importance of building a relationship with an individual that they can use for their personal growth.
Coaching relationships are co-created and the foundation of this co-creation and the relationship thus formed can be found in psychotherapy. I begin, therefore, by examining the development and importance of the relationship to coaching.
Figure 1 – Elements of the coaching relationship.
As I reflect on my career, which in its way has been profoundly transformational and informs my approach to coaching, I have developed my model of the coaching relationship (Figure 1) which I examine in this assignment.
Of the four elements, I exert the most influence over myself as a coach. As I will demonstrate, I believe in building a strong coaching relationship, and I reflect on how this will be affected by my beliefs, experience and personality. I examine how I develop my self-awareness of these traits and identify resistances to becoming a more courageous and adventurous coach.
However, it is not my role to control or direct the client. If there is one common thread to the many definitions of coaching, it is that coaching is an exercise in personal learning and growth, not in direction or teaching. Coaching is centred in the client and aims to help clients solve their problems and become more accomplished (Whitmore 1996; Parsloe 1995; Gallwey 1974). However, as I will demonstrate, the very nature of the relationship means that I have some influence over the coachee.
I have a certain amount of control over the environment, in as much as I can create a safe container for the client and our exchanges, but less influence over cultural and other matters. The exchange is where every day, human traits present in any relationship, such as attentiveness, integrity, respect, and balance show up. I consider these two elements before, finally, describing the impact of my reflections on my coaching style.
In summary, therefore, this assignment comprises three parts:
- The development and importance of the relationship in coaching and my practice
- An examination of the four elements of a relationship, with an emphasis on my role in the relationship
- My relationship-driven practice.
The development and importance of the coaching relationship
The coaching relationship has its roots in disciplines ranging from psychology, systems theory, medicine, religion and philosophy (Rogers 2016). However, psychotherapy more than most have come to terms with the meaning and practice of relationship (Pelham 2015).
Today, there are many different approaches to psychotherapy. Prochaska & Norcross (2018) argue that significant events in human history often trigger new approaches to psychotherapy. I base my analysis of relationships on three psychotherapeutic disciplines with which I have some understanding through my relationship-driven practice.
Psychoanalysis emerged from the repressive and regulated Victorian era. The first therapeutic relationships were directional, controlling and focused on the past (Prochaska & Norcross 2018). The practitioner remained neutral and disconnected so as not to influence the subject. For instance, Freud required that patients ‘spoke for themselves, rather than repeating the ideas of the analyst; they work through their material, rather than parroting another’s suggestion’ (Thurschwell 2009 p.24).
Freud changed his views on relationships when he encountered the phenomenon of transference which, far from being ‘the greatest threat to the treatment’, he described as its ‘best tool’ (Freud 1916 p.496).
Transference is the projection onto and reliving through, the therapist of an individual’s feelings about an influential figure such as a parent (Prochaska & Norcross 2018). In turn, practitioners transfer their own emotions back on to the subject (countertransference). Transference evidences the existence of a relationship between practitioner and client, albeit unconscious, and one that occurs in present-day coaching.
In my practice, Toby, who had just retired, and his wife Natalie was deciding whether to sell their large country house and move to a smaller townhouse. Toby wished to remain while Natalie wanted to move. In one of our coaching sessions, Natalie started to transfer her frustrations with what she saw as Toby’s intransigence on to me. She displayed the same signs of anger and resentment towards me as she did to Toby for not providing her with the ‘solution’ she wanted.
Natalie’s attitude precipitated emotions of anger and hurt in me, and I began to question my abilities and methods. Initially, I resisted transferring my frustrations and anger back to Natalie fearing this would make her view me as a clone of her husband. Instead, I continue to listen and empathise with Natalie, ignoring the effect of the client’s frustrations on me.
However, in a subsequent discussion of the case, my peer-group suggested that I use these emotions to get deeper insights into the client’s concerns. At our next session, therefore, I asked Natalie if we could explore these frustrations in more depth, from which it emerged that her issues were not so much financial as around loneliness in her remote house and a desire to live in a supportive community.
Afterwards, I reflected on how difficult it must be to be a ‘blank screen’, disconnected coach. This enigma was addressed nearly a century ago by Fenichel (1939) who encouraged practitioners to act with humanity, naturalness, warmth and concern to their clients. Later, therapists and coaches from the humanist and existential schools went further, viewing the relationship between the coach and coachee as central to the success of an intervention.
2 Humanist psychology
Arguably, the humanist tradition emerged from post-war antipathy to institutionalised values and codes of conduct and the yearning, especially amongst the young, for freedom, identity and dissociation from the older generations and its leaders.
In the mid-Twentieth Century, Carl Rogers challenged the Freudian view of the therapist as a professional guide helping find answers in the patient’s past (Wildflower 2013) and led the drive to alternative humanist psychology. Humanists saw their clients as equal partners in a healthy, dignified and respectful relationship for clients to use to synthesise solutions to their problems through their healing and growth without being directed or advised (Rogers 1951). This fundamental shift in the relationship led Wildflower (2013) to describe Rogers as one of the most significant influences in the coaching profession.
The humanist relationship is compassionate and interested (Pelham 2015; Prochaska & Norcross 2018). Indeed, Rogers (1951) believed that one of the core conditions necessary for competent practice is that of Unconditional Positive Regard (UPS). This approach mirrors my values, which include providing support for my connections with empathy and compassion, avoiding causing harm and believing that others are doing the best they can to find solutions to their problems (see below and Appendix A). The humanist approach, therefore, appeals to me and is one I follow in my coaching practice.
During the Barefoot Programme, I received feedback that I was able to develop powerful relationships based on the humanist approach of a compassionate attitude, empathic listening and powerful questions to increase awareness, in line with the ICF Competencies (International Coach Federation 2019). However, I have identified areas for improvement in the relationships I form with my coachees, which I address below.
The existentialist tradition evolved out of a world at war as people confronted unspeakable horrors and searched for meaning in their lives. Existentialism is concerned with meaning and experiences, as well as the culture in which we exist (Pelham 2015). Victor Frankl, after his terrible experiences in the death camps, wrote that the one thing needed to survive was a sense of purpose and meaning (Frankl 1985).
Existentialism has also gained in popularity after the materialism and economic growth of the last three decades. The New Economic Order (Norton & Honeywill 2012) shuns conspicuous consumption, globalisation and commodification and seeks instead to find meaning and authenticity by applying their values to what and with whom they do and buy.
The quest for meaning, fulfilment and authenticity is becoming a top priority. One couple, aged in the mid-fifties, told their financial coach that ‘toys and bling’ were all they had to show for a life of earn and spend (Deedes 2015). They wanted to develop a new life, and financial goals focused on answering the question ‘Who am I?’ in the second half of their lives. After a wasted young adulthood, I have similar objectives, and I find this helps me to build a relationship that enables coachees to fulfil their ultimate need for self-actualisation (Maslow 1954).
As a result, my coaching relationship, ironically, is very similar to the pre-transference approach adopted by Freud. In my life coaching practice, I seek to help clients live a wholehearted, meaningful and authentic life by giving them space and security to speak for themselves and work through their material, to repeat Thurschwell (2009).
The critical elements of the transformational coaching relationship
In this section of this assignment, I consider each of the elements (Figure 1 above) I have identified as central to the transformational coaching relationship, beginning with myself as a coach.
1 Myself as coach
According to Rogers (2012), my coaching role is to develop a beneficial relationship with my coachee that enables the coachee to improve their learning and self-awareness. I mirror this self-awareness, which is as critical to the relationship as my coachee.
Edna Murdoch, the co-founder of the Coaching Supervision Academy, is said to have told students that ‘Who you are is how you coach’ (Magill 2018). As a coach, therefore, I have to be aware of and address:
- my values, beliefs, preferences and agendas as well as my propensity or otherwise to impose them on my coachees
- my internal resistances to becoming a better, bolder coach such as my fear of failure and rejection, a reluctance to step outside my cultural norms and my ambivalent belief in myself as a coach.
These are issues that often arise in my coachees, and leads to the inevitable conclusion that to be a good coach I need to be my client, coaching myself to become more self-aware of my self as an individual and the effect that has on my relationship with my coachees.
In a broader context, Eurich (2018) describes self-awareness as the meta-skill of the 21st-century. Eurich argues that self-awareness is critical for achieving success in emotional intelligence, empathy, communication and collaboration, areas in which expertise is also necessary for a coach. In her research, Eurich identifies seven insights held by those who had developed high levels of self-awareness, some of which I use as guides to my self-awareness.
I lacked values in early adulthood. Without a set of principles to define and guide me, I lost my way with disastrous consequences. These events inspired me to create my own values statement (see Appendix 1), derived from a few inherited values, my own mistakes and experiences, and the insights of my mentors and influencers. Today, I use my values statement as a checklist to review regularly my personal and professional practices and their impact on the relationships I create.
I have learnt that my values have a significant impact on my coaching relationships. During a coaching session, I asked Sophie to tell me about her aspirations. Sophie tearfully revealed she wished she could be a better mother, wife and daughter. This revelation was profoundly moving, one which I believe she would not have made had I not displayed the trust, compassion and integrity derived from my values.
However, it also gave rise to a potentially harmful conflict between my approach to life and hers. Sophie’s self-assessment of her abilities as a mother, wife and daughter conflicted with my belief, expressed in my values statement that everyone is doing the best they can (a variation on Roger’s (1951) Unconditional Positive Regard). In turn, this gave rise to feelings of antipathy and lack of respect for Sophie. These tensions manifested themselves physically through a dry mouth and churning stomach. Such physical discomfort is a warning bell that the relationship with my client might be under threat.
According to Festinger (1962), individuals make allowances to offset this ‘cognitive dissonance’ and relieve their internal tensions. Festinger argues that in such situations, the warning should trigger a more profound commitment to the particular value. My awareness of this situation had an impact on my coaching. As Festinger suggests, I felt compelled to defend my value by challenging Sophie to justify or dismiss her perception of herself as unworthy.
While it would have been prudent in any case to challenge Sophie’s assumptions, the episode led to reflection on the power of my values. I was particularly concerned to realise my motivation for challenging Sophie was born out of a defence of my values rather than care for Sophie. My learning from this experience is that it is crucial to listen to myself as well as my coachee during a coaching session. I received feedback from supervisors and fellow course students suggesting that, far from being put off by silences, coachees see reflection during a session as a strength. I now occasionally pausing during a session, take stock and listen to my internal voices for a few moments before reacting in a way that leads to a stronger relationship.
My values can have an impact on my coaching relationship in another way of which I was unaware until I participated in the Barefoot Programme. McClelland & Burnham (2001) carried out a study of managerial motivation and effectiveness, leading them to suggest that managers were motivated by:
- Affiliation or the need to be liked
- Achievement or setting and achieving goals irrespective of the views of others
- Power, or building and using their influence to achieve their goals
I note that the article does not mention values. However, the Barefoot Programme uses these categorisations as a classification proxy for these values.
As I reflected on the influence of my values on my coachee relationships, I became aware that my values tend mainly towards affiliation, less so to achievement, and have little relevance to power. The affiliative nature of my values provides a deeper understanding of why the relationship I build with my coachees is sometimes more social than professional.
During the Barefoot Programme, I coached Julia in a practice on career paths using the Career Timeline exercise. Afterwards, Julia felt we had not got to the heart of her career issues because my approach was too informal. It was more like a stroll in the park with a friend than a professional coaching session. The relevance to this of my future coaching practise is, again, that I need to develop better self-awareness of the impact of my values on my interactions with my coachees if I am to build genuinely transformative relationships.
It can also be argued that the experience goes some way to using the McClelland & Burnham classification of managerial motivation as a proxy for classifying values.
The concept of Transactional Analysis developed by Berne, Harris and others has informed my awareness of patterns in the way I think, feel and act in my coaching. According to Berne (1961), my Life Script, a set of patterns or procedures derived from early childhood experiences, fashions my thinking, feeling and behavioural transactions in my coaching.
The assumption behind Transactional Analysis (TA) is that my personality is formed from a mix of three directly observable ego states derived from my childhood experiences (Berne, Steiner, & Dusay 1973) and determines how I handle life and my interactions with others (Harris 2012).
According to Prochaska and Norcross (2018), we behave in different ways in each state:
- In Child, irresponsibility and wishful thinking, as well as creativity and impulsiveness characterise the actions of an individual
- In Adult, reasoned decisiveness unclouded by emotion describes the behaviour of an individual
- In Parent, behaviour mirrors that of the individual’s parents or authority figures and is characterised by authoritativeness on the one hand and caregiving on the other.
I recognise that I tend to act in the Parent ego state, the consequence of a life script derived from a military family childhood. In the TA assessment exercise (from Hay 2009 and Kahler 1978, reproduced in the Barefoot Programme), I score highly in the ‘Hurry Up’ and ‘Be Strong’ drivers, which probably derive from military family influence. When I reflect on my coaching, I see a pattern that is initially exploratory and helpful, characterised by questions such as ‘What’s wrong?’ and ‘How can I help?’. My coaching then tends to becomes more directive and authoritative as I seek to control my coachee and quickly solve their problems for them with phrases such as ‘Why don’t you do this?’ slipping in.
I described above the work I have done on formulating my values. Value creation too is a familiar Parent activity (Prochaska & Norcross 2018), and I recognise a pattern of behaviour in my life in which, incorrectly, I impose my values on coachees as a solution to a problem, again counter to the way coaches are expected to act.
My parents expected me to play by the rules and grow up quickly as a child, so I find it difficult to enter the child ego state. I recognise this can put my coaching at a disadvantage as I find it challenging to act with spontaneity and creativity.
Harris (2012) suggests that individuals adopt one of four life positions, depending on whether they see themselves and the rest of the world as ‘OK’ or ‘not OK’. From a coaching perspective, I now recognise that my predominant position is ‘I’m not OK – you’re OK’. Again, my Life Script and childhood experiences generated feelings of inferiority, especially when it came clear I was not going to follow in the family footsteps. This position leads to a consistent pattern of behaviour in my coaching in which, because I feel inferior and less than capable, I experience Imposter Syndrome, described as the gap between our self-perception and how others see us (Watts & Morgan 2015). Again, this leads to a pattern of coaching without confidence and experiencing high levels of stress as I feel I am unable to do a good coaching job for my coachees.
To counter this, I have taken steps to change my perception of myself by writing my life story with the assistance of my therapist. My story contains the accurate tale of my mistakes and experiences, which has enabled me to claim full and proper ownership of my life story. Reading my story reminds me that I come across as experienced, resilient and authoritative, even though I make mistakes. Following the theory of positive psychology (Seligman 2011), I also carry out a set of exercises and habits to change my perspective of myself, including writing up good experiences in my gratitude journal, and using more positive language in my conversation and writing such as using ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ and ‘when’ instead of ‘if’.
My thinking, feeling and behavioural responses reveal my abilities and skills, my strengths and weaknesses to myself as well as my coachee. Nowhere is this more so than in the way I react to my coachee’s emotions. As Pelham (2015) explains, my reactions to my coachee’s emotions will define the relationship. They will be fundamental to the success or otherwise of the coaching intervention.
Gendlin (2003) argues that self-management of emotions is essential because of the concept of ‘use of self’ and ‘felt sense’. This last term refers to the impact of countertransference. The felt sense is our own experiences of the feelings we experience in hearing the client’s story. ‘Use of self’ or ‘congruence’ is the ability to use our ‘felt sense’ to understand what’s going on in the coaching relationship.
For ‘use of self’ to be valid requires an ability to recognise and feel the feelings that arise as the client tells a story, then to accept these feelings for what they are and finally to be able to act on them in a way that enhances the clients own self-awareness.
An approach to emotional recognition suggested by Kinder & Galvan (2006) is to sit quietly and observe my physical reactions as I consider an emotion, such as anger, shame or fear, recalling instances from my own life or novels and films. Thus, when considering anger, I feel my body become tense, my mouth dries, and I feel a tight sensation at the back of my head and down my spine. Lists of physical reactions, such as those provided for young adults by the Australian Centre for YouthAOD Practice Development (2020) confirm these reactions.
Recognising these reactions in myself will help me to recognise them for what they are in the coachee. This awareness is even more critical, given that coachees will often exhibit multiple emotions or attempt to hide specific emotions. In both cases, physical signals may reveal what the coachee is not showing, unwittingly or by design.
This recognition was influential in the case with Leah, who came to me ostensibly for help with her money. In reality, she was looking for someone to work through a painful history and develop a plan for her future life. As Leah told me about her very messy, public and humiliating divorce, I recall feeling her emotions reflected in my own body. These manifested through a face flushed with shame, the tensing of my shoulders in anger at her husband’s behaviour and the knots in my stomach reflecting her fear that she would not be able to look after her children emotionally and financially in the future.
My emotional self-awareness enables me to react appropriately, providing the coachee with confidence and reassurance that I am in a genuinely collaborative arrangement with the coachee.
Elements of the coaching relationship
1 The exchange
The concept of Transactional Analysis (Berne, Steiner, & Dusay 1973 and above) is of relevance here. In a coaching intervention, there will be a transactional stimulus and a transactional response (Berne 1964). The outcome of each transaction will depend upon which of three ego states the participants occupy. Berne considered Adult-Adult transactions to be the simplest and most effective. Given the Adult mode leans heavily towards learning (Harris 2012), it would seem ideal for the personal growth sought in a coaching intervention.
However, any attempt to limit a coaching intervention to Adult-Adult communication would severely limit the effectiveness of the transactions. There would be no room for the creativity and spontaneity of the Child ego or the compassion and challenge of the Parent ego. In the coaching environment, a balance of ego states will be optimal. The personal learning and insights I have gained from Transactional Analysis have been of significant help in developing transformative working relationships with my coachees.
2 The environment
The environment is concerned with security, confidentiality, culture, diversity, politics, religion and much else. However, I can only control the immediate setting in which the coachee and I work.
The ‘safe container’ approach set out by Kinder & Galvan (2006) provides a useful model, providing a secure, non-threatening environment. The ‘container’ is partly physical, and I will only see clients in my own office, where I can control the coaching environment. The safe container is also formed from the written coaching contract I provide to my coachees and in the process of contracting. Contracting is an integral part of coaching that occurs at the beginning of every session and is used to set boundaries, explain procedures and reach agreement on goals and processes. Contracting can also take place during a coaching session. If the conversation takes an unexpected turn, for instance, I might find it necessary to re-contract with the coachee, seeking their permission before moving forward.
3 The client
The purpose of coaching is to build a relationship to help the coachee develop and grow. The coachee will need to be involved, and in transactional analysis terms, be prepared to spend much of their time in their Adult ego state, which facilitates learning (Berne 1964). Coaching relationships, therefore, must be co-created and there are, I believe, three issues to be aware of as the coachee and I co-create our relationship.
1 The coachee’s ‘coachability’
I have experienced instances of ‘un-coachable’ individuals. Tom worked in high compliance, non-governmental organisation. He was safety and systems-oriented, and the very idea of exploring his personality and aspirations was an anathema. Tom told me he was challenged by what he termed my ‘touchy-feely’ approach.
In Transactional Analysis terms, Tom seemed to be firmly fixed in a directive, authoritative Parent ego state, without the compassionate approach usually also found in this state (Prochaska & Norcross 2018). Tom seemed to want to teach rather than learn, and I have come to recognise that this trait in other individuals considering appointing me as a coach is a warning bell. I now raise this with the coachee early on and suggest other alternatives if we agree coaching is not suitable.
Research into individual readiness for change (Bandura 1977; Cervone 2000) suggests that individuals will not choose to change if they feel they do not have the abilities to produce the result they seek. In simple terms, this indicates, first that in initial exploration sessions I should assess the coachee’s propensity for change and second, that small step changes may well be more attractive to coachees than significant changes. As a consequence, I have begun to introduce chat-based coaching for small changes into my practice.
2 How the coachee views me: coach or adviser
Clients who have explored my background and read my literature often assume that I am able and willing to provide financial advice, which is not the case. This misconception has led me to continuously change the description of my services, reducing the references to money or financial coaching.
3 The coachee’s willingness to enter a relationship
For many, ‘relationships’ are associated with bad experiences. ‘Relationships’ now signal ‘threat’, leading to the anxiety and stress, encouraging clients to shy away from coaching (and other) relationships as a means of self-defence. They may decide that the potential threat and rise in anxiety levels may outweigh any potential learning benefits.
Conclusion and my coaching approach
I have sought to show the coaching relationship has grown in importance in the psychotherapeutic professions, from which coaching takes much of its inspiration. In the early days of psychotherapy, the approach to the relationship was one of distance and non-interference. This practice changed with the uncovering of transference and countertransference, and the understanding that relationships did exist and, more importantly, that they could become the best tool available to the psychotherapist and coach to create growth, change and transformation.
Of the four elements of a relationship, I believe my personality is the one over which I have the most control. I have highlighted my values, patterns of behaviour and reactions to situations, especially emotions, as critical elements of my coaching mix.
Of these, my values come out as having a significant positive and negative impact on the relationships I develop with my coachees and the degree to which I can help transform them. When my values conflict with those of my coachee, I use the energy for the benefit of my coachee.
My approach to coaching is very relationship-led. Although tools and processes play their part, my main focus is on building a relationship that my coachees to can use, particularly to reach an understanding of their real self and live authentic, fulfilled lives.
Appendix 1 – My personal manifesto
My manifesto is a statement of my values, designed to help me lead a happy, fulfilled life and be the instrument of change I want to be. It is derived from my life story and reflects, more than anything, the lessons I have learnt from my mistakes.
- I am compassionate towards myself, avoid perfectionism, and understand that I am enough
- I avoid causing harm; I believe that others are doing the best they can and treat them as I would expect them to treat me
- Without narcissism, I resiliently uphold my values, self-beliefs and self-esteem and I will let go of self-doubt and the unfounded opinions of others
- I take personal responsibility for my decisions, actions and affairs and aim always to be at my best
- I embrace my mistakes with courage, truth and compassion, and grow from them
- I use money as a means to an end, not an end in itself, and will not use it as a proxy for my ego
- I contribute more than I consume, am grateful for what I have and understand that I have enough
- Without grandstanding or floodlighting, I generously support my connections, listen to them with empathy and compassion and am careful with any advice or direction I provide.
- I take care of my mind, body and spirit in order to better serve others
- I take time for my own personal development and creativity, without which I cannot grow
- I engage in my work with integrity and confidence to serve my clients, solve the world’s problems and make it a better place in which to live
- I am the author of my own life and live it to the full with joy and laughter
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