Coaching Podcast: Coaching Ethics… Do They Matter?

February 21, 2020

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. In this episode of the Everything Life Coaching Podcast, we discuss coaching ethics and its importance. Subscribe to get all our episodes!

Understanding coaching ethics is one of the most important things every newbie in the field should learn. Good coaching won’t happen if you don’t maintain a good understanding of the ethical boundaries that guide all coaching sessions. But what exactly is ethics?

To make it simple, ethics is a moral philosophy. It is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. Once you understand the right and wrong in the coaching world, you’ll find it easier to know where to draw the line in your own practice.

Defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct in the coaching world also apply in the sense that as you’re putting out content into the world, you’re defending your view of it and recommending concepts of right and wrong for other people to do. In other words, it’s taking a look at something and saying “okay, are there standards, are there systems and are there things that are right or wrong?”

So, how do ethics apply in coaching?

There are two things we want to highlight: boundaries and definitions. These two help us orient our place in the world and give us some foundation. For definitions, perhaps the top three things we should first discuss are: the client, the aspects of equality, and sponsorship.

Definding The Client 

The client is the individual or team that is being coached. Clients can be a single person, a couple, an entire team -- it varies. Say we’re talking about ethics when coaching a couple. One way to look at it is when coaching couples, there’s person A and person B in a relationship and the relationship ITSELF is a breathing, living entity.

The coach is there in service of the relationship. This means you’re not there to be in favor of one person over the other. You’re there as a coach to serve the relationship. So be clear in any coaching situation that you are serving the client first and foremost.

Equality and Barriers

Next up is equality in coaching from an ethical perspective. This is the acknowledgment that people’s experiences in differences in inclusion, differences in access to resources and opportunities, differences based on ableism, race, ethnicity, national origin, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, mental or physical disability - that these are all real.

These are real barriers and they cause stagnation and pain. From a coaching perspective, you have to put that stuff on the table and treat it as real. And be intentional about it.  Ignoring the things that are real barriers for folks is where we cross the line as coaches.

Sponsorship & Confidentiality

Sponsorship is when someone pays for someone else’s coaching. This is when a boss pays for their employee’s coach or even when a good friend pays for someone else’s coach. This is where defining reporting and confidentiality is incredibly important. There needs to be a confidential space between coach and client and if there is a sponsor that feels they have a right of access to reporting, they may. As a coach, it’s your responsibility to be ethical and define this upfront.

What about Coaching Boundaries?

Boundaries really protect you as a coach and help the coaching engagement to flow. Setting the coaching agreement or the contract regarding the roles, responsibilities, and rights of everybody involved is one thing that really helps you set solid boundaries on paper.

In the beginning, people may think that contracts and coaching agreements are only for “professionalism’s sake” but really, it serves a very important purpose. Not only is it ethical to always have a coaching agreement, it is also a tool for both clients and coaches to refer to and be reminded of the boundaries set.

Aside from what’s on paper, setting boundaries is a muscle you build. It’s your intuition that serves as the internal compass that tells you where to turn and how to go. You cannot write everything down so it’s important to learn to listen to your intuition. As your relationship with your client deepens and as you and your client continue working together, there will be instances where the line gets blurry. Turning to your intuition for clarity is a great way to be reminded of the boundaries every ethical coach should keep in mind.

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