How to Establish A Strong & Successful Coaching Relationship

June 9, 2021
Life Coaching

Tips to Build Trust Between Coach and Client

The best coaching relationships are built on a foundation of trust. And yet, we often need to get personal with new clients fairly quickly. Why? Because setting the stage for meaningful  change requires a certain degree of vulnerability.

When the time spent together in coaching sessions is limited, it becomes even more important for us to get this part right. Oh, the pressure!

Life coaches are trained to help people feel seen, heard, and understood. But how can we really do all that... in just one hour? Buckle up - you’re about to find out.

Establish A Firm Foundation

In both personal and business relationships, we know that building trust is a process. According to social psychology’s  “proximity principle”, the formula for establishing close relationships usually goes something like this:

Time + Familiarity = Intimacy

As a life coach, your first order of business is to create the conditions that will fast track that relationship building process. This requires intention and mindfulness.

Start building trust from the moment of first contact.

Consider how you generally interact with prospective coaching clients. This includes social media followers, email or direct message inquiries, requests for information, and the process of booking an initial consultation. 

  • Would you call these points of contact “relationships”?
  • What’s the experience like for the prospect? 
  • Do you give them the same attention and regard that’s offered to your current clients? Why or why not? 
  • What time and energy boundaries feel most appropriate to you? How can you hold them in a way that conveys professionalism, while also honoring the prospective client?

Well before someone signs a coaching contract with you, the groundwork for your coaching relationship has already been laid. Each point of contact along the way should feel relational rather than transactional.

What do we mean by that? It could look as simple as this:

Instead of thinking before each new client consultation call, “I wonder if this person will sign up for one of my coaching packages?”, and yourself: “How can I serve this person today?”

Remember: every interaction represents an opportunity to establish trust. 

Create the Container

“Sometimes holding space feels like doing nothing.” - Heather Plett

One of the first things we learn in life coach training is that our primary job is simply to “hold space”. As coaches, we establish the conditions that allow a client to access their inner wisdom and formulate answers for themselves. The coaching relationship is, in essence, the psychological “space'' where this work takes place.

Yeah, that sure sounds nice… but what does it actually mean in practice?

⁠According to Heather Plett, author of The Art of Holding Space, to do this well means:

“...to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

While it might sound like “doing nothing”, the impact of being in full relationship presence with another person is profound.

Coaching clients often say the most powerful aspect of a session is simply being seen and heard.

Additional resource: If you’d like to dive deeper, JRNI co-founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux discuss this topic at greater length in The Everything Life Coaching Podcast episode How To Hold Space for Others

5 Coaching Behaviors that Build Trust

Want to create coaching relationships that deliver great results for your clients? Master these five skills and you’ll be well on your way. 

1) Be fully present

Take a few minutes to center yourself before every coaching session. Make sure you’re not hungry or thirsty. Eliminate distractions. Clear your mind of whatever may be going on for you. Review client notes so you’re in the zone. Turn your attention fully to the client you’re about to meet with.

2) Show up authentically

There is no “right way” to coach. Know who you are, and embody your unique style. If you’re a high energy person, don’t dial it down to library mode. If you’re prone to cursing like a sailor, let it rip. Model the same vulnerability that you’ll be asking of your clients as they seek to live from their own truth. And remember: people hire you because they resonate with your presence. They have chosen to be in this relationship with YOU. Trust in that. 

3) Listen without judgement

Trustworthy relationships provide a sense of emotional safety. You can help establish that safety by regarding each person you work with as whole, worthy and capable. Life coaches do this by demonstrating respect for the client’s perceptions, identity, learning style, personal being, and where they are in life… right now

Pro Tip: There’s no getting around the fact that we all have biases. As a coach, it’s important to be aware of (and working on) whatever yours might be. You don’t need to be perfect! Simply cultivate the emotional intelligence and skills necessary to appropriately handle moments when you may feel discomfort or judgement toward a client. If there are situations where you can't do this, honor the client by referring them to another coach.

4) Have empathy

“Feeling with” is an essential skill for coaches. It allows us to connect deeply with the client, and respond with compassion. While sympathy comes from our ability to intellectually understand someone else’s pain, empathy is what actually allows us to feel into it.

In his book Heartificial Empathy, leadership consultant Minter Dial recommends these five practices to help strengthen your empathy muscles:

  • Listen actively
  • Explore differences
  • Read fiction
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Remember WHY you want to be more empathetic (it will motivate you to set aside the time to actually do #1-4!)

5) Demonstrate integrity

Consider what professionalism means to you, and how you want to show up inside your coaching relationships. With every interaction, you’re modeling what your client can count on from you. From starting sessions on time, to respecting client confidentiality… it all matters. Having a clear set of personal ethics serves both you as coach, and the relationship itself.

Need a tool to help hold yourself accountable? We suggest periodically reviewing the International Coaching Federation's Coach Core Competencies. You can use these industry gold-standards as a benchmark, and perform a self-assessment from time to time to see how you’re measuring up.

Want to Become A Coach?

One of our values at JRNI is that we dare to be different. Our coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out JRNI Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.

JRNI Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

[Free Guide] 6 Steps to Start Coaching Today

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