The concept of trust in coaching relationships is so vital that ICF has highlighted it as one of its eight core competencies that all coaches should master. So when we're looking at that competency of cultivating trust and safety, ICF is really asking us as coaches to dive into how we partner with our clients to create a safe, supportive environment. One where the client feels free to share their thoughts, their emotions, their goals, their dreams with us. And we maintain that relationship by promoting mutual respect and trust between all the parties. So certainly between coach and client, of course, if there are any other stakeholders involved, say, if the client is not the person who is paying for the coaching, if there is another sponsor. We also want to make sure that we are building trust and safety into that relationship as well. For many of us coaches, one of our primary marketing channels for building our coaching business is through referrals. Many of us have referral based practices where we rely on previous clients and other colleagues to send appropriate coaching candidates our way. And so those referral relationships are also built on mutual trust and safety. So this is certainly relevant to our ability to coach our clients. But I would say creating relationships that are anchored in trust is also important on the business side of things. Really, in business, everything comes down to relationships. Every stage of your coaching practice, from getting started, connecting with clients and referral sources, finding your first client, building out systems so that you can grow and scale. All of this depends on the relationships you have with your people, with your clients, your colleagues, your referral sources. And so today we're going to take a look at how we can quickly and effectively build and maintain trust in our relationships. I will be viewing this more from the sense of how we can co-create this relationship with our clients. But I also want you to be thinking about how trust factors in to your other relationships, certainly with your colleagues and your referral sources, but maybe even think outside of your coaching practice. Think about your friendships, the relationships you have with family members, perhaps your partner or spouse, or your children. Trust is essential to a healthy relationship. And so many of the things we'll be talking about today are universally applicable to relationships of all kinds. But we will be focusing primarily on that relationship between coach and client today.
When I think about the coaching relationships, I've been in both with my own clients as their coach, but also as a client who has worked with other coaches. The key elements that have made those relationships highly functional are trust, honesty and respect. I believe that if you don't have trust, honesty and respect in your relationship with your client, with your coach, with anyone, then that relationship is going to be compromised. It's not going to be as strong and as fulfilling as it could be. Ideally, in a coaching relationship, both the client and the coach feel comfortable sharing personal information, maybe even sensitive information. And then the coach's role is to act as a partner. A partner who is supportive, a partner who is nonjudgmental, who encourages open and frank dialogue. All to help the client achieve their goals. So in a coaching relationship that's centered on trust, the client feels safe. They know that when they share their thoughts and feelings inside the coaching relationship, they have faith that the coach will, number one, keep these conversations confidential and number two, will act in the best interest of the client. So there is this understanding, this mutual understanding, that what the client experiences inside the coaching session is sacred and will be held as such, and that the coach will hold that space and that confidentiality to the extent that they're allowed to by law in order to benefit the client and to serve the client as they work towards their goals. Now, I did just throw in a bit of a caveat there. You may have caught it when I was talking about confidentiality, and I made the point that we can keep confidence to the extent permitted by law. I want to start off by saying, I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice, and this will vary state by state, province by province, country by country, what your obligations are as a coach. And for some of you, you may have additional obligations if you are, for example, a licensed provider in your state or province. You may be held to different standards than unlicensed professionals. So I'm going to kind of engage in this conversation very broadly with the understanding and with the strong encouragement that you take a close look at the legal and ethical expectations for coaches in your area, whether it's your state, your province, your country, and also for your profession. Many of you know, prior to being a coach, I was a therapist, and I know a lot of you who are listening right now. You may also come from a profession where you are licensed or registered or have additional expectations around privacy and confidentiality. You may be considered a mandated reporter, meaning if someone discloses that they have a plan or strong intention to hurt themselves or someone else. If you've been made aware of any sort of child abuse or elder abuse, you may be legally obligated to report that. Interestingly, this may be the case even if you are not a licensed or registered professional. Some states state that all of their citizens are mandated reporters, and then other states, it's the opposite. There is no mandated reporting. So it's very important that you are clear on your obligations legally, ethically, and professionally, based on where you reside and where you are working. And it's also important that you disclose those obligations to your client as well. I have a short disclaimer in my written agreements or contracts that my clients review and sign before we engage in coaching together. I talk about it during our first sessions, and I just generally make it known that as your coach, I hold your confidentiality to be a sacred responsibility. And there are certain cases, such as with self harm, harming others, any sort of abuse, where I may be legally obligated to share that information with the appropriate authorities. I want to make sure that my clients are fully informed before we start our work together so that they understand the limits of their confidentiality and what they can expect from me. Now, I'm knocking on wood right now because I've been pretty lucky in my experience as a coach I've not had to make those reports. Those reports were something I made quite a bit when I was a therapist, especially when I was working in hospitals and I became aware of abuse or neglect or self harm or harm against others. I did make those reports on a fairly regular basis and I feel very fortunate that as a coach, that's not something I've had to do, it's not something I think I'll have to do. And yet I also want to make sure my clients understand the how and the why behind the limits of confidentiality so that they can make an informed choice about when and what to disclose inside the coaching session. I would say communicating that is the very first step in establishing trust and respect and honesty with your clients in a coaching conversation, because then they know from the beginning that you are committed to the relationship, that you take their privacy seriously, and they know where the limits are so that they can make decisions about what they want to share with you.
So that is a very important conversation that I believe all coaches should be having at the very start. And it's one way that we start to create that foundation of mutual respect and trust inside the coaching relationship. Without trust, the entire coaching relationship is compromised because I believe that trust based relationships and coaching are vital for creating a positive and productive coaching experience. It allows clients to feel safe, to be open, to be vulnerable, and it also allows them to be more receptive to the coach's thoughts and feedback because they know that whatever the coach is sharing is being shared to support the client. It's coming from a place of respect and so it allows that client to feel supported and understood and it sets the stage for the client's success. So now let's spend a little time looking at how we as coaches can build trust with our clients inside the coaching relationship. And there are really three things that I want to highlight today, one of which we've discussed at length in an earlier podcast episode, and that is the art of next level listening. When we intentionally employ active listening skills with our clients, we are setting the foundation for that trust centered relationship. Our clients will know that we're not just hearing them, we're not just making sense of the words that they're saying. We are listening to them on deep levels. We are paying attention to their nonverbal communication, to their tone, to the message beneath the message, and we're able to reflect that back to them in such a way where they feel completely seen and heard and understood without any sort of judgment. We're holding space for the client to show up as they are, and we're giving them the gift of our undivided attention. In episode 159, we really took a deep dive into next level listening and what it means to be a really, really strong listener, a next level listener, if you will. And we looked at exactly how to use those skills in a coaching relationship. So if you've not listened to episode 159 on next level listening, I strongly encourage you to do so. But interestingly, one of the elements of next level listening that I talked about is understanding how to balance listening to the client on multi levels; content, format, tone, all of that, while listening to our own internal cues. That's that intrapersonal communication that we talked about in episode 159 and how important it is for clients to be tuned into what's happening with their own thoughts and emotions and sensations. Because all of that can give us really important feedback about what the client is saying. So when we're showing up wholly with our client, when we are invested in what they are sharing, when we're paying attention to our own responses as a way to help the client hone in on what really matters, that type of next level listening goes such a long way towards creating strong relationships with our clients that are anchored in trust. So, number one, listening. And not just that superficial listening, not those earlier levels of listening that we talked about a couple of weeks ago. No, we're talking about truly next level listening, where we are allowing our intuition and our somatic wisdom to be present and provide additional feedback as we are listening to our clients. And when it's appropriate, we're sharing our internal reflections with them as well. And all of that goes towards strengthening the bonds of trust in the relationship. So that's the first thing is being an excellent listener.
The second thing I want to talk about in terms of building trust with clients is how important it is to establish clear boundaries from the get go. And in fact, earlier when we were talking about the limits of confidentiality, that's one example of setting a boundary with clients. So clients understand we can talk about anything and everything inside this space. But there are limits. There is a boundary to the privacy and confidentiality you can expect inside this session. So please know that before we begin. That is an example of a boundary. There are other boundaries that you may wish to establish or that you and your client may wish to create together. One important boundary to explore is how you will communicate with each other in between sessions. What can your client expect from you? And I want to be clear that there's no one right answer to this. This is going to depend on you and your coaching practice and how you want to connect with your clients. But I strongly suggest that you think about this in advance and maybe even pull it into the languaging of your coaching offer. So as an example, when I work with my private coaching clients, whether inside my Mastermind or as one on one coaching, my clients know that between our sessions, they have access to me via email and Voxer. Voxer is my favorite voice and text messaging app. I use it almost exclusively for business, and it allows me to leave voice and text messages for my clients in between sessions if something comes up, if I see something or hear something that I think is relevant for them, it's such a quick and easy way for me to share that with them. It's also a great way for them to stay in touch with me, to keep me updated on how they're doing, what they're working on, if they're hitting any sort of snags, or if they need some additional support or encouragement, I want to be able to provide that for them between sessions. And so I have determined Voxer or email are really the two ways that my clients can engage with me between sessions. For a while, I looked at having that level of support through the DMs, through Facebook or Instagram. I also considered just using text, using my phone. And what I realized was that it became increasingly complicated to use methods of communication that I used for my personal life for business reasons. For example, if I were to give my clients my cell phone number and tell them just to text me, my text thread would be a mix of personal texts with my mom or with my friends, my kids, about school and carpool. And then I've got client messages in there. It would just be a lot. And so for me, I like having one set place that I know is specific for work and for me, that's Voxer. So I've set the boundary that communication between my clients and me will happen between sessions only on email and Voxer. Those are the two places where it's appropriate for us to have ongoing communication between our sessions. And that boundary needs to be shared with my clients so that they understand that as well. And what I have found is that when you are clear about boundaries from the beginning and you engage your client in that conversation around setting and maintaining those boundaries, it's not a liability. It actually strengthens the relationship. And I know that sometimes boundary conversations can be difficult to have, especially if there has been a boundary violation. If one person has crossed a boundary that needs to be addressed and it needs to be taken care of, those conversations can be difficult. I've had them, I know. And yet they're also so important because it redefines the parameters of the relationship and it lets everyone involved know, “Remember, this is how we've agreed to engage with each other.” So when we are consistent, when we set those boundaries and we maintain them with a healthy amount of respect and understanding, it actually strengthens the relationship and builds trust between coach and client. So establishing clear boundaries from the beginning and then maintaining those boundaries is an important strategy for building trust with your clients.
So I mentioned that there were three components of building trust with our clients. The first being listening. The second being establishing clear boundaries. The third that I want to talk about is empathy. Empathy is absolutely essential in building a relationship centered in trust. And I would say again, this is not just for the coach client relationship. This is for any and every relationship. When we bring empathy into our connections with others, it allows us then to really understand that other person's experience. Empathy allows us to experience another person's perspective or point of view from the perspective of non judgment. So we're not coming in and assessing and judging our clients' experience when we're relating to them with empathy. Quite the opposite, actually. Empathy asks us to hold that space and to bear witness to our clients experience by trying to get in their shoes, trying to see the world through their eyes, while refraining from passing our own judgment. I'm not sure it's possible for empathy and judgment to coexist because empathy asks us to strip away our own perspective and really place ourselves 100% in the shoes of our client. Empathy asks us to suspend our judgment and I want to acknowledge that this is easier said than done. And I don't know if it's really truly possible to 100% suspend judgment. What I find in my own sessions is that when judgment comes up, and it will, because I'm human, and as human beings, that's what we do. We judge in order to assess our safety, our level of belongingness. So judgment is not inherently a bad thing, but it can really block our ability to understand our clients' experience fully.
So when I am in session with a client and they're sharing their experience with me, if I notice any sort of judgment start to emerge, I just kind of do an internal pause, a little bit of a gut check, and I notice, “Oh, I'm having a response here. I'm noticing I'm starting to judge. Interesting. I'm going to set that aside for later. Maybe I have my own work to do after this session. But right now I'm going to pause that judgment and I'm going to refocus entirely on what my client is sharing and I'm going to redouble my efforts to really get inside their world and understand their experience from their perspective.” Now, all of that happens in a moment, a split second, and I find, actually practice makes perfect, that I catch myself faster, I redirect myself more quickly. And to me, that's a sign that I'm doing something right. The goal of being non judgmental, it's kind of ironic. I don't think it's to be 100% non judgmental because I'm not sure that's possible. But I do think the goal is to recognize when we slip into judgment and to pull ourselves out of it as quickly as we can. And as we get faster at that, then I believe we are better able to reconnect with our clients in a way that promotes empathy. So it's understandable that since empathy is an essential component of any healthy relationship, that we would expect to see it in a coaching relationship as well. It allows us to relate to and connect with our clients, to promote emotional support and to build those strong, meaningful relationships that are anchored in mutual trust, understanding and respect. So those three keys: active listening, setting and maintaining boundaries, and connecting with empathy – those are at the heart of building relationships that are centered in trust and is integral to a positive coaching experience.
I think it's also important to consider that there may be some obstacles to building trust in the coaching relationship. Some of that may come from the client, some of that may come from us as the coach, some of it may be a bit of both. But I think it's important to recognize that there are some factors that could influence the level of trust we're able to establish with our clients and how quickly we are able to do so. One factor to consider is whether or not there are cultural differences between the coach and the client that may affect our ability to create trust in relationships. So for example, there may be a difference in communication styles between my culture and the culture of my client. And if there are significant differences in how we communicate, that could lead to some misunderstandings and it could lead to some mistrust. As coaches, sometimes we are called to gently challenge our clients beliefs or their responses. Not because we necessarily disagree with what they've done or we want to correct them, but instead it's to invite reflection. But if we do that with a client for whom disagreeing openly is considered impolite or disrespectful, we may compromise the trust in that relationship because we've engaged with them in a way that might be considered typical in our culture but is not typical, and if anything, it may be offensive in their culture. This also points out another factor that may be at play if there are cultural differences in the coaching relationship. So it's not just about differing communication styles. It may also point to some differing values and beliefs. For example, if we were to look at the role of self disclosure in the coaching relationship, there may be some significant differences, culturally speaking, in terms of what is considered acceptable to share. It's interesting. When I lived in Germany from 2011 to 2015, I would hear quite a bit from some of my German friends and I'm thinking about a conversation I had with my landlord in particular, where my landlord said to me, “You Americans, you're so fake, you're so phony. It's hard to take anything you say seriously.” And I'll admit, at first that kind of caught me off guard. I was like, “Well, wait, what do you mean? I like to think of myself as being really authentic and truthful in what I say, I mean.” and I had to remember, first off, my landlord wasn't speaking about me in particular. He was kind of talking about Americans in general. And so we were talking larger culture, not me. But he did say, “For example, you all will start off a conversation by asking how are you? But you don't really care. You don't really want to know what the answer is.” And I realized, well, he's got a point there. We do tend to say “Hey, how's it going? Or hey, how are you?” As a general salutation as a way of greeting someone. And it's not that we don't care, but it's more we have the cultural expectation that “How are you?” is meant to be. Just kind of a brief check in or a hello. And whereas in Germany, when I would ask a German person or my landlord, how are you? I better be ready for the answer. I better be ready to stick around for a few minutes to really hear how they are doing. So this was both a communication difference culturally, but I think it also spoke to a different belief around how we communicate, how we self disclose, what we self disclose. Because the other thing my landlord said to me was that we Americans tend to share too much. We tend to overshare. We think people are more interested in us than they actually are. Which I'm smiling as I'm recalling this because I love how blunt Germans can be. And again, I realize I'm painting with a broad brush here. Not every German is blunt. Not every German even feels the way my landlord did. But what he shared was something that I experienced quite often when living in Germany. Americans were viewed as being superficial yet also sharing too much information. And I think that's a really strong cultural difference between certainly Germany and Americans. And I can see how that could play out in a coaching relationship as well.
If you have someone who comes from a culture where it takes time to build connections, it takes time to warm up, we don't necessarily share a lot of information right off the bat. Then you, as the coach, need to understand that's part of their cultural experience. And you'll need to take that into account as you are building this relationship with your client. So that's just one example. And there are countless other examples we could talk about cultural differences, whether it's race, ethnicity, religion, location. All sorts of factors can be present when we're looking at how someone's cultural experience informs how they build relationships with others.
And then of course, I think it's also important that we consider how power dynamics play a role as well and how you may be viewed as being a coach in a position of authority. And certain cultures do place more emphasis on hierarchy and authority than others. And so if someone perceives a coach as having too much power or too much control in the coaching relationship, that can definitely impact the ability to create trust as well. So we need to consider communication values and beliefs and power dynamics when we're looking at how cultural differences may impact our ability to quickly create trust in relationships. And as coaches, it's our obligation to educate ourselves about our clients cultural background and about their communication style. We want to ensure that we're able to be flexible and to adapt our coaching approach to meet the needs and preferences of our client. We want to be respectful, we want to be open minded. And it's a bit of a balancing act because we want to respect the culture of the client sitting in front of us, while also understanding that they are an individual with a unique constellation of strengths and gifts and talents, some of which may be affected by their culture. And at the same time, they're not a spokesperson for their culture and we shouldn't expect them to teach us everything we need to know about their culture.
It's interesting. I remember when I was a young social work student, this was back in 2001, and one of my teachers said, “Let your client be your cultural guide.” And I thought that was a really interesting statement. It's one that has stayed with me now for 22 years and I think that there is some merit to that. I think we do want to let our client be the guide in terms of how important their culture is to them, how they express their culture, the extent to which it influences their decisions and their actions. So in that case, they are the guide to themselves. But I do think it's also an unfair expectation to hold of a client that they need to guide us through every aspect of their culture. I think that's an unfair ask. And we as coaches need to be willing to do our own research and to do our own homework and of course, to ask clarifying questions as appropriate, but to make sure that those questions are really about the client and their experience, so that we are approaching this with a level of sensitivity. So we do want to encourage our clients to share their cultural perspectives and their experiences. If they are comfortable doing so, we want to make sure that they know they always have the option to decline. And so to that end, we want to make sure that we're always working collaboratively with our clients to establish clear expectations around the coaching relationship. And that is one way we can foster and maintain that sense of trust throughout the lifecycle of the coaching relationship.
Oh my friends, we have done such a deep dive into the importance of trust in coaching relationships, and yet I feel like we've only scratched the surface. This is absolutely a topic we go into in far greater detail inside the Certified Clarity Coach training program. So as you know, as an avid listener of the podcast, I am thrilled that the Certified Clarity Coach Program has been re-accredited by the International Coaching Federation as a level one training program.
So that means when you graduate from the Certified Clarity Coach Program, you have all of the training and mentoring you need to apply for that first level of credentialing with ICF, the Associate Certified Coach. Inside the program, you will learn how to create trust centered relationships with your clients. I will walk you through my methodology for supporting your coaching clients and helping them make consistent gains, and we'll even explore how you can go about building and growing a successful coaching business so that you can continue to do the work you love and serve the clients who most need you. I love the Certified Clarity Coach Training Program because it really is a lovely blend of coaching skills and practice and a little bit of business support as well. It's all waiting for you inside. Our cohort kicks off on May 31st, and applications are still being accepted even though slots are starting to fill. So if you would like to be a part of the next cohort of the Certified Clarity Coach Program, head on over to coachwithclarity.com/certification to get all of the details and to apply now. We get started May 31st, so please don't wait. Fill out that application atcoachwithclarity.com/certification, and I cannot wait to welcome you as the next Certified Clarity Coach.
All right, my friend, that is it for me this week. But don't worry, I'll be right back in your feed next week with another episode of the Coach With Clarity podcast. We'll be continuing our conversation around The Art of Coaching. You are not going to want to miss it, so I will see you then. And until next week, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough, reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.