Trust: A Coaching Essential

Coaching is a relational process. The fundamental principle of effective coaching is to collaborate with someone – or a team – to help them ‘see’ their present in order for them to better shape their future. As a coach you must establish a relationship of trust and intimacy with those you’re coaching. A coachee needs to develop trust in the coach’s competency and intentions and the coach must trust that the coachee has the capacity to find their own answers. Without mutual trust, collaboration and progress won’t be made.

However, in our pursuit to ‘overcome the obstacle,’ ‘fix the problem’ or just ‘get things done,’ we can rush head on into taking action. This hurried desire may tackle the immediate challenge, but doesn’t allow for a thorough exploration of the coachee’s current reality and the deeper significance around the coaching topic. If you are to achieve effective coaching, you first must start by injecting a sizeable shot of trust into the relationship. This is true of any new relationship you are trying to establish; first you must succeed at building trust.

Trust is the foundation of all human connections. It governs all the interactions we have with each other. If trust is absent from a relationship you won’t have the confidence to share your true self; your feelings, thoughts, memories, insecurities and fears. To be open and honest with someone requires us to be vulnerable and that can be a terrifying thought. We have deep-rooted programming ingrained into us that is there to seek out safety. It serves to keep us safe both physically and mentally. Being vulnerable requires us to step out onto a ledge and take a giant leap of faith. We have to believe that everything will be fine. The only way we can open ourselves up to that level of vulnerability is by the presence of trust. Trust – that despite our initial fears – we will be safe still. In coaching, your coachee will never take that leap of faith and be truly open with you – and to the process – unless they trust you.

Trust is not a one-time thing. You can’t establish trust and then expect it to always be there. Trust is breakable. If you betray the expectations you have set with another person – or team – or behave in a way that undermines your initial intentions, then the trust will shatter. Remember, our minds are programmed to keep us safe – to search out danger and guide us away from it. If we have opened ourselves up and believe our vulnerability has been betrayed, we will retreat – quickly! When the trust is gone, the relationship will crumble. Once trust has begun to establish in a relationship, we must continue to honor the expectations by continuing to be reliable, responsible and dependable. Trust is essential to building a relationship, but it is equally as essential to the survival of a relationship.

To establish trust in your relationships, consider the following:

  • Demonstrate your own openness. Sometimes you need to take the first step. Every coachee enters into a coaching relationship with resistance. The degree of resistance varies of course, but it is always there to some extent. You should make the first move and be prepared to share your strengths, weaknesses, hopes and fears. This doesn’t mean dominating the conversation with personal information, or constantly talking about yourself, but instead display a willingness to reveal what is relevant, and be positive in your approach to your own shortcomings.
  • Keep to your word and follow through with your actions. When trust is established, people believe you when you say that you will do something. In any relationship it’s important that you deliver on your promises. Build the perception you are dependable. Trust comes from personal accountability – you must deliver on your commitments.
  • Stay focused on communication. It’s common to hear couples who have separated say that the real reason for them drifting apart was a breakdown in communication. Be clear on what you have and haven’t committed to. Be fair and direct in your communication. Focus on delivering your thoughts, feelings and information with clarity. Effective communication is like fueling a fire with wood – you have to keep adding more wood to the smoldering flames to keep it alive. Bad communication will destroy a relationship.
  • Listen, listen & listen some more. You must listen more than you talk. Give the coachee the chance to be heard. Listen not only to their words, but for insights into their assumptions and intentions. Listening shouldn’t be difficult, but it is a skill we need to practice. Ensure you are free from distractions and give yourself time to be with the coachee. Make them your focus. Be fully in the moment with them. Listening will help you understand the other person and when people feel understood, the trust grows.
  • Always be honest. There is no greater truth than ‘honesty is the best policy.” Every one of us has been in a situation where it felt appropriate to tell a small lie in order to protect someone else’s feelings from being hurt; “It’s just a little white lie, what’s the harm?” The problem is all lies eventually surface and when the other person finds out you lied, regardless of your intention, they will assume you are prepared to lie again and lie about everything. Committing to being honest can feel uncomfortable and lonely at times, but it goes hand in hand with building trust.
  • Be a servant. One of the most effective approaches you can take when establishing trust in a relationship is to be in service to the other person. Offer to help. Be kind. Support them. Be there for them. Put your agenda and needs aside. Give the other person your full attention and focus solely on their desires and needs. Make it about them and only them!
  • Admit your mistakes. We are all human. We all make mistakes. Making mistakes is a universal trait that we all have in common. When you try to hide your mistakes you hide your humanity. The thing with mistakes is that when they happen, most people know they’ve happened and have a pretty good idea as to why. Attempting to hide the mistake often only serves to magnify it. Accept and acknowledge your mistakes. Be open about them. Share what you have learned. Demonstrating your own vulnerability encourages others to become more vulnerable with you.

It’s important to remember that trust is learned through the environment in which we operate within. The behaviors you display and the actions you honor outwardly to others will be mirrored back to you overtime. A relationship requires input and work by more than one person. As a coach, you have a responsibility to build trust by demonstrating the required values needed for trust to form.

There is a saying that we should all be mindful of when coaching; “Relationships are the container everything else fits into.” If there is no relationship, there is no container for the coachee to place their thoughts, feelings and insights into. As a coach, you must be focused on building a strong container with the coachee so they feel comfortable and willing to fill it with whatever they discover during their coaching journey. Trust is the foundation of any relationship and therefore crucial to the construction of the container.

“It takes two to do the trust tango–the one who risks (the trustor) and the one who is trustworthy (the trustee); each must play their role.” – Charles H. Green

Trust: A Coaching Essential