There are numerous techniques, frameworks and psychological underpinnings that coach may be using during the coaching process. However, regardless of all these differences coaching activity by its nature is tailored to interpersonal, collaborative interaction, in another word relationship. The coaching relationship aims to facilitate the enhancement of personal achievements and work performance of the coachee. Recently, relationship science became a well-known subject, this lead to growing awareness of the fundamental role of the coaching relationship and increasing findings of the importance of the interpersonal factor in coaching practice. Findings suggest that there is a particular link between the coaching relationship and the outcome of the coaching. This essay will be looking at the importance of the coaching relationship for the effectiveness of the coaching process, and discuss how a coach can improve the quality of this relationship.
According to the Cavanagh and Grant (2006), coaching relationship is a “complex adaptive system”. It is a reasonable definition as a coaching relationship is generally broad term, that incorporates various motivations, includes different activities based on distinct approaches. It appears that not all relationship will promote a change. Hence, coaching relationships differ from other forms of interpersonal communications regarding the purpose, as coach adopt various strategies to foster the positive impact of this relationship to make it productive, and the commitment of the coachee. Thus, coaching relationship quality is a critical factor in the coaching process and linked to the coaching outcome. McGovern et al. (2001), investigated this assumption and found support for the role of the relationship. In the experiment, there were 100 participants, who completed their coaching between 1996 and 2000. In some occasions, supervisors of the participants or human resource representatives have also participated. All participants have been interviewed during a 25-45 minutes phone call and asked about the effectiveness of the coaching process and particular factor that contributed to their goal achievement. The results revealed that 84% of participants identified the quality of the coaching relationship is a critical factor for coaching success. Therefore, this experiment demonstrated that the quality of the coaching relationship linked to the effectiveness of the coaching process.
Nevertheless, the quality of coaching relationship may predict both effective and ineffective coaching outcome. For example, in a recent American Management Association study done by Thomson et al. (2008), reported that 65% of terminated coaching assignments were due to an ineffective coaching relationship. Therefore, the results showed that clients are more likely to quit coaching if they perceive their relationship with the coach ineffective. These findings have important implications for coaching context and may push coaches to focus more on interpersonal aspect of the coaching to affect overall effectiveness.
Coaching research always draw a comparison between coaching and psychotherapy relationships. Working alliance is found to be an essential component in the psychotherapy relationship and predictive factor for the successful outcome of the therapy (Horvath and Symonds, 1991; Martin et al., 2000; Horvath & Bedi, 2002). Therefore, based on these findings the concept of the working alliance was adopted as a framework across several other domains, including coaching psychology. For example, Bordin (1979, 1994) proposed a new pan-theoretical alliance concept, that differs from the previous concept of the alliance. The new pan-theoretical reconceptualization of the alliance is based on collaboration between client and coach, whereas the previous formulation was primarily based on the therapist’s contribution. Therefore, according to the Bordin’s view working alliance was centrally an achievement of the collaborative work between client and coach that was developed by three essential processes: agreement on goals; agreement on tasks; and the bond between client and the coach with respect and trust. O’Broin and Palmer (2007) extended the Bordin’s (1979,1994) working alliance concept and defined it as “the quality of the coachee’s and coach’s engagement in collaborative, purposive work within the coaching relationship, and is jointly negotiated, and renegotiated throughout the coaching process over time”. Therefore, coaching alliance is expressed through an interactive and dynamic relationship between client and coachee and provides a framework for assessing the degree of collaborative, purposive work of the coach and coachee.
The coaching alliance framework has received a lot of empirical evidence support. For example, Gessnitzer and Kauffeld (2015) supported Bordin working alliance concept and found, that agreement about goal and task of working alliance positively correlated with coaching outcome. Following this, coaching alliance linked to the outcome of the coaching process likewise in psychotherapy domain. De Haan et al. (2013) also investigated coaching using 165 coach-coachee pairs in their research. In the experiment, they have examined so-called active ingredients of coaching that linked to the positive outcome, such as working alliance, personality match between client and coach, client’s self-efficacy and personality. The results demonstrated, that there is a positive link between coach alliance and coaching effectiveness, according to the client’s ratings. However, interestingly, there were no significant correlations between the client’s and the coach’s perception of the working alliance. These findings were consistent with Baron, Morin & Morin (2011), who also found no correlation between client's and coach's ratings of the coaching alliance. Indicating that client and coach have their distinct private views regarding the relationship based on their individual experiences. Altogether, all significant results in these experiments have been from client’s ratings, and therefore reliability of these findings may be questionable. The results may be distorted due to common method bias, as it based on self-reports and single-source. Therefore, more optimistic clients with successful results of the coaching may have registered more positive answers on all questions. Therefore, this bias may affect the results of the experiment. This criticism equally holds for other experiments that use client or coach rating solely as a measure of outcome and predictor variable. Further experiments need to investigate the relationship between coaching alliance and coaching outcome based on both clients and coach ratings, and more reliable measurement that self-reports to ensure the reliability of the results.
As mentioned before, numerous experiments investigated a direct link between coaching relationship or alliance and the effectiveness of coaching. However, whether coaching alliance also have a mediating role in the coaching outcomes, for example influencing other factors that may affect the outcome of the coaching process. As mentioned before, there are some active ingredients in coaching that may influence effectiveness, such as self-efficacy. The experiment that was done by De Haan et al. (2013) revealed that the perception of working alliance is essential for effectiveness perception by the client. However, the results of this experiment also showed that client-coach relationship perception is a key active ingredient in overall coaching effectiveness and a determining factor of the effect of the other active ingredients. For example, if the relationship is not efficient, none of the other factors can change it. Whereas, if the relationship factor is strong, then it will facilitate the effect of other factors. Therefore, the results of the experiment revealed that the coaching relationship mediates the impact of the self-efficacy on coaching outcome. Moreover, coaching alliance partially mediates the relationship between a perceived range of coaching techniques and the outcome of the coaching. These findings are consistent with Baron and Morin (2009), who studied 30 client-coach pairs and found that coaching alliance mediates the association between the number of sessions received and changes in client self-efficacy. Therefore, these findings demonstrate that the development and progress of the coachee depend on the amount of undertaken coaching practices and the coach’s ability to facilitate learning.
From the other side, Boyce et al. (2010) assumed that it is not coaching relationship itself, but rather its underlying components linked with competent coaching outcomes. They have found that underlying relationship components such as trust, rapport and commitment linked with leadership coaching outcomes and positive behavioural change. They argue that trust allows sharing of sensitive personal information and results in client and coach are more likely to collaborate more efficiently to facilitate the desired changes in behaviour. There is widespread support for the assumption that the trust is a fundamental component in the quality of coaching relationship and establishing and maintaining trust is “critical for the success of a particular intervention” (Lowman, 2005, p.94). Additionally, Luebbe et al. (2005) supported the importance of trust in coaching outcomes. In the experiment investigating the outcome of executive coaching with coaches, clients and human resource representatives, they found that trust was an essential coaching attribute based on the ratings of all three groups. Therefore, these findings demonstrated the primacy of interpersonal factor in the coaching and showed that in order to coaching relationship being efficient for the coaching outcomes coach should put effort and build a trustful bond in the relationship.
Generally, the research findings have important implications for the coaching context as they provide an understanding of the significance of the client-coach relationship on the coaching effectiveness. Additionally, providing an understanding of the factors that influence the relationship between coach and client, such as trust. These findings allow the development of various strategies by coach to increase the quality of the relationship and hence coaching outcomes. For example, based on the Bordin (1979, 1994) and Gessnitzer and Kauffeld (2015), it is evident that goal, task and bond aspects of the coaching alliance affect the outcome. Therefore, this provides a framework for the coach that describes what they should be focused on when designing techniques for effective coaching. However, this is not the only findings that describe how to develop an effective coaching relationship.
For example, McKenna and Davis (2009) overlook psychotherapy researchers and found principles that can be used to foster the coaching alliance. Despite the mutual agreements on goals, tasks and bonds, they have identified that client’s involvement and engagement are also fundamental factors for coaching alliance. Hardy et al. (2007) also highlighted the importance of the engagement in the three-stage model of relationship building: establish, develop and maintain the alliance. Hardy et al., identified main processes that involved in establishing objectives for each of three stages. For example, it is clear that the beginning of the coaching is the most critical stage that predicts coaching relationship and outcome. Therefore, engagement objectives for the first stage are expectations, intentions, motivation and hope. In other words, it is essential for the coach to develop positive expectations in coachee about the coaching process. Likewise, it is vital to develop motivation and intention to change in the client. Active listening skills are essential for a coach to create coachee engagement. Egan et al. (2002) proposed SOLER non-verbal communication channel to create an empathetic presence of coachee and hence strengthen client’s engagement. According to the SOLER, there are five components of active listening such as eye contact, relaxed and open posture, leaning forward and face client squarely not to create face to face pressure. Hence, this non-verbal communication framework may be adopted by coach to improve the quality of the coaching relationship and hence the outcome of the coaching. The SOLER channel will make clients feel that they are being listened to and hence will facilitate openness between coach and coachee and further enhance a meaningful relationship.
To conclude the theme of interpersonal aspect in coaching it is vital to mention the experiment that was done by de Haan et al. (2011). They further investigated the importance of coaching relationship and found that clients value the quality of the coaching relationship with the coach more than specific strategies and interventions of the same coach. However, this study did not measure the actual outcome of the coaching process and was based only on a client’s perception of the coaching relationship. Nevertheless, these findings demonstrated that the quality of the coaching relationship perceived by the client as the primary predictor of helpfulness and the success of the coaching. The results also revealed that clients perceived listening, understanding and encouragement as the most valuable qualities in coach. This assumption strengthens the importance of the SOLER channel in developing active listening skills by the coach. Therefore, these findings highlight the overall importance of the interpersonal factor as perceived by the client and highly relevant to the professional development of the coaches concerning training and education. The evidence demonstrates that coaches could begin less stress about the intervention, however, focus more on the quality of their relationship with a client and building trustful and respectful bond. It seems to be essential to educate coaches about what client perceive as truly helpful, and this will help to establish a helpful relationship and working alliance. Therefore, based on all pieces of evidence, for the building of the coaching relationship, it is essential to take into consideration how the self of the coach is used.
Finally, it is essential to mention the limitations of the coaching researches. As portrayed above, some experiment’s findings are based solely on client’s ratings (de Haan et al., 2013; Baron, Morin & Morin, 2011) and the majority of the experiments based on self-report techniques that are unreliable and subjective to various biases, such as social desirability. Additionally, experiments demonstrated only correlational relationship, and therefore causality cannot be established. For example, de Haan et al. (2013) found a positive link between coaching alliance and coaching outcomes, and it may be that coaching outcome may predict a strong relationship between client and coach; likewise, a good relationship may predict good coaching outcome. Moreover, in this experiment coaching relationship was measured only once at random sessions, indicating that the stage of relationship development was different for all participants. The most significant limitation of coaching researches is lack of a control group. Majority of the coaching experiment based only on experimental condition of participants who undergo coaching practices. However, control condition is essential to draw a meaningful comparison and minimise variables effect. Therefore, further experiments need to take into consideration all limitations and examine the importance of coaching relationship using more reliable experimental design with a control group, and more reliable multiple measurements, such as observation.
To conclude, this essay has discussed the interpersonal aspect of the coaching relationship and its impact on general coaching effectiveness, using coaching psychology literature for a better understanding of the coaching process and coaching alliance. Based on all pieces of evidence, the quality working coaching relationship (“coaching alliance”) found to be important in predicting the outcome of the coaching process, as rated by the client. The coaching alliance was found to be crucial not only for successful outcomes but also mediate the effect of the client’ self-efficacy and coaching outcome. However, it is necessary to understand that not all coaching relationship will have a positive effect on the coaching outcome. Rapport, trust, bonds and collaboration on tasks and goals appear to be essential for a productive relationship in coaching. Therefore, it is vital for the coach to establish a meaningful relationship to affect the outcome and these findings provide and these findings are significant in that they demonstrated specific skills and actions coaches need to develop to strength the working alliance with a client. Therefore, these results are highly relevant for the training and professional development of the coaches. There is more research needed on coaching outcome to identify an underlying mechanism, aspects and moderators in the process that guide coaching relationship for a better understanding of its effect on the coaching outcome.
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