Truth in Coaching: It’s Not a “Nice to Have”

It's a requirement in coachingOne of the most pleasurable and engaging career activities for me is the opportunities I have to share coffee with other career and executive coaches.  These are chances to share stories, bounce ideas off others, explore new possibilities to collaborate, and simply speak a similar language with like-minded, thoughtful and constructively challenging professionals.

A recent coffee chat included a discussion about “truth-telling” in coaching.  Interestingly, this has been a frequent topic about which I’ve been reading lately.

The crux of the dialogue focused on when being truthful with clients is good and when it may be less than productive.  Even after this conversation, I’m finding myself a bit challenged by the concept.  So, here’s my thoughts….which I hope others challenge, reinforce, or at least contemplate.

Whether involved in a coaching relationship or any other type of consulting gig, I’m of the opinion that there is rarely (if ever) a time at which the coach/consultant should shy away from delivering a truthful message.

My reasoning is this…

First of all, one of the key components of early dialogue (during the contracting phase of consulting) with clients is establishing clear expectations.  From the client’s perspective, that means expressing what they need from the coaching-client relationship, i.e., deliverables, expectations, boundaries, etc.  From my perspective, I need to communicate both that I understand the client’s expectations, but also that I hold my own expectations for the interactions.  Namely, mine nearly always include:

  • Honesty
  • Hard work
  • Clear lines of communication
  • Honesty
  • Mutual Respect
  • Honesty (Sensing a theme here?)

In my early years, as a fledgling coach and organizational development coach, I observed some excellent seasoned coaches/consultants, tiptoe around providing the kind of “tough love” message that I believe makes engagements truly beneficial.

The cornerstone to any positive relationship (coach-client, leader-follower, or just simply person-person) is trust and honesty.  Not unconditional positivity.  Not the truth only when it serves to boost the other’s self-esteem.  Not white lies to protect the ego.  No, it’s in pure honest, open, and transparent feedback (in both directions, mind you).

I often tell people when speaking about coaching, and even mental health counseling, if you find yourself in a relationship where no constructive criticism is coming your way, it’s time to find a new coach (or therapist).  Trust and honest feedback, even if it stings a little at first, is necessary for coaching to be effective.  If all you need is affirmation, I’d recommend investing in a mirror, not a coach.

3 thoughts on “Truth in Coaching: It’s Not a “Nice to Have”

  1. While it can be difficult to receive or give “the truth,” I agree that it does need to occur. Many years ago, I was the recipient of truthful feedback, and had I not received it, I couldn’t have made adjustments and grown as a person and as a leader.

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