Not for the first time this came up recently in supervision where I was the responsible supervisor. Would you go to dinner with a client? I wouldn’t generally but I admit I have (with a supervisee) and maybe this does help me to maintain perspective. As the cliché advises, there can be an exception to any rule one might set oneself.

As a supervisor, I aim to maintain the coaching philosophy that the coachee knows best the actions for themselves. The supervisee did write down to review ICF ethics but more importantly many aspects of the relationship were explored. I have just reviewed the ICF ethics myself. The current wording talks about ‘sexual or romantic’ involvement, which is more specific than I remember. Level of intimacy becomes a possible measure but leaves plenty of scope for discussion of ‘friendly’.

What does friendly mean to you in a coaching relationship?

What does friendly mean to you in a coaching relationship? Of course, there is some level of caring for the coachee, to maintain trust, the exchange of truths and commitment to the coachee’s agenda. If you and I were friendly only for a social, sporting or work activity but for no particular purpose outside that, how do we describe that level of ‘friendly’ versus the sort where there may be more co-dependence.

A nice thing about rules is that they provide a black and white perspective: clear and definite guidance. Real situations have that grey quality where we need to get clearer on that we’re talking about. As Whitworth, Kimsey-House and Sandahl (1998) say, as do many others (eg WBECS webinar with Jonathan Reitz in  Jan 2023) , the coach decides whether they will coach someone and highlight any perceived issues while coaching.

Discussion of boundaries is a skill and if we don’t practice this, we may never feel comfortable to do so. We know that the coaching relationship affects the coaching, so let us consider it vitally important to practice contracting activity just as much as the coaching. In my experience many supervisory conversations relate back to what contracting has (or has not) taken place because more discussion about the coaching relationship could be useful. Supervision provides a rich learning situation for the contracting world of grey.

How well do you decide on your own about whether you will coach a prospective client?

How well do you decide on your own about whether you will coach a prospective client? If you’ve coached them for a lengthy period and have become friendly, would you coach them again? If you’re reluctant to bring issues to supervision for any reason, I encourage you to consider it is part of being the professional you are.  Airing perspectives helps us to look more closely at specifics and gain clarity on what we really think/feel. If you feel some discomfort, it’s probably worth addressing.

Co-dependency challenges relate to the subconscious affects on both coach and coachee. Self-management skills in the coach will help to notice when we feel we are protecting ourselves. Whitworth, KImsey-House and Sandahl(1998) talk generally about ‘forbidden territory’ and noticing when one is not able to go places where the coachee needs to be challenged: ‘chances are these are [coach’s] blind spots or habits of defence’ (p101). Collusion with a friend might be especially tempting; perhaps anticipating what the coachee is capable of or not asking challenging questions for fear of upset.

The coach’s awareness-building skills can help the coachee recognise when they are resisting the coaching process for whatever reason: perhaps they seek advice or are not ready to change or expect sympathy or other support. Could this risk the coaching or friendship in any way? Absence of the ‘friend’ in the coaching relationship may feel discomforting to the coachee. What we share about ourselves as supervisor/coach is a fascinating topic for me and I wonder what you think about it. However, the focus of this blog is how we broach ‘friendliness’ in the contracting process, thus air potential risks. E.g. when a coachee emerges from coaching might the friendship have changed too?

What are your thoughts on how to measure and talk about ‘friendliness’?

Reference: Whitworth, L, Kimsey-House, H. & Sandahl, P. (1998). Co-active coaching: New skills for Coaching People Towards Succcess in Work and Life . Davies-Black Publishing, Palo Alto.

Shirley Thompson straddles coach supervision, project management and Agile interests aiming to support those who use coaching skills in a variety of circumstances.

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