Coaching Appointments: Building Relationships

Since coaching is first and foremost a relationship, investing in creating a safe, transparent friendship pays off big in the long run. Here’s an easy way to take your relationship deep right from the start (which is vital if you want to do transformational coaching). For your initial coaching appointments, get together for twice as long as usual. In other words, if you plan to do 45-minute coaching appointments, make the first one a double session 90 minutes long. (If possible, I also like to have the first session face-to-face.) Now, take the first half of that appointment and tell each other your life stories.

A life story can include your salvation story, family background, work history, spouse and children, and whatever else seems significant. I always tell my own story to the client first, for several important reasons:

  • I’m demonstrating how to tell a life story and giving the person an idea what I’d like to hear from them (i.e. the same kinds of things I am sharing about).
  • I’m catalyzing authenticity by taking the risk of opening up first. I make sure and include several difficult experiences or places I made wrong choices in my story, to send the message that it is OK to talk about real life with me.
  • I’m managing time by modeling how much to share and how long it should take.

When we both tell life stories, I’m also sending a message: this will not be a relationship where I am an authority figure; dwelling in unapproachable light, revealing nothing of myself but expecting you to be vulnerable; admitting no faults of my own but telling you how to deal with yours.

The main objective of sharing life stories is to get comfortable with each other. When you feel like you really know the person you are talking to, it becomes much easier to share freely and honestly about what is going on in your own life. You want your clients to feelknownin your first coaching appointments. Then you can value them for who they really are. The more deeply you know them, the more powerful the impact of your acceptance. It’s important to get the details, like the names of the person’s spouse and children, the company they work for, etc. Knowing the details allows you to coach people in the context of their life histories. What they share will often mean much more to you if you understand where they’ve come from.

You might be surprised, but beyond the initial face-to-face coaching appointments, I prefer to do my coaching appointments by phone. I have three good reasons for my preference:

1. It saves travel time. If you have to drive 20 minutes to a restaurant to meet your client, your appointment just got twice as long.

2. You won’t get stood up. There is nothing as frustrating as driving those 20 minutes to meet your client at the restaurant and then having them be a no-show. Save yourself the aggravation by coaching from home.

3. You will maintain boundaries. It is much easier to do hour coaching appointments in an hour when meeting by phone. When you meet in person it can take an extra 15 minutes to just say “Hello” and “Goodbye”.

If you invested the time in the initial face-to-face coaching appointments, and laid a solid foundation for a friendship, you will be able to build that relationship over the course of your coaching relationship whether the building takes place over the phone or in-person.

Tony Stoltzfus is an author, leadership coach, master coach trainer, and Director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on how to build authentic coaching relationships can be found in Tony’s book,Leadership Coaching.