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A good recipe…

this is an archived blog post from Green Alder Coaching

As the crispness of autumn creeps in, I feel a need to rest, recuperate and recharge my batteries. Life has been quite chaotic for some time now with no signs of letting up soon. A journey…During a recent walk, amongst the crunchy leaves, I pondered on an article I have to read (see reference below) as part of my MSc. I thought I might share a few gems from it.

The ingredients proposed make for a delightful coaching/therapy recipe with careful awareness of delicate flavors within each sweet and savory mouthful – part of a new career cookbook….Jamie Oliver eat your heart out!

The article is about the four (inter) active ingredients found to be the most important within a coaching and therapeutic relationship. The robust evidence base has been taken from the psychotherapy literature, but many of its findings can also be applied to coaching and other helping relationships.

In effect, the relationship is based on the efforts to facilitate psychological and behavioural change through a collaborative relationship between a trained professional and the motivated client. Try saying that after half a bottle of vino!

Below is a pie chart summary of the main ingredients and the percentage influence they have on the relationship:

Ingredient 1 – Client Factors 40%

Individual differences between people matter, and are one of the biggest predictors of success with a client. The client brings all sorts of unique personal, environmental, and social characteristics into the mix. In research, the client factors which consistently predict outcomes are based on the severity and chronicity of the problem, complexity of symptoms, motivation, acceptance of personal responsibility for change, and coping styles. We humans are an eclectic bunch…

Some of these factors are beyond the professional's ability to alter. Yet, we can have an impact on their readiness to change and their confidence – helping the client identify their specific strengths and resources to action a transformation. It is our job to uncover the variables between people and activate positive factors that can be useful to bring about change. Like peeling an onion.

So, it is primarily the client who makes things happen by making meaning of what we do or say; and then using their own capacity to generate their own shifts. Magical. We as coaches/therapists simply set the stage and activate the power of the client to make a difference – it is not all about us …I know it is particularly seductive to think a positive result is mainly due to the professional techniques and experience – massage your ego if you want, but the research does not stack up.

Ingredient 2 – Relationship Factors 30%

Research demonstrates that there is something about coaching and therapy that allows a client to go beyond what they can accomplish on their own. Phew – thank goodness for that 🙂

But, just being ‘good with people’ is not enough. The strength of the bond depends heavily on the coach/therapist's ability to express warmth, acceptance, and understanding – BUT, only to the client's satisfaction that they feel heard, understood, and respected. No ‘one size fits all’!

An extraordinarily good coach/therapist has the ability to tailor the warmth to suit the individual. This is important as one client may perceive the coach/therapist as empathic and interested, while another may judge it as invasive and deep. This all has to be done in an authentic and respectful way – quite a skill, or perhaps a craft to develop. Wonderful…

So, ‘Beware Emotional Territory Proceed With Caution‘ …;)

For the relationship to be effective, the client must be actively engaged in the process such as – investing time in it, doing the work needed even in the face of difficulties, and also taking personal responsibility to transfer learning into action. Ideal circumstances are a dynamic therapeutic alliance consisting of mutual goal and task agreement, with a positive bond.

It is the responsibility of the coach/therapist to monitor and adapt to the alliance over time. This can be done by ensuring the client is informed to expect regular checking-in conversations about the relationship itself. Keeping it honest and strong. It would be wrong to assume that a positive relationship at the start does not break down in the future – as it may go unnoticed and only become obvious at the termination of the contract, or account for continual resistance from a client to make changes agreed.

Therefore, we need to focus on goals and topics that are important to the client and in a way that makes sense to the client. Self-awareness is key here, so that we may question our own motives and whether we are steering the client to our own agenda. It is all about the client. We are fully present to their needs and wants.

Interestingly it is the client's perception of the alliance that has the strongest predictive power of outcome in research. The client's view is pivotal. Power to the client!

Ingredient 3 – Hope 15%

Most significant improvements in outcome are made within 3-4 weeks of a therapeutic encounter, and much is discussed about the effect of a Placebo (a person's belief in treatment brings about improvement)… Placebo has had bad press in the past, but it has an amazingly powerful effect when harnessed. I was often grateful for its influence on the patient: physiotherapist relationship.

Placebo is a truly marvelous thing…it activates hope and enhances a person's expectation of improvement. The more credible a coach/therapist is, the more hope is activated. The more capable a coach appears in the relationship, and the more stories we tell, the more we activate hope. Not HOPELESS,  but HOPEMORE. We have the power to activate hope in the client, and we need to feel hopeful for the client too.

Ingredient 4 – Tools & techniques 15%

At last the techniques and tools we use get a mention, but not as we know it. There have been numerous turf wars over the years as to which technique /model/approach/ tool has more effectiveness than another (this applies to many helping professionals). There is a plethora of evidence to support many of them in various measures. But, what of it? Who’s telling the truth or has the best evidence? The influence of research and meta-analysis has enabled cross-comparisons among an abundance of papers.

And, it is concluded, that the power of psychotherapy and coaching to facilitate change comes mainly from the similarities between various tools, schools, and techniques; not from the differences between them. It's all good.

It's also about the coach/therapist believing in the ideology, so it is delivered with competence and confidence. It can be a mixture of techniques that are carefully selected to best fit the client, and not the rigid application of dogma in an automated fashion.

So, what an interesting article and it gives me a huge confidence boost that my relationship skills are more important than the tools in my toolbag – which is reassuring for a consciously incompetent learner of coaching. CLUNKY is the new black for me at the moment.

McKenna, D. D.& Davis, S.L. (2009) Hidden in Plain Sight: The Active Ingredients of Executive Coaching. Industrial and Organisational Psychology, 2, 244-260.


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