To say ‘this is a confidential space for our coaching’ is akin to saying ‘trust me’. You need to do more than that…
How many times have you heard a coach say “I just want you to know this is a confidential space”? You may even say this yourselves at the beginning of a session. And fair enough too – we DO want our clients to feel safe, and to know that they can share their deepest fears and desires without them ever being repeated anywhere else. The thing is though, just SAYING it is not enough. The words themselves do not create the “safe space”, you do!
How Are Ethics Created?
You, the coach, create this security through everything you do and say with your client. This includes, but is not limited to:
- The way you structure your coaching business
- How you manage your emails
- What you include in your contract
- How you manage conflict of interest
- How you collect and store client data
- How you evaluate and collect feedback
Robyn: One of the motivators for this call was a great blog post that Merci wrote actually following up from the trainers meeting. We have faculty from all around the world here at ICA and we meet regularly to talk about trends in coaching and make sure that everyone is updated with ICF changes. We look at our curriculum and just generally keep the quality of the teaching up. One of the issues that came up recently was ethics and Merci then went on to write a blog post. It was so interesting and particularly the first bit resonated with me when Merci said ‘ethics is more than just telling the client this is a safe space’. I don’t know whether it is just me, and I have seen many, many coaching demonstrations, but I have noticed a lot that when students first start to coach they will say, even on a call with a million other students, they will say ‘this is a confidential space’ and it is not actually, there are twelve other people on the call. But what really resonated with me is that I think people think well that’s that, I have dealt with ethics because it is all about confidentiality and the safety of the space. So Merci do you want to just talk about why that was something that came up for you in the call.
Merci: Sure, well it is a couple of things that happened together. For those of you who have been here maybe more than two weeks you know Lorna Poole, one of our trainers from Canada and her and I were on the training meeting together and it was the first time I heard someone say you know telling somebody it is a safe and confidential space is the same as saying trust me. I thought this was rather amusing because when you look at the ICF competencies around ethics that cannot be demonstrated simply by saying it. In fact the ICA markers for that competency number 1 have behaviours that can only be demonstrated over time. However, the other one that can be viewed in the session, and if I were assessing the session I would choose not to mark it if this happened – if the coach moves away from the basic fundamentals of a coaching session – for example moves into advice, suggestion, telling their own story, therapy – if the coach moves in those directions you are not upholding the ethical standards of what professional coaching is and you would not meet that assessment. We don’t think of it all the time like that so ethics really is adhering to the coaching practice, as you have promised in being certified as a coach.
The other thing that we talked about was that part of the ethical expectation that we all adhere to if we want to have that ICF credential and certification from ICA is, for example, conflicts of interest. So we don’t say at the beginning of the session ‘there will be no conflicts of interest’ because you don’t know what could happen. So, we don’t say a lot of things in the beginning of the session. I am of the mind that it is great to remind the person that they are free to speak as much as they are comfortable speaking and Robyn – I have to say this – I will say it briefly but I have to say this – when we decide to be coached in a mentor session or as part of a lab as the coachee I am not really expecting to get a full on coaching session. I am there to support the learning of the coach, the learning of myself and the learning of everybody who is observing. So, with that in mind, be careful about what you bring to a session. If you are okay with the motions bring it on, if you are okay with someone stopping you 15 minutes into it okay. I always say to people ‘hey, you are in a community of coaches if we leave you hanging go find a coach’. You can’t throw a rock without hitting one here so I encourage people to take it forward. Anyway, that was all I had to say. It takes in a whole lot more than confidentiality and safe space.
Robyn: Okay, so let’s look at what some of those things are. So apart from that you talked about if you steer away from coaching. I am just interested in why that breaks the ethical guidelines according to the ICF. I understand it breaks the ‘we are not coaching now we are consulting or we are giving advice’ but it didn’t seem like an ethical issue to me. What do you think?
Merci: Well I have done a little research on this and I came to understand at least from my point of view, that if you are coaching and consulting or a hybrid of anything in coaching – coaching, training, teaching, consulting, the basic ethical context of coaching is in place – confidentiality, conflicts of interest and that other thing. However, if you are saying you are going to coach it is ethically incumbent upon you to coach, and that means not doing any of those other things. If, for example, you are not going to stick exclusively with coaching or you are going to do a hybrid of things you need to tell that person exactly what to expect or ethically you are vulnerable to veering from what you promised. And isn’t ethics about holding up to what you promised you said you would do. It is not just the right thing to do. What it is, is you made yourself responsible for something and the ethical thing is to adhere to and be accountable for that. So, If I say I am coaching and that is what I present as my offering and I start doing therapy that is unethical.
Robyn: True. I think Anthony just made the point in the chat ‘what about if you ask permission’ and I have seen that work quite well so you are coaching and it might be that you have some key expertise in the area of the person you are coaching then I think if you ask permission, not straight away – give the client space to come to a few discoveries themselves – but then to say ‘would you be interested in my experience about this.’ What do you think about that?
Merci: If I were going to submit a recording to the ICF, no. Because it has to be competency 7 which is direct communication: ‘coach shares observations, intuitions, thoughts and comments with no other reason than to move the client forward and with no attachment to them being right. Then you are in a safe space. So like Anthony said you had a thought, and I am not going to say suggestion because that caused a big broo ha ha in our training because not all of us are native english speakers so the word suggestion has nuances in different cultures. So I stay away from that now. However, let’s say someone is talking about a career but they don’t know what kind of career it is, they don’t know what’s out there… Anthony knows what is out there so he says ‘well it occurs to me that there is a place you could go to look for that, to see all the various careers, would you be interested in that’? That’s okay. Then if the person says no I don’t want it, and there’s no push it is not the coach’s agenda.
Robyn: I think there are two different things at play here with this particular issue and one is developing your competence as a coach and an ICF certified coach and going for that if you are doing a recording, well not even if you are doing a recording, just to develop your coaching, I think it is a very good discipline.
Merci: Well that’s what we teach you right, ICF teaches PCC level coaching. So I affirm what you are saying. What you do when you walk out of here is as unique as the individual you are, just be ethical about it.
Robyn: I think the thing is sometimes there is the other thing which is running a business and if you are running say an executive coaching business and your client doesn’t really care – and I don’t think they do really care – you can call yourself a ham sandwich – they don’t care if you are a coach or a consultant or a trainer, they have a problem, they need a solution to that problem or they need help with that problem. I think in that context there is more freedom to come in with other modes but as Anthony says to just flag that that is what you are doing. That would be my line on it. What do you think Merci?
Merci: As long as it doesn’t become about the coach. Like ‘can I share my experience and then you go on to it’s now the Merci Miglino show’, that’s not coaching. Also I do want to affirm that in any business, you know ICA is a training school. We meet your expectations for coaching at the PCC level and in the eyes of the ICF. We ethically, and I know this company because I have been here for 17 years or so, we always want to do the right thing by our clients, students, enrolments, so that is ethics in a nutshell. If you do what you say you are going to do and make sure your client, customer, whatever you want to call it knows what to expect. If I buy a car, I certainly want that. If I just purchased somebody’s services to weed my rock garden, if you said yes I am going to do it and I am going to do it in 2 hours and it will cost you this much, barring any unforeseen circumstances ,then I am expecting that that is what is going to happen. If you suddenly don’t show up then it is a whole other matter.
Robyn: I think it is because in the coaching relationship it does require a degree of vulnerability on the part of the client so that is not to be taken lightly. For the client to be vulnerable they don’t need to be protecting themselves from whatever. I think in the trial sessions that some other coaches do this is another issue. You are doing a trial session because you want someone to experience your coaching but you also want to sell them into your program or whatever it is you have got. It is very important to separate out the selling into your program from the coaching that you give and I think it is because of that vulnerability that the client is coming to the call with.
Robyn: Right let’s look at some of the questions here in the chat. I am going to pick this one out because we also got emailed quite a few different variations of this one, it comes up a lot. The whole complex situation about coaching in corporate environments. Who are you responsible to, the client or the company? So the company pays your bills but on the other hand your have a client for whom you must be confidential and provide a good coaching service. This is a little bit like those TV crime shows where the police can’t get anything out of the psychiatrist’s filing cabinet. But there can be pressure sometimes from the company. What are your thoughts on that Merci?
Merci: Okay, I will try not to go on a rant here. First and foremost in the most successful corporate coaching engagements there is a lot of clarity up front. So this is contracting. What are the company’s expectations? How will they know that those expectations are being met? What is the outcome? How they will know it is there? You need to know why the company is investing in coaching for this person. Then that person has to understand what the company’s expectations are. Once those two things are clear – and part of that is also being very specific about what you will and will not share. I work with a Japanese coaching firm and one of the things they have are these surveys at the sixth session mark and at the twelfth session mark. The person I am coaching gets feedback from their stakeholders. Then they want the coach’s view and they want my feedback. I am not going to disclose any details from that session. I am going to stick with the agreement – what is the progress, what is getting in the way – and my coachee understands I will do that. Often I am asked to show it to them first to see if they concur with my thoughts or if they are okay to share it. There has to be a very clear understanding of what the expectations are for the coachee.
Robyn: And I think being clear with the client like you said about the types of feedback you will be sharing and making sure that they are comfortable with that is actually critical. If the client doesn’t trust you and thinks that you are just a mole for the company the coaching is never going to work.
Merci: Yes. One of our trainers back in the day, Bill Turpin, said the thing to remember is you can’t coach someone into a job or out of a job in a corporate environment. That’s not your job. So if someone comes to you from the company, and I have had this happen, where the CEO says to me ‘I want to know that I have done everything possible for this person before I fire them’. We need to get beyond that. What is it that would be convincing you not to fire this guy? What observable behaviours would you notice and can we get agreement by this individual in our coaching plan – a coaching plan is a great thing to have because it spells everything out, it is transparent and both parties are aware what the plan for the coaching is. It is difficult but I turned down a coaching gig once because they wanted me to coach this person to stay with the company and I can’t do that.
Robyn: I think that is also a good thing to flag with any business owner or company owner at the beginning of coaching that is a potential outcome even if they might not realise it and that doesn’t mean that is a failure of an outcome, that’s a success because you really as a company only want the staff that are aligned with your values and because what coaching does is connect people with their actions and behaviours with the life they are living and the life they want to be living, so if that happens and it might be the person’s first time getting coached and all of a sudden they realise ‘actually I don’t even want to be here’ that could be a potential outcome.
I think the ICF in the last twelve months to two years put a great emphasis on the coaching agreement in and around the coaching session so pretty much what you are saying is that with clear coaching agreements both with the company and with the client it should be successful.
Merci: Yes. That has been my experience so I think I said something like this in the last call. Let’s say you are coaching somebody and they are not meeting the goals the have set for themselves and I know that because we had an agreement. So I ask what’s seems to be getting in the way what is holding you back here? And they say, well I am going through a divorce. Questions often come up about whether this is life coaching or corporate coaching. If it is getting in the way and it relates to the agreed upon goal for the contract or the session it makes sense to talk about it. However, I would not disclose that to the company. If I thought it would be helpful to the person I might ask them, what if you were to share this with your manager, would that be helpful or whatever. I am certainly not going to disclose that but if it relates to the agreement for the coaching then it has to be explored. You can’t just skip over that and kind of go okay, let’s talk about those goals again. The person is distracted emotionally upset, disharmonious, we need to find a way through that for now.
Robyn: Letitia has asked a question about coaching to clients in the same team or a situation where one of the clients might be the boss of the other. Would you stay away from coaching both the boss and the staff member?
Merci: Generally speaking I think it can be done but it does put an extra stress and strain on the coaching agreement and trust.
Merci: I have coached a sales team individually, I didn’t find that difficult. I coached them individually but then we came together as a group after so many sessions and I thought that was super powerful. Another model is you coach the team director or manager, the person in charge – you coach them to coach their team. So, it is not strictly coaching because you are imparting some coaching skills training so it is a coach/training model but I like that and they are coaching their direct reports. Sometimes it works if they are coaching cross departmental wise; a merger happens in a company or something where they have to increase communication between the two entities so there are lots of ways to play with it and going back to that blended model.
Robyn: I think for me one of the most challenging parts of being a coach is withholding judgment. If you have got a boss and their staff member and you are coaching both of them and they start talking about each other, it is very difficult to unknow what you know. It just puts an extra strain on you to be an amazing coach and come to that session just for that client.
Merci: My role model here – I don’t know if anyone knows this in the States – it’s called ‘Billions’ – don’t ask me what got me sucked in, I have exhausted all my British mysteries and I was searching for something else that was mindless.. anyway there is a character in there and she is a therapist/coach and she is full-time there making kazillions of dollars and her approach is very coach like but with a little bit more edge, more in the Tony Robbins realm. However, I admire that she seems to be able, even though this is fiction, to keep things very separate and I would say that seems to me really extraordinary. I am not sure in real life it will turn out like that.
Robyn: That’s great. Let’s put that in the chat – hot tip from Merci Miglino, go and watch ‘Billions’.
Merci: Yes it is fascinating. I would like to know who is writing her dialogue.
Robyn: Well it sounds better than some of the early representations of life coaching in some of those shows.
Merci: At least she is a therapist/coach so she has permission to do a few things which a coach wouldn’t do.
Robyn: Okay let’s segue over to the GDPR because somebody asked us about that. That stands for General Data Protection Regulation and if you have heard of it just nod, just give me the thumbs up if you have heard of GDPR. Yep. It has changed things for coaches a little bit and the ICF have also adapted their policies. I will just quickly go over what it is. So there are four main elements. One is transparency. You must be transparent with anyone you come in contact with, not just clients – I know we were talking before about the coaching agreement but even someone who expresses interest in your website and fills in a form. People need to know where the data is and how you collect it and how you store it. You need to be lawful about your collection of data usage and most people are. But what this really means is once you have someone’s data you can only use it fo the purpose it was collected for. So an example of that would be if you got a client through a referral for example and you added that client to your database and you finished the 3 month coaching program with them. Then 3 months later you decide to start a new coaching program and you decide to email everybody, you actually can’t email that person unless you have asked their permission to be on your mailing list. Which leads into permission which is the third part. Permission is probably the most obvious and most easiest to deal with in terms of collecting data because it is pretty easy just to include a little check box on all your forms and just asking people ‘are you interested in receiving extra information from me or updates or specials’. And finally people need the right to leave and so it has to be really easy. So, not just leave as in don’t contact me anymore but leave as in I don’t want to be contacted by you anymore. So get rid of all the data from the database. So that is generally speaking the four elements of the GDPR. If you are running an ethical business you should be already doing all of those things and that won’t be an issue. But one of the the things the ICF have done is that they have changed the way you submit your peer coaching details. This is directly from the GDPR so in the past you had to submit all the names and I think email addresses and contact details of all the clients that you coached and they are no longer requiring that you do that, instead you just submit an Intent and you can find that out by just going to the ICF website and googling it. So, just to recap that, you have got to make sure that all the people that you work with are across this, any virtual assistants and anyone you work with, delete any data that you don’t need, make sure users can subscribe and unsubscribe really easily. Not those programmes where you have to subscribe then you fill in your email address to subscribe and go to another page, that is not okay – just a one click unsubscribe. Most email databases will have that now and also just update the way you collect your own data for clients for peer coaching. So I am just wondering if there any other questions on that.
Merci: Beatrice has a good question here.
Robyn: Reading: “I work with consultants, they change projects and teams all the time so it would be almost impossible to work with a client that is not related to one of my clients. How can I deal with this.
Robyn: So my question would be how is that showing up as a problem for you? Is is the issue of finding it difficult to keep boundaries yourself as a coach.
Beatrice: Well maybe it happens – I am kind of like Wendy, I am a psychologist and a coach too so with so many years of practice I know how to work with ethics and be very respectful about that. But for example right now I have one coachee that is having problems because the manager didn’t give her good feedback and so I have both of them in coaching. So in this consulting firm all the time they are changing managers and teams so they are all connected somehow so if I want to keep working there and I want just to work with the clients that are not related to the other ones it would be impossible. Of course I want to be transparent, maybe with the company about it or maybe deal with it in a certain way that I can prevent future problems. What do I do when they somehow get to know that I am working with for example right now this coachee who had negative feedback – she knows that I am coaching her manager and I have asked her if she has any problem with this. Do you think this will affect our sessions? I think that was about being transparent because of course I know that I have to build my trust and that is very important as a value for me as a coach and as a therapist so the problem is of course that I know that the best scenario will be not to work with clients who are related to each other but in this specific consultant company that is most important client right now, it would be almost impossible not to do so. I will have to work with different clients or something like that.
Robyn: Merci, would you like to address that
Merci: I don’t think there is a clear answer. I think Robyn’s first question to you is what, if any, challenges is that presenting to you. If it is not presenting a challenge to you or to the company you work with then I don’t see that there is a problem. We can’t apply a ‘we shouldn’t be doing this’, that seems arbitrary but if you think this is working for you and you don’t feel like it is putting a burden on you or the people you are coaching, I don’t know if I would use any other measure.
Beatrice: Sometimes I have been thinking about telling my clients that it will be possible I will be coaching another person who is related to them and to tell me if they have any problem with that.
Merci: That’s a good idea.
Beatrice: I have a regional coaching agreement that they sign when we start sessions so I think that will prevent that happening. I can also say to clients please let me know because maybe I don’t want to work with you because I think being truthful is very important to trust. May be that would be a good solution what do you think.
Merci: Yes I think it is one way to tell the client what to expect and if it happens what will the protocol be for it.
Robyn: The other thing I would say here is that clients will follow your cue so how you are about it is how they will think and feel about it. So just as a bizarre example – I am talking part in a celtic wedding at the moment if you can believe it – anyway I had to go to a rehearsal last night which went on for hours but one of the things the celebrant did at the beginning is she started the welcome and said ‘welcome everyone to the ceremony’, and ‘there is quite a lot to get through with a celtic ceremony’ – and then she started talking about photos so she said ‘we don’t want any photos to be taken we have got an official photographer and no social media’ and it was like 5 minutes of really full on stuff about sharing and posting photos and to me it just felt very heavy and it felt like a burden. It felt like something that could have been dealt with in a really clear one sentence statement right at the beginning and I think maybe with the ethics thing, just be careful not to go down that path because we are talking about all this stuff with the GDPR and part of the problem with ethics and conflict of interest is that you have to go to that place of the worst case scenario, that’s where you have to go in order to develop your policies. So as long as you are very clear on it I think you can be confident with your clients that you have got it under control and you just need to be very clear with them about what is okay and what is not okay. But I would just be keeping the tone light but serious.
Merci: I think there has to be some firmness now, I wasn’t there for the Celtic rigmorol but I suspect what is behind that is that people have ignored these rules. So be firm but also owning that you have the authority and the right to say what is okay and own that. Authority isn’t loud, it isn’t forceful, it isn’t pushy, it is a kind of confidence. So I think Robyn’s point is that if you feel really comfortable with it then there shouldn’t be any problem even if you feel like you need to be firm.
Robyn: Yeah I think what happened with that was it was more about their anxieties about sharing on social media than the rules so I think the same applies here. If you are feeling any anxiety about relationships where you are coaching or conflict of interest and you are not sure that is what coach supervision is for, it is perfect for that. You get a coach and you work through it so that you are not bringing any baggage to the agreement or to the calls. You sort that out and then you have policies. That’s sort of what you did then Beatrice, that type of thing. These are good questions and that is a good thing to be concerned about and really good to get clear about so that when you come to your client they follow your cue, they can feel from you that you have got this, you have got it under control and they don’t need to worry about it themselves.
Okay, so we are just getting to the end of the hour. Let’s just have a look at one more thing – oh Julia is saying coach supervision comes to mind. Yes that’s a good way to revisit ethics. Is there any cultural background differences in applying ethics for coaching like eastern versus western?
I thought about this this morning. I don’t think there is anything extra in cultural differences that doesn’t already exist in your coaching. So being aware of other cultures when you are coaching. But I would be interested in hearing anybody on this call, because we have quite a few people from various cultures here – is there anything that you have heard today that you might think would be different in one culture versus another culture, I would be interested to know that.
L: Hi Robyn, this is Lennie here from India. In India sometimes some personal information and not necessarily about divorces like Merci mentioned, but let’s say about marriage, is not considered something terribly private. Of course we don’t talk about it but typically but those are things that clients do share and they don’t necessarily feel it is private information. So if it does impact the coaching goal do you think it is still necessary to be that formal about it?
Robyn: What do you mean if it impacts the coaching role, give us an example?
L: So a client might be preoccupied in his personal life and therefore is probably not being able to be on time for his meetings and he is challenged on his time management a bit and is it something that needs to be formally shared because generally people do announce that they are getting married, well in India at least it’s not such a private concern.
Robyn: In this example has the client shared with you that he is getting married or you just know this from other information?
L: This is when they share it with us.
Robyn: I’ll go first and then hand over to you Merci. The typical rules of coaching apply. You can ask the client is there anything going on in your life right now that might be impacting your work or anything you feel you want to talk about. If they don’t say their wedding and you can clearly see that is their wedding I would probably try a few more times and then I might say something like ‘can I share an observation with you, it seems to me the wedding is getting in the way’. Merci, what about you?
Merci: Yes I can’t add anything to that, I think that is accurate, absolutely.
Robyn: It’s a good question.
Robyn: Alright, well thank you so much, what a great call and it has been wonderful to have you all here. I think the takeaway for me from this call is that ethics isn’t in a sentence or a statement or it is not even just in the session itself, the ethics is everything you do in your business. From the minute you have your first touchpoint with the client until way after they leave – years after they leave. We have people on our database from years ago and we still treat each person very respectfully and we would never share anything. Testimonials ia a good one, we haven’t talked about that much today but social media does make it possible for people to share all sorts of information but if you are ethical you don’t do that. Gillian (on chat) is saying ethics is about character and integrity and I agree.
Merci: I agree.
Robyn: Thank you very much everybody for coming . Thank you.