What does partnership mean in coaching?

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What does partnership mean in coaching?

The ICF defines coaching as…. “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. 

But what does it mean and how do we know that there is partnership when we are coaching?

I like to describe partnership in coaching with the metaphor of a dance – imagine Tango – where the coach is fully responsive to the movement of the client and allows the client to choose what happens next. The client leads, the coach follows and what you see is a seamless sequence of turns and falls… a beautiful dance where the client has the power.  

Partnership is about creating together the conversation in a way that is useful to help the client learn and move forward, not the coach. How do we know that this is happening?

Partnering is also about believing that each client has a unique perspective into their own world and into themselves. Our role is to help them clarify to themselves what they think / need / want,  access what they don’t think they know, and learn something they don’t know yet by making their own meaning. We believe they can solve their own problem and they will use this new insights to bring change into their lives after our session.

How do we know we are partnering with our client?

We are starting in partnership if we are asking questions like:

  • How shall we do this work together today?
  • What is important to explore about this topic?
  • What do we need to discuss to move forward on this?

We are partnering during the conversation if we are checking in with them:

  • How are you progressing towards achieving your goal for today?
  • Now that you have learned…, what do we need to explore to get the clarity you are looking for?

We are partnering during the conversation if we are allowing them to make their own meaning:

  • If you look at all these pieces together, what do you see?
  • How are these things related in your view?
  • What have you not thought about this yet?

We are partnering during action planning if we are asking questions like:

  • What is still in your thoughts?
  • How will you move this forward after this session?
  • What is your plan?
  • What support to you need?
  • What is getting in the way?
  • How will you keep yourself motivated?

We are partnering to close the conversation if we are asking questions like:

  • What have you learned during our time together?
  • Where did we not get to?
  • What is missing for you to feel complete on this topic?
  • Is it ok to move towards closing this session?
  • What else might you want or need to say before we finish up?

What are some signals that we are not partnering?

  • We make meaning instead of asking them what they mean
  • We stay focused on the problem or, even worse, on our thinking about the problem
  • We don’t share observations about what is happening to the person OR we do not accept that when our inputs are wrong
  • We do not acknowledge their greatness
  • We complete their sentences instead of leaving a sentence incomplete for them to add meaning
  • We lead instead of following: we choose the path where we think it is most useful to go instead of asking them, we interrupt.

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