How To Build Trust As A Coach And Identify Clients’ Underlying Behavioral Issues

Dr. Ron Young, the Co-Founder/Chief Science Officer and lead psychologist of PAIRIN, specializes in professional coaching and development.

Creating trust and identifying multifaceted underlying behavioral issues are two of the most important skills in executive coaching and management consulting. Each enhances the other.

In his book The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, Stephen Covey suggests that removing trust from any relationship will destroy it, but when trust is developed and leveraged, it has the powerful potential to create success in every aspect of life. The International Coach Federation identifies the ability to create trust and intimacy in coaching relationships as a required minimum skill. In my opinion, trust is key to maximizing clients’ ability to explore themselves and achieve their potential.

Think about trust exercises where a person closes their eyes and falls backward toward another person — they trust that they will be caught before falling to the ground. This is analogous to a client trusting that their coach will respect the content they share and the goals they express. In my experience, exploring potential underlying causes of behaviors requires the courage to risk being vulnerable, which requires trusting that exploring unknown parts of themselves will be respected and valued.

But how do we, as coaches, build such trust with clients?

Building Trust: The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth

Covey states that building trust requires both character and competence. Character includes integrity, intentions and motives. He describes four essential components of building credibility: living out your values, making your intentions for the relationship clear, communicating your capabilities and getting results. He notes that when you trust somebody, you have confidence in their ability and integrity.

One thing I’ve learned in my 30-plus years as a practitioner is that trust in the coaching process is greater when clients know that I’ll be honest with them and not waste their time with platitudes and unfounded affirmations. When your clients believe that you’ll tell them the truth, trust can develop, and positive outcomes can happen more quickly due to the catalyzing impact of the “speed of trust.” Asking questions like “How do you know?” “Might there be other explanations for what happened?” or “How’s that working for you?” can make it clear that you’re not afraid to ask hard questions. This demonstrates that your goal is honesty versus being liked. Living out your stated values shows your clients that you say what you mean and mean what you say. This integration of intention and action shows integrity.

Identifying Behavioral Issues

There are times when my clients trust me, but for a variety of reasons, they don’t disclose an underlying issue that is crucial to successful coaching outcomes. This may be driven by conscious or unconscious issues. For the most positive outcomes, aim to help your client to be self-aware and to self-disclose. But how can you facilitate self-awareness and disclosure when you’re unaware of underlying issues that your clients have?

Remember the television series House starring Hugh Laurie? Dr. House played a medical genius with uncanny diagnostic abilities. He specialized in identifying the etiology of his patients’ illnesses when other diagnosticians failed. Often, as a first step, Dr. House ordered a variety of lab tests and other diagnostic procedures as he searched for the underlying causes of his patients’ symptoms. When he discovered the underlying causes, he designed effective treatment plans that addressed the previously undiscovered issue, which often led to successful treatment.

In my experience, the coaching equivalent of medical tests is behavioral assessments. They help identify underlying issues that may be interfering with clients’ desired outcomes. By helping your clients identify and understand underlying issues, you can increase their perception of your credibility and trustworthiness. During our first session, I ask clients to take a behavioral assessment and discuss their results before identifying coaching goals. I prefer behavioral assessments that can measure growth over time and provide objective data about the client’s progress.

Much research has been conducted on the importance of identifying underlying causes in order to really have a deep impact on someone. In an article published in Harvard Business Review, the authors describe the importance of identifying the origins of chronic unproductive behaviors that impede progress toward desired goals. They describe the often hidden and multifaceted nature of primary causes and state that lasting impact is unlikely if the causes are not addressed. According to a meta-analysis of perfectionistic mindsets, attempting to change external behavior without addressing underlying causes is unlikely to result in a permanent solution.

When selecting a behavioral assessment instrument, make sure that there is published academic research proving its reliability and validity. I prefer assessments that recognize the importance of the interaction of specific contexts with the individuals’ characteristic style of thinking and feeling. I customize assessment instructions to add context. For example: “When completing this assessment, think about yourself at work.” Finally, select an assessment that can measure behavioral changes in your clients so that growth through the coaching process can be measured and subsequent coaching goals can be identified.

Becoming increasingly competent at building trust with your clients creates a safe environment within which they can achieve greater levels of success at greater speed, and using behavioral assessments can provide insight into key issues that have the potential to slow or derail them. Assessments can identify the presence and intensity of underlying causes at the beginning of coaching and document the growth at the conclusion of coaching engagements. Armed with information and insights generated by behavioral assessments, professionals can demonstrate credibility and expertise, which can increase perceptions of trustworthiness. So I challenge you to boldly create trust and use assessments so you can become the Dr. House of coaches.

1. Combine Gifts, Passions And Innovation

Know who you are today by doing a fresh analysis of your gifts and passions. Use the results of your analysis as your lens for identifying unmet needs in the business world. Think outside the box by breaking away from conventional wisdom. Combining your gifts and passions with innovative ideas is foundational to a successful business that meets your and your consumers’ needs. – Ron Young, Trove, Inc.

2. Gain Clarity And Choose Metrics For Success

I’ve had numerous pro-service clients do this, and most of them have considered it. The most important thing is to have clarity about why you want to start a business. The second thing is to very carefully choose the metrics that will indicate to yourself that you are succeeding. Your “why” and your metrics will keep you grounded when the going gets tough—and it will. – Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

3. Leverage Your Experience And Do A SWOT Analysis

Know your strengths, be clear on your personal motivation and leverage your current experience and insights that you have developed over the years in your industry. Think about the pains and gains your clients have experienced and gaps that have not been filled. I also recommend doing a SWOT analysis to gain clarity and alignment and to determine the value proposition. – Breshana Miller, Kairos Coaching & Consulting, LLC

4. Brainstorm With Close Friends

You can’t hesitate or keep your new business too close to your chest. You need to brainstorm with your closest friends, your professional network and those whom you trust. Bounce your ideas off of others and see if they resonate. What do they think your new business is worth? Who do they think the customers would be? Do they know someone who would buy? Have that conversation 100 times and get to work. – Jacob Warwick, ThinkWarwick

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

5. Match The Commercial Proposition With The Value You Offer

It is important to match the commercial proposition with the value that you are offering. Before leaving, start researching the potential market to ensure there is a real need. When you are clear on the commercial viability, you can reverse-engineer the process to ensure the proposition fits with your personal drive and passion. – Claudine Reid, PJ’s Community Service

6. Have A Strong Support System In Place

Being an entrepreneur and working for a corporation require different mindsets. To sustain the personal drive and passion, it helps to have a strong support system in place—people who are just as passionate and driven as you and believe in the success of the new business, such as friends, a mastermind group or an experienced coach who can ensure there is a balance between work and personal well-being. – Masha Malka, The One Minute Coach

7. Don’t Follow Your Passion—Bring It To An Opportunity

Don’t follow your passion. I’d rather you bring your passion and drive to an opportunity. The first step is finding a way to improve lives in exchange for profit, then apply your natural passion and drive to improve as many of those lives as possible as efficiently as possible. Because when you do that really well, vision, momentum, growth and, eventually, profit are the results. – David Robertson, Growthpoint Coaching Co.

8. Leverage What Makes You Irreplaceable

You need to clarify the market need for what you do via research, interviews and more. In regard to fulfilling your own needs, a reflective, holistic approach is required to uncover your own personal wants, needs and values to be successful. And above all else, you must uncover something that makes you irreplaceable in the market that you serve. Get all those right and then go for it! – Linda Martin, Linda Martin Results

9. Connect With Your Four Selves

First connect with your four selves—intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical—and be crystal clear about your purpose and commitment to it. Launching a new venture requires all your energy and commitment. Sometimes, it’s rough. Second, get deep input and feedback from those around you—both your trusted network and your more fearless critics. The wider the scope, the richer the insights. – Luis Costa, Luis Costa – coach · facilitator · speaker

10. Enroll Clients To Help Craft Your Company Vision

Get connected to your purpose, build a business plan around your core values and enroll the customers you want to serve to help craft the company vision. In doing this, you will likely find that your needs and the needs of your future customers are very aligned. Trust that a successful launch will follow and that you will have a tribe of allies ready to offer guidance and support when needed. – Emily Rogers, Emily Rogers Consulting + Coaching

11. Outline The Customer Journey And Your Sales Funnel

First, outline the customer journey to define the scope of their need. Second, outline your marketing and sales funnel. If you are not excited to do that, hire someone who is or don’t launch. If the idea of selling and marketing for hours every week does not excite you, pursue a hobby instead. Third, if you don’t have the drive or passion to build a business, get a dog. The dog will love you back every day. – Kelly Tyler Byrnes, Voyage Consulting Group

12. Experiment With A Minimum Viable Product

Take small steps. Too many people get sucked into the entrepreneurial dream without realizing how tough it can be. I would suggest experimenting with the product—take a minimum viable product (MVP) to the market and get feedback. Leaning on your personal drive, experiment with your own business identity. Too many people overestimate their passion and drive and underestimate the challenge. – Devika Das, CORE Executive Presence

13. Take An Inside-Out Approach

Start with your mission and vision. I believe, as a coach, taking an inside-out approach where executives can start exploring their passion as well as what they would see as success for this new endeavor is key. Then, we can explore the marketplace and how this would be sustained as a successful business by developing a strategic business plan. Allow your personal drive to set the tone for success. – Bryan Powell, Executive Coaching Space

14. Build A Business Around Your Retirement Dreams

Start by thinking about your retirement. If you grew your business and sold it for a killing, what would you then be doing in life? At that point, when you wouldn’t have to think about money and profits, what would you be doing with your time? That’s what you should build your business around. It’s bound to be an area where a strong customer or market need is coupled with your own passion and drive. – Vinesh Sukumaran, Vinesh Sukumaran Consulting

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