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

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

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

Ron Young

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