This is the third in a series of articles published during International Coaching Week, says Hilary Jeanes of PurpleLine Consulting.
Establishing the contract in coaching
Wikipedia states “A contract is an agreement entered into voluntarily by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally.”
"I wish to be cremated. One tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract.“ ~ Groucho Marx
"I have a simple life. I mean, you just give me a drum roll, they announce my name, and I come out and sing. In my job I have a contract that says I'm a singer. So I sing." ~ Tony Bennett
“When we promise to love we really mean that we promise to honour a contract.” ~Anthony Burgess
In business, contracts underpin commercial arrangements. They set out what each party is responsible for and protect the parties in case things go wrong. Then the contract can be put to one side and the work begins.
In my experience, once you start referring back to the contract the trust between the parties is lost and the relationship is going awry. In most of our relationships the ‘rules’ we have are implicit. We each have our expectations, built on our experience and values, which may or may not be met. This will shape our future interactions.
Yesterday I overheard someone talking about how his friend – a really good friend – is always late and how it drives him mad. Yet from the sound of it, he whinged and moaned about it to anyone but the friend - not a good basis for a mutually rewarding relationship!
In coaching, contracting is an essential part of the process as it invites both parties to stay active and responsive, and therefore must be agreed explicitly. It is a concept that comes from transactional analysis.
As well as those practical and important things like frequency of meeting, length of session, fees and so on which fit into a formal contract, it covers the ‘ground rules’ for the working relationship like confidentiality, openness, what will help or hinder the relationship and feedback to the coach. This helps build trust and the relationship. And contracting is a critical part of every coaching conversation because it shapes the agenda and gives criteria to assess at the end whether the goal(s) have been met. Without this structure the conversation will lack focus.
When I was managing a team in corporate life, when someone new joined the team I initiated a conversation about expectations. Through discussion we were able to form a set of agreements which shaped the working relationship. I found this helped to build trust from the outset and cut out some of the trial and error that happens when you start working with someone new.
How could you use the principles of contracting to build effective relationships?
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