In this two-part series, Carol Whitaker, Michelle Lucas and Tammy Turner share insights around contracting from their just-published book.
Part One: spotting the signs that re-contracting might be needed
As coaches and mentors, we can often find ourselves stumbling across a situation we hadn’t foreseen. No matter how well we agree the way we want to work together (the contract) at the start, the need to re-contract along the way arises.
Doing this well requires contracting skills, which as they’re rarely given full attention in training programmes, we build by trial and error. However, in this two-part article, we aim to support coaches and mentors to develop these skills proactively, outlining pitfalls and behavioural strategies for ourselves which prompt awareness in the client.
Each strategy acts as a reference point for re-contracting, to be covered in Part Two, where we will introduce a model and illustrate how to navigate adjustments to the contract.
Below we’ve used Peter Hawkins’ (Hawkins & Smith, 2006) five areas for an initial contract: Practicalities, boundaries, working alliance, session format and organisational & professional context.
This includes logistical items like frequency, punctuality and venue.
- Your client bringing too much or too little content to the session.
- Ignoring an irritation about how punctuality is managed.
- Agreeing to the use of a location which causes either party inconvenience.
Make it Work
- When agreeing session dates, check how this fits with the rhythm and routine of their work.
- Hold the time boundary firmly, for example, a late start does not permit a late finish.
- Invite the client to experiment with which locations could work best for you both, including alternatives like ‘walking coaching’.
This includes clarifying what coaching (or mentoring) is and what it’s not and noticing when referral to another practitioner might be useful.
- Ignoring a pattern where the client asks you to work on something outside your core expertise.
- Not trusting your sense that another practitioner could serve your client better.
- Make it work
- Signpost the role you feel is being asked of you.
- Pause when you are near a boundary and refocus your dialogue firmly into the coaching space.
- Working alliance
This includes agreeing the scope of the work, how confidentiality will be handled and whether preparation
and/or reflection is part of the work.
- Feeling surprised at the depth or superficial nature of the session.
- Allowing a lack of commitment to the actions agreed.
- Ignoring a hesitation before some information is shared.
Blindly following the client’s goals without considering other stakeholders’ interests or objectives.
Make it Work
- Help your client distinguish between working on ‘symptoms’ and working on ‘root causes’ of their chosen topics.
- Make time at the end of the session to ‘stress test’ actions.
- Attend to the hesitation rather than the content of what followed.
- Work to raise awareness of other stakeholders’ perspectives on the agreement or goal.
- Session format
This includes the duration of the session and how you work together (eg, in person or virtually).
- Assuming that your standard session length will suit all your clients.
- Experiencing substantial delays in the work because of a reliance on ‘in-person’ meetings.
Make it Work
- Check the learning style of your client; this could influence the length of session they would prefer.
- Offer the choice of meeting sooner virtually or later in-person, explaining the trade-offs between them.
- Organisational & professional context
This includes working transparently about the wider systemic factors that might be influencing the working relationship.
- Ignoring a sense that the coaching has not been prompted by your client.
- Missing something in the client’s narrative and assuming it was your lack of attention, rather than their delivery.
- Feeling awkward in their presence after the engagement has begun.
Make it work
- Involve a stakeholder to understand the coaching context.
- Slow down. Encourage the client to map out all the elements and stakeholders in the situation to ensure you both have the same understanding.
- Be brave and raise the possibility of not working with the client.
Creating an environment where you are in the best place possible to tackle these re-contracting issues rests on four inter-related capabilities:
- Heighten your own self-awareness: develop a strong reflective practice which includes noticing what emotional state you were in before, during and after a client session, and develop strategies for resourcing yourself.
- Establish a more objective perspective: stay curious and take a detached stance on the outcome.
- Seek another perspective: engage with peer or professional supervision to help identify possible blind spots or biases.
- Use non-judgemental language and focus on shared understanding: feel confident that you can bring attention to an issue, take your share of responsibility, and hold your client to account.
These elements may take time to manage with confidence. In Part Two, we’ll offer tips on how to reach a mutual shared outcome (Turner, 2014) when navigating adjustments to your contract.
- Carol Whitaker is based in the UK. She specialises in executive & team coaching, supervision & mentoring and is an associate lecturer for Oxford Brookes Business School
- Michelle Lucas is based in the UK and her business focus is coaching and coaching supervision and is the supervision education lead at the Association for Coaching
- Tammy Turner is based in Australia. She develops leaders and other coaching professionals internationally. She is a former director of ICF Australasian Professional Standards and led the ICF’s global task force on coaching supervision
- P Hawkins and N Smith, Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consultancy, Maidenhead, UK:
- T Turner, M Lucas and C Whitaker, Peer Supervision in Coaching and Mentoring, Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2018
- T Turner, Shared outcome model, The Centre for Coaching Development & Supervision Handbook, 2014