In part 2 of this two-part series, Carol Whitaker, Michelle Lucas and Tammy Turner share tips from their just-published book on how to contract using the Shared Outcomes model.
Part 1 covered spotting the signs of a need to re-contract
The purpose of a contract is to get a shared agreement on outcomes for all parties involved including clearly defined accountability and responsibilities. However, as engagement progresses, you’re bound to run into circumstances where there are misunderstandings or miscommunications.
Coaching and mentoring engagements can fail because of assumptions, bias and lack of clarity that can feel awkward to discuss.
Heightened emotions can spark behaviour that looks to excuse, attribute blame or cause denial or avoidance. In the Shared Outcomes model (Turner, 2014) we call this ‘below the line’ behaviour. How do we stay in relationship and navigate this difficult terrain? By using contracting skills.
The Shared Outcome helps to clarify your mindset, and explore your individual understanding of a presenting situation so that you can mutually agree Shared Outcomes and next steps. Employing ‘above the line’ behaviour helps the relationship thrive. Conversely, below the line fear-based behaviours – Blame, Denial, Excuses and/or Avoidance – jeopardise the relationship.
Once you have achieved an above the line mindset it becomes possible to develop a Shared Understanding for, eg, ‘What do I think I know about the situation and what can I understand about your perspective?’ Having and demonstrating empathy
can allow both people to feel completely heard.
Shared Outcome is the agreement struck by both parties. Accountability can only be held by the person who has ultimate authority for it (the buck stops with them). Multiple people can have responsibilities.
Using the Shared Outcomes model, we outline with a couple of scenarios of how you might develop your Shared Outcome mindset.
Your client cancels at the last minute or reschedules often, leading your mindset to slip into below the line thinking
Making excuses for the client: ‘They’re travelling’; ‘I can use the rescheduled time’; ‘I don’t believe in cancellation policies’
Casting blame: ‘The client isn’t bought in to the coaching’
Staying in denial: ‘If only’; ‘next time’
Avoidance: You say nothing for fear of losing the engagement
Make it work
While preparing for the contracting meeting, ask yourself:
– What are you really scared of?
– What’s your current understanding?
– What’s your preferred outcome?
– What above the line quality will you embody?
During the contracting meeting:
– Adopt your above the line quality (eg, curiosity, compassion, courage, mindfulness)
– Engage the client around their understanding: “I’d like to begin our conversation with how we maintain momentum in our engagement. I notice you’ve had to reschedule a few times. What’s been happening for you?”
– Listen attentively
– Employing courage, share your understanding: “I understand your schedule requires travel. I’m committed to our engagement going well. Can we review what works best for us both?”
– Explore options: “I would like to propose we have an agreement about rescheduling. Can you please share what rhythm would work for you?”
– Select who’s responsible and accountable: “As the coach, I’ll send a reminder three days before. You will contact me no later than 24 hours prior to reschedule or you will be charged for the session.”
Imagine during a session your client steps out to answer a phone call from their boss, returning distracted. Here it’s about re-contracting to understand and agree in the moment, a modified, Shared Outcome.
Making excuses: ‘There must be something important happening’
Casting blame: ‘The client doesn’t respect me or my work. I can’t believe they took the call…how rude!’
Denial: ‘Whatever suits my client is right for me’
Avoidance: ‘I won’t say anything and perhaps ask them about it next time’
Make it work
– Notice your emotions Can you lift your below the line thinking to maintain an above the line mindset?
: If not, end the session gracefully, avoiding self-judgement. Capture your reflections immediately afterwards and take them to supervision.
: If so, begin re-contracting.
Embody your above the line quality.When you’re ready, share your experiences of the client’s behaviour:
– Curiosity: “I’ve notice you’ve become distracted since taking the call. Would you like to talk about it?”
– Compassion: “You seem a bit distracted. How are you feeling?”
– Courage: “Before we continue, could we unpick what has just happened, so we can agree how we want to handle this?”
– Mindfulness: “I’m noticing that when you took that call it threw me a little off-balance. I’m wondering whether it’s truly helpful to continue our session today?”
- Listening attentively, what do you notice about the client’s sharing? How do you respond? What would you like to do?
- Further querying your Shared Understanding, “It sounds like you’re distracted because your boss is calling you into a meeting. Would you like to make this part of today’s session?”
- If the client agrees, before jumping immediately into coaching, do you have a Shared Outcome? Negotiate what will work for you both. “Given we have 25 minutes left today, how would you like to spend the time exploring this?”
- You can further contract, by agreeing responsibilities. “I’ll alert you when we’ve got eight minutes left. Then you can recap your learning and link to your overall goals.”
Through this kind of contracting you’re likely to come to a Shared Outcome of how you can best work together on this occasion and in the future. For example, you could agree to turn off mobiles or if it’s essential a call is taken in a session, both parties have the option of deciding whether they continue or re-convene.
Reaching a Shared Outcome takes patience and relational presence with your client. Giving yourself the opportunity to contract requires:
- Self-awareness: Reflective practice to gauge your emotions and self-talk either in the moment and/or immediately afterwards.
- Preparation: What’s really important to share? Is the timing right to contract?
- Practice: Contracting is not just for sessions; it can be practised in everyday arrangements.
- Staying above the line: Adopt a constructive quality and use your
skills for Shared Understanding.
- Reviewing: If a shared agreement is compromised, start again with Shared Understanding.
This level of contracting takes experience and practice. If you feel ‘clunky’ contracting, bring your observations to supervision. Your supervisor will happily work with you through rehearsal, brainstorming and/or removing any limitations you have, to make contracting a more enriching experience for you and your client.
We’d love to hear your comments on this important topic.
- 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. She is 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
- T Turner, M Lucas and C Whitaker, Peer Supervision in Coaching and Mentoring: A Versatile Guide for Reflective Practice. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2018
- T Turner, ‘Shared Outcome Model’, in The Centre for Coaching Development & Supervision Handbook, 2014