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Coaches…Can You Define Trust?

two women sitting at table talking

This guest blog post is by Michael Reed, Principal at Bloch & Reed LLC

If you ask 100 coaches to define the word trust, you will likely find almost as many answers. Certainly, common themes would emerge as they described what trust means to them, or how they build trust with their coaching clients, or the importance of trustworthiness. Trust researchers have struggled for decades trying to define a concept that changes depending on context. Trust is a vital element of the relationship between people, a core component of a well-functioning team, the cornerstone of an organizational brand promise, and even a belief that society can have about its institutions.

At the heart of many definitions of trust is the ability to demonstrate a shared vulnerability that allows individuals to co-create an experience grounded in mutual respect.

Coaches work in the same space that trust does. Interpersonal trust works to reduce friction, to get people and ideas unstuck, to keep things moving. Team trust fosters open communication, collaboration, goal attainment, and ultimately innovation. Organizational trust is created and sustained through the public’s beliefs about the consistency between a company’s espoused values and the way the organization engages the world. 

Given the importance of trust in our coaching relationships, it might be helpful to reflect on the ways we can leverage trust to improve our coaching practice.

Establish Trust in the Process…Until it’s Personal

  • Are the processes for onboarding a new client consistent with my marketing and brand?
  • Do clients see my contracting process as an opportunity to clarify joint expectations and ensure that they are heard?
  • Do clients perceive our initial interactions to be logical, consistent, and predictable.

At the start of the relationship, things may feel transactional until a bond begins to form. That’s okay, those transactions form the foundation for the future.

Building Trust in the Journey

  • Do I model vulnerability appropriately? Many clients need to have vulnerability demonstrated before they can reciprocate.
  • As the relationship deepens, do I create a safe space for the client to explore derailing behaviors and vulnerabilities, as well as strategies for leveraging strengths.
  • Do my energy and nonverbals communicate my support for the client and their ownership of the journey?

Repairing Trust. Let’s practice authentic apologies!

A trust violation occurs when an outcome does not meet the expectations of the other party. The violation can be an unmet expectation by either the coach or the client, a miscommunication, or even a false narrative we’ve created that does not exist in any reality. Regardless of the cause of the trust violation, everyone needs to know how to apologize and reset the relationship. Researchers have identified several elements of a successful apology.

A statement of regret. “I’m so sorry…”
Explanation of why. “I was thinking of what I needed at the moment and not what may have been important to you.”
Taking responsibility. “This is my fault, and I’ll do better if faced with a similar situation again.”
A promise to not repeat the same violation.
Offer of repair. “Is there anything I can do?”
Authentic request for forgiveness. I hope that you can excuse me. I know that it may take some time, but I’m ready to talk about it when you are.”

Many of these apology steps are smaller promises – that when kept form the basis for a stronger relationship. Of course, all of us can imagine scenarios where these promises were not kept, and another trust violation occurred. Apologies work best when the trust violation was a matter of competence -- not a matter of a lack of integrity.

If we can demonstrate competence, caring and integrity in our coaching relationships, we can deliver transformational experiences for our clients. It all starts with small transactions, co-creating a path to a successful outcome, and being willing to repair trust when things don’t go as planned. If we can model trusting relationships with our clients, they can carry that trust into the world, we’ll all feel a bit more trusting – and a shared definition won’t matter at all!

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