Shall we dance? A lesson in building trust

Every month I meet with a small group of coaches for our own development. This month’s topic was building trust. We each take a turn to be coached and to coach. This week I volunteered to be the coach. At the end of the session, they ask me and the coaches to provide a piece of positive feedback and something to stretch us. 

Like many others, I find hearing positive feedback slightly embarrassing whilst simultaneously heartwarming. But I’ve learnt over the last few years that feeling uncomfortable is a good thing! It shows an awareness and it’s the beginning of growth. 

Building Trust

One of the key elements of coaching is trust. So important that it is one of the core competencies of being a professional coach. The competencies are set by the professional bodies, in my case, the International Coaching Federation and it’s important to me that I meet them. 

3. Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client—Ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust.

Part of building trust involves the coach showing genuine concern for the client and demonstrating personal integrity, honesty and sincerity. Part of my role is to establish clear agreements, especially with respect to how the client learns and their wellbeing. 

For me, this is supporting my clients in a non-judgemental way, treating them with kindness and holding them in unconditional positive regard. This doesn’t mean I won’t challenge them to try new things, to take action or to commit to new behaviours (even when the client is scared of failing). The client has to open themselves up to being vulnerable and they have to trust me with that – which is an honour. I have to trust them to find the answers (which I know they have).

Creating energy and holding space

The feedback I got was that observing the session was like watching a Viennese waltz. Slow and gentle energy as we danced. Circling back occasionally to check-in. The coaches told me that I’d created and held space for the client. We’d worked together, at their pace. 

That final bit is really important because, if we stick with the dancing analogy, some coaching sessions have more energy, like a jive. Others are structured, like a tango. Others may be full of pauses. 

The client is the choreographer – choosing the pace, the steps, type of dance and music. In one sense I create the right environment for them to tap into their creativity. Occasionally I will step in and check it’s going where the client wants it to, with permission from them. Both the coach and the client have to be open to the ‘not-knowing’ and trusting the process. They have to trust themselves to find the answers and to take the next step. 

Getting comfortable with getting uncomfortable

One of the biggest parts of transition is getting uncomfortable. My clients talk about feeling anxious, grumpy, fearful and overwhelmed. These are all normal feelings. 

Remember that the first step is always the hardest. All you have to do is show up for yourself or for someone else. The other thing to remember is why you’re making the change because as soon as you start, the fear is going to kick in! You will want to stop but keep moving forward (and find someone to hold you accountable!)

Much of what I write and share is about noticing and challenging limiting beliefs, taking action, building resilience. They all require us to trust ourselves, get vulnerable, uncomfortable. There are times we have to ask for help or trust others with our secrets, our feelings, our insecurities. It is in these spaces that we learn about ourselves and build relationships.

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