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There are countless good reasons to support working with a coach. Research has shown that 98% of coaching clients said their coach “provided practical, realistic, and immediately usable input” and helped them “identify specific behaviors that would help me achieve my goals.” (Center for Creative Leadership study, 2016)

With the support of a good coach, you will maximize your strengths and further research has shown that 66% of those receiving effective coaching report a positive impact on their performance and job satisfaction. (BlessingWhite Consulting, 2015). Many more great reasons are listed here

These days, there are so many people providing professional coaching and plenty of others offering coach-like services in a variety of areas – life coaching, career coaching, mid-life crisis coaching… you name it, there’s a coach for that! So how do you decide which coach is right for you? 

I’m sure I’m not alone in having heard stories of people investing in coaching only to have their expectations dashed, remain disappointed in the experience, or for the relationship to become unproductive or go off the rails in some way. When that happens, those important goals you thought you were going to move closer to may instead seem further away than ever. This can create a lasting poor impression of coaching or coaches in general and even worse, it can also do material, emotional or psychological harm to those clients who earnestly trusted their coach. 

Naturally, interpersonal relationships can be complex, and sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there. But is there something we can do before we get started with a new coach to avoid the avoidable letdowns? 

You bet there is!  

When we invest in an important purchase, usually we work with qualified professionals and we take some time to ask questions to feel confident in our decision. Why wouldn’t we do that when selecting a coach? It’s how we begin to build trust. Investing in coaching could be the single most important investment you make because it’s an investment in yourself that could lead to transformative change and the achievement of goals that matter deeply to you and that make a true difference in your life. 

Here are seven conversation-starting questions to begin with to help you get to know your potential future coach and decide whether that coach is the right coach for you.

1. Is it Coaching you need?

  • Coaching is different from consulting, advising, facilitating, mentoring, and therapy. Ask your potential coach how they differentiate their practice from those other disciplines. A solid coach should be able to articulate how coaching is different from mentoring, or therapy. Hint: coaching is not a clinical practice and it’s future-oriented, not digging into the past to repair or revisit events or trauma. A professional coach won’t give advice or tell you what they think you should do – that would be an advisor or a consultant’s role. Clarify with your potential coach how they view the distinction. Then ask yourself, what type of support you are really seeking. Maybe you need a combination of two or more of those.

2. What kind of coach training/credentials does your potential coach have? 

  • There are many different kinds of coach training programs and credentials. The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the global gold standard for coaches, also because its members are bound to adhere to its Code of Ethics. If your potential coach isn’t a member of the ICF, for your own peace of mind, you may want to have a conversation with them about their ethical beliefs around coaching and how they handle confidentiality, including record keeping. 
  • One of the many skills professional coach training equips a coach with is knowing how to to keep a client psychologically and emotionally safe. Sometimes the topics can be intense or provoke deep emotions. A professional coach knows how to recognize when the conversations may be moving outside the scope of coaching and will know to recommend a different type of practitioner in such cases. You can be perfectly happy and absolutely in sync with a coach that has not had formal training, but it’s a good idea to spend some time getting aligned on topics like scope of practice and designing your coaching alliance so you’re on the same page.  

3. What is your coaching philosophy? 

  • Your potential coach’s answer to this question will provide great insight into how much thought he has given to the idea of having a coaching philosophy and his breadth of knowledge of various approaches to coaching. It’s a topic to discuss and align on at the outset so you don’t suddenly find yourself at odds on these fundamental basics a few sessions in! 

4. Do you have experience dealing with “XYZ”? 

  • While a coach doesn’t necessarily need to be an expert in your specific field, some basic knowledge or understanding of the environment in which you work (industry sector, organizational culture, etc) would be helpful so that you won’t need to spend your coaching time briefing your coach excessively or filling in knowledge gaps instead of focusing on the issues you’re there to make progress on. 

5. What successes have you had? 

  • A coach cannot reveal specifics (see that confidentiality commitment above) but without divulging personal or specific information, he can certainly give you a general idea of some of the types of areas or issues he has successfully guided clients through. 

6. Have you had experiences that you would consider a failure? 

  • When you ask this of your potential coach, listen to how he embraces, frames (or denies) failure. We all “fail” – it’s part of learning after all! In our coach training, we are taught to accept as gifts of learning those events or moments we fondly refer to as “quality fails”. If you have a coach who is unable to move gracefully through failure herself, she may find it challenging to remain non-judgemental and guide you with compassion and empathy through your quality fails.   

7. What does your gut say? 

  • Gut Wisdom is a thing. In the end, we know we can trust our gut! Do you like your potential coach? Did you enjoy your initial conversation with her? Was she open to your questions or a little defensive? Did the coach leave you feeling greater trust in her after answering your questions? 

These are just a few key questions to get started. What are others you would ask? 

Coaching is one of the most important investments you can make! So it makes good sense to take some time and ask some good questions so you choose carefully who will have the privilege of being your thought-partner and guide as you embark together on your coaching journey toward a stronger and even more fulfilled YOU.