The importance of understanding the impact of values in coaching

There’s more to coaching relationships than sitting in a room exchanging views. That might sound like stating the obvious, but if you think about it, it’s quite profound. What are the factors that make coaching relationships and conversations different to sitting about chatting with a friend?

the word 'values'Let’s face it, when we coach we actually do just sit in rooms (or use some other conducive environment) having conversations with people. Hopefully we talk quite a bit less than them, but the top and bottom of it is we’re merely interacting with someone else. But that’s not the whole story. Coaching conversations should be on a different level to chatting with a friend, even a best friend who knows someone very well.

Coaching is about empowering coachees, facilitating their ability to tap into their own wisdom to find optimal ways of moving forward. The coach therefore has a duty to manage all aspects of the coaching relationship so that the chances of success in that endeavour are maximised. We’ve already looked into why we need to think about ethics in coaching. This time I’ll be focusing on values.

First we’ll take a look at why we need to think about our values in the context of our coaching relationships, before considering the kinds of questions we can ask ourselves as reflective practitioners to increase our insight into potential ‘blind spots’ and areas of potential conflict.

Why think about values in coaching?

Coaches inevitably bring their own entrenched positions, beliefs and values to relationships with coachees. It’s part of the ‘baggage’ we all carry around with us as human beings. Coaches are only human, and having ‘baggage’ is not in itself a problem – unless the positions, beliefs and values associated with it go unrecognised below the radar, whilst affecting how an individual views and deals with other people.

words in a circleCoaches don’t have the luxury of not being consciously aware (to the best of their ability) of the particular positions, beliefs and values that drive their attitudes and behaviours. Our assumptions and attitudes inform our predisposition and our judgements, potentially impacting negatively our relationships with particular coachees unless we take measures to ensure as far as possible this won’t be the case.

What kinds of measures will help reduce the chance of our deeply-rooted assumptions, attitudes and predisposition negatively impacting our coaching relationships, and hence the quality of service we offer our coachees? Here are a couple of things to think about which we can implement as part of our professional development:

  • Gaining an insight into our ‘selves’ in relation to our values     If we’re not sure what really motivates us and the values which underpin our approach to life, we won’t be able to get a handle on the nature of our unconscious biases and assumptions or how they affect our judgements and opinions. To overcome this, we could undertake a ‘values exercise’ using simple Values Ranking Cards (which I’ve discussed briefly elsewhere), in which we reflect on what particular words mean to us at an emotional as well as intellectual level (words such as ‘authenticity’, ‘focus’, ‘drive’, ‘trust’, ‘integrity’, ‘kindness’…). Bringing these deeper meanings into awareness can help us identify more clearly the values and assumptions which govern our lives. It’s also worth considering taking a personality assessment (such as the MBTI or Drivers Questionnaire), as these can provide valuable feedback into particular predispositions and tendencies in how we conduct our inner and outer lives.
  • Bringing the matter of values to our coach supervision sessions     Coaches need to undergo supervision for a number of reasons, significant amongst which is the ability of the supervisor to reflect back the way in which coach values may be impacting on coaching relationships. We should never shy away from raising this issue. It’s is a precious opportunity to increase self-knowledge from a trusted source of insight whose sole purpose is to help us grow.

Questions we can ask ourselves

Try routinely asking yourself the following questions to bring into awareness possible ‘blind spots’ and areas of potential conflict:

  • face plus question marksWhat is the coachee’s value system, and how does it differ from mine?
  • Am I missing aspects of what the coachee is saying because they don’t fit into my own value system?
  • How do my entrenched positions affect my response to what the coachee is saying? Do they result in directional questioning? Am I dictating what happens rather than ‘being with’ and following the coachee?
  • What potential trigger points exist for me, and what happens if they are activated? What trigger points does the coachee have? Am I able to notice any that are outside my own value system?
  • How is my body language or facial expression changing in reaction to what the coachee is saying? Why? How is this affecting the coachee?

We all bring our own entrenched positions, beliefs and values to our coaching relationships. That’s natural. If we try to bring these into awareness and to understand how they may be impacting those relationships, we will be much of the way to reducing their power to negatively affect the level of service we should be offering to our coachees.

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