Reflections: what really goes on during contracting?
Contracting is key to building rapport, setting expectations and developing client chemistry but it can take a while for some coachees to make the most of their ‘precious opportunity’ - Lindsay Wittenberg, an executive coach explores the nature of contracting in personal depth within this interesting article.
I’ve been reflecting on what’s actually happening in my contracting with clients. The coaching contract defines the work we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It keeps us on track, and acts as a reference point. It means we don’t wander off piste without being conscious of doing so, and sets the tone for mutual responsibilities. Contracting is how all my coaching programmes start. It consists of three aspects: a commercial contract, a working relationship contract and the definition of what the client wants from their programme. We discuss them all and we do our best to create clarity and a common understanding for the coaching client, their sponsor and me, as coach. So far, so good. However, I’m noticing that – especially for clients unfamiliar with coaching – what the contract they’ve agreed actually means to them only becomes clear as they experience it. Other clients expect outcomes to be created fast – using their technical skills – rather than drawing on reflection, and they question the value of time reflecting.Yet others are challenged by the idea that any success emerging from their coaching will be rooted in the nature of our relationship and the coaching process itself, namely, the more trusting and open that collaborative relationship is, and the more the process is creative and responsive, the more likely they are to feel energised and committed, so that they maximise the value of the outcomes they create.
My programmes consist of six or eight sessions. If it’s going to take a client two to understand how they can get the most out of their coaching, I’m reflecting on whether this offers the purchasing organisation best value for the time and money, and the coaching client best value for their effort. On the one hand, perhaps the client can only understand how to get the most out of coaching by experiencing it, and the coaching relationship, and being aware of what’s emergent for them. On the other, I’ve realised that the way I’ve facilitated discussions of the contract may be faster than is truly effective. So I’ve decided to experiment with allowing the client more time to reflect, in depth, on what it might mean to and for them, before we move on to the coaching itself. How, for example, might our relationship work if they’re not used to this kind of relationship? What do their objectives really mean for them and how will they engage with them? How might those objectives have an impact on, and be affected by, their wider system? What will it mean for them to reflect between sessions? I’m curious about the outcome of slowing down in this way: it might be frustrating for a client who just wants to get going; it might be time well invested, if it means they engage at greater depth, and sooner, with how they can make the most of what clients sometimes call ‘this precious opportunity’.