Trust And Coaching

Trust and coaching go hand in hand. Having the opportunity to work with a new client is an honour for so many reasons. Chief among them is that another person has placed you - the coach - in a position of authority over something critical: their health and fitness. It's a huge responsibility, and if both the coach and client bring their best foot forward, it can be magic.

The pixie dust that makes a coaching relationship especially great - or not - is trust. Trust is the (sometimes) elusive glue that holds an effective relationship together. Whether you're a coach or not, this applies to any relationship.

When you interact with someone for the first time, you immediately develop a sense of how far to trust them. At first you don't have much to go by: maybe you have some information about their reputation, they have an aura of confidence and experience, or you shoot from the hip and go with a positive gut feeling about them as a person. 

As relationships develops we get more and more to go on. In any relationship, the trust you have with another person will be built primarily on these three things:

  1. Competency: Demonstrating the ability to deliver results.
  2. Caring: Showing respect, appreciation, and genuinely cheerleading your pursuit of goals. A trusted coach's priority needs to be your priority, without any strings attached.
  3. Consistency: Following through on promises and commitments. 


Trust and Coaching - The bigger the triangle, the more trust you have.  Notice that a balanced triangle (green) is bigger than one that is big in one or two areas (orange). You need all three characteristics to build more and more trust.

Trust and Coaching - The bigger the triangle, the more trust you have.

Notice that a balanced triangle (green) is bigger than one that is big in one or two areas (orange). You need all three characteristics to build more and more trust.

When it comes to building trust with your client, 2 out of 3 is bad

If you're a coach ticking just two out of the three trust criteria boxes, well, that simply isn't good enough. You need all three. If you're a client, you shouldn't settle for anything less. 

Often times, when we come up to a hard barrier in a relationship, we've simply tried to go beyond what the current level of trust allows. The only way to get someone to broach that uncomfortable topic, be honest about something we're ashamed of, or simply to get more buy-in from a client is to gradually expand trust levels. And that usually takes time.  

No matter how consistent you are and how much you care, if you aren't competent to assist your client's specific goal, the coaching relationship won't work out successfully. That's because as I client, no matter how much I like you, I won't be able to trust your recommendations. Think of it this way: you wouldn't take restaurant advice from someone who never goes our and who eats Kraft Dinner every night.

Seen another way, no matter how competent and consistent you are, without any caring it's equally easy for the relationship to be poisoned... And fast. I've experienced this from coaches in my own past, and it's not a good feeling.

Finally, consistency lets everyone know their roles and what to expect from each other. It goes without saying that not doing what you said you'd do is the easiest way to break trust.

Without adequate levels of built trust, coaching clients will:

  • Feel doubt and won't totally commit to the process;
  • Not fully allow themselves to be vulnerable in front of you. That means you'll gather less honest information about the true nature of their goals, motivation, and how the program is going. You as the coach will be left to guess what's really going on, and that's an ineffective way to collaborate!

Trust And Coaching: The Clients' Role

I'd be remiss if I didn't make the point that trust flows both ways. While a professional coach has a duty to build trust with their clients, the coach also needs to trust that trainees will fulfil their end of the bargain. You don't hear about coaches firing clients often, but I can assure you it does happen. 

If you're working with a coach, teacher, mentor or other helper and want to assess whether the trust component is working for or across purposes in the relationship, think back to someone who was truly a great help and to those who missed the mark. Then think about your own key relationships in a broader context.

Where are you strong and where do you fall down when it comes to demonstrating (through action) competency, caring and consistency? How did that impact how effective some of your former coaches and helpers were at making a difference with you in the past? These three cornerstones of trust might not have been the only factors, but I think you'll find they were crucial in determining how successful the outcome was for both of you.

For a bit more on trust, have a look at this quick video.

Peter Roberts