A coach is not “neutral”

I often hear: “As a coach, you have to stay neutral” or even worse: “It is important to stay detached”. As if this was even possible. “Detached” sounds more like a house — the image that comes to my mind is that of two completely independent entities, where the coach is “observing” the other and designing “clever interventions” to help the client move. And if you have read a little of my writing or met me in person, you know that this is one of my pet peeves.

A coaching conversation (and actually, any conversation) is a joint endeavor. Coach and client, both interlocutors are doing something together when they are communicating. We construct meaning together, move the conversation backwards, forwards and sideways (it’s a jump to the left… and then a step to the rahahahahahight…) and at every turn new things can emerge.

So, as a coach, you are neither detached, nor “neutral”. When I am coaching, I am there for my client and invite them to think in ways that may open a pathway toward where they want to go. I think that I need to at least have an appreciation for their goals, even if they would not be mine, in order to coach well. For example, I don’t think I could coach someone on how to exploit other people even better.

In one of our free meetups (invitation link below), one of our friends mentioned an ethical conundrum: “Could she coach an organization who wants to be more protective of the planet when she herself feels very passionate about the same topic — would she not bring her own agenda into the coaching session?” If you let go of the idea of “neutrality”, this is not an issue: when the goals align, this really should not interfere with the co-construction and invitation toward thinking about a desired future. It is not a conflict of interest at all.

In other conflicts of interest the word “neutrality” can be employed usefully. Here, it is more about the decision on whether you can coach someone or not. If your agenda as a coach is different from that of your client, if you have “skin in the game”, you’d be well advised to consider carefully whether you can coach the person at all. So when “neutral” means “not wanting something other than the growth of the client into the direction of THEIR choosing”, it makes sense to use the word.

In my experience, this is also what executives and other clients appreciate: someone to talk to who (for a change) does not want anything but to co-create ways forward for them. They don’t want a “detached” and “neutral” person who observes, applies interventions and does not show up as a human being. To quote one of our great coach trainers, Svea van der Hoorn: “It is about the who of the coach meeting the who of the client.”

As always, if you would like to explore topics like these, engage in some peer-supervision, watch demo coaching sessions, enquire about our courses, come to one of or free meetup and exchanges — they are always great fun:

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