Issue 45

UTD Coaching News

The Coaching Agreement: Building a Foundation for Change

     by Teresa Pool, PCC

Establishing the Coaching Agreement is often the most underrated competency in the ICF coaching toolkit, yet it is the critical foundation for a powerful coaching session.  Without it, the coaching session limps along without energy or direction.  With it, the clarity that comes from a well-developed agreement creates momentum that propels change effortlessly forward.

The agreement funnel

The client often comes to a session with a jumble of ideas about what they want to achieve.  As the coach listens actively, recaps for clarification, and questions for depth, the client’s desired outcome becomes clearer to both client and coach. 

  • Exploring the surface – “What do you want to explore/accomplish/work on/talk about today?” This is where active listening is critically important for the coach.  Listen for meaning rather than getting pulled into content.
  • Recap for clarity – “So I’ve heard what you want is…” makes sure that the coach and client are on the same page and gives the client more opportunity to gain and provide a clear vision.  This step can, and should, take several iterations and often generates significant awareness for the client, especially if the coach is listening intuitively. 
  • Narrow the scope – “What of this big goal do you want to achieve today?  Where do you want to start?  Which piece of this is most important for us to focus on today?” 
  • Determine the agreement’s potential – “What will that do for you? What is the impact of achieving this? What will it be like for you to have/do/achieve this?” A clear vision of their future with this goal achieved creates momentum for the desired change.  This can be where the client discovers that what they really want is different from what they thought they wanted and the agreement shifts to something even better for the client.
  • Create a measure for success of the session – “How will you know you have achieved your goal for today?  What will it look/sound/feel like?  What will you walk away with?”  Check back as the session progresses to stay aligned with the goal.

Symptoms of a missing or weak agreement

Nothing has a bigger impact on a coaching session than a poorly developed coaching agreement.  It is time to re-establish the agreement when:

  • The session lacks energy
  • The coach and/or client feel stuck
  • The client is impatient or detached
  • The coach and client seem to be going in different directions

The coaching agreement is coaching

Coaches often have a tendency to rush through the coaching agreement to “get to the coaching.”  Instead, consider the agreement as the thread that actively runs throughout the entire session to hold it together. It is the launching pad for ideas, a window for the client to see their future before seeking it, a place to return to when the client (or coach) feels stuck.  Developing the coaching agreement is coaching and can easily take half of the session.

The agreement is also fertile ground for creating awareness that generates action.  Action without awareness is like a car without gas.  So fill ‘er up and become the master of the coaching agreement!


 © 2011 Transitions For Business. All rights reserved.


Teresa J. Pool, the President and founder of Transitions For Business, helps her clients achieve their full potential.  A human behavior and communication specialist, Teresa’s work as a coach, consultant, speaker, strategic facilitator, and workshop leader has motivated thousands to achieve their personal best. In addition, she inspires change through her published articles, television and radio appearances, and two leadership guides: Focus in the Midst of Chaos and Communication DISCovery. Teresa is an executive coach in the UT Dallas Executive MBA program and serves as a coaching supervisor and examiner in their Executive Coaching Program.   Teresa is dedicated to serving the coaching community as a former President of the ICF North Texas Chapter. 


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