Building the Foundation for Trust


In business and in life, relationships define our progression, our success, and even our happiness. As coaches, we have a responsibility to open the channels to better communication.


Kevin McAlpin & Dawn Wilkinson

The saying ‘Relationships are the container everything else fits into’ certainly applies to a coach and coachee relationship. Fundamentally, trust is one of the main foundations if not the most essential foundation any successful relationship will be built on.


When coaching you also need to be able to allow the coachee to see that the same will be true if they wish to be successful in business, their career, or life in general. Whether it is with their partner, their children, their staff, their manager or other key stakeholders, the ability to create and maintain relationships is vital.

Here, we shall put forward the six areas of successful relationships, allowing you to review and enhance your coach-coachee relationships and also pass on your knowledge to your coachee when coaching them to reflect on their business and social relationships. You may ask, ‘Why look at relationships?’ Brian Tracy said, ‘Eighty percent of life’s satisfaction comes from meaningful relationships.’ And getting more satisfaction in life must be on most people’s list.

A lot of people focus on developing their technical ability, their qualifications and experience. They assume their relationships will just happen by chance. Often, when emotions come into play, all the theories go flying out of the window. Coaching can help the individual to focus on the areas that they are finding most challenging, whether these are relationship with a colleague, partner, friend, a member of their family or all of these. The secret of successful relationships may be attributed to the following six areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Commitment and trust
  3. Freedom
  4. Friendship and support
  5. Working at your relationship
  6. Learning to love yourself.

The coaching relationship is an opportunity to demonstrate good practice in these areas, and the coach will use opportunities to help the individual to reflect on their own behaviour in the coaching relationship as well as their relationships with others.

Keeping Frequencies Open

Talking openly and honestly, listening and showing you are interested, and revealing secrets knowing you are not going to be judged are the ingredients for success. The coach will follow four steps to encourage open and honest conversations that will give the individual a positive experience which they can practise themselves

  • Letting the individual know that talking about their issues is important
  • Being open and encouraging the individual to share things that are important to them
  • Asking questions
  • Demonstrating that silence doesn’t mean lack of interest. People talk for the fun of it, to solve problems and to ask for what they want. Listening to what the other person is saying and feeling what they are feeling helps to make a connection between you. Listening to feelings is an instant guide to knowing what response to make.

There are four basic feelings:

  • Anger — give the person space and take them seriously
  • Sadness — give the person some physical contact and lots of care and consideration
  • Fear — talk through the person’s fears and make some plans to change the situation
  • Happiness — laugh, dance, sing or do whatever you do to celebrate!

Commitment and Trust

Many people are afraid of commitment. Some fear it is like a life sentence, or like jumping off a cliff! The truth is that commitment happens in small stages. Successful coaching relationships require an equal commitment from the coach and the coachee, one that is clear and understood; this often is achieved through the contracting process. Contracts or agreements make it clear where both people stand and allow individuals to be their real self. People who have an ‘anything goes’ situation often feel insecure and feel they can’t count on the other person. When people feel secure, they often find it easier to get close to others and trust them. This is true of any relationship, and a coach will help the individual to concentrate on the positive and talk about what they want to create in their life.

True commitment to a relationship is deciding to make it work, no matter what. It is important that both people have a shared understanding about the basis of the relationship – even about basic things, from money, cooking, cleaning, to faithfulness. Most misunderstandings and mistrust come from not having a shared understanding or contract. True commitment involves looking out for someone, and being their Number 1 fan and best friend. When two people are really committed to each other, the other person’s happiness is as important as their own.

In essence it is about treating the other people with love, respect and kindness. Trust is about knowing the other person will take responsibility and live up to expectations — about knowing that you can count on them to do the right thing in any situation and respecting their judgement. For a relationship to be healthy, trust needs to be reciprocated.



The Shape of Good Relationships

The process for creating trust is illustrated in the Trust pyramid:







The Trust pyramid was developed by Sharon Sands, an associate of Performance Coaching International. At the base of the pyramid, both sides acknowledge one another, but are likely to make many assumptions about what they see and who the other person is. These will come out of their consciousness: they will ask themselves, ‘Is this other person like me or different from me?’ If the other person is markedly different from them, then various assumptions may be made about that person, and if the assumptions are negative the relationship may end at that point.

However, for the relationship to move forward it is necessary for both sides to seek to understand the other — and also to seek to be understood. Steven Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People confirms it is key to be interested in the other person rather than trying to be interesting yourself. If this step can be achieved, then the reasons for the other person’s views or behaviour start to make sense, and it is possible to move on to the next step, which is respect. Once we understand the other person, we can start to respect why they act the way they do and also to respect those things that they do well. There may be conflict as they have different values, working styles and personality traits. However, as these are understood we can look past them and see the bigger picture. Often the people who are very different from us, the ones we find hardest to work with, are the ones that we complement best. Their skills and strengths will underpin our weaknesses and vice versa.

Respect usually leads to liking, and liking — on further acquaintance — can lead to trust. Of course, it can be argued that you do not have to like someone in order to trust them, but it certainly helps. Trust is the essential ingredient of any good coaching relationship — without it, the client is not going to tell you, the coach, those confidential things that may be necessary to allow you to be of real help. Equally, if they are leading a team, a family or working with their boss or customers, they will need trust relationships in order to succeed.

Freedom Takes Many Forms

The question of freedom is often explored. Generally, in most happy relationships, people don’t live in each other’s pockets! The healthiest and happiest relationships are those where both partners give each other freedom to enjoy life apart from each other. It is important to have friends and activities that each can enjoy on their own. Freedom in a relationship is allowing each other to keep a sense of self.

There is a huge difference between thinking for two and thinking as two. Freedom is also about not expecting the other person to be a clone of you and respecting the other’s rights to have different opinions, likes and dislikes. Time for reflection and just being alone is good for healthy relationships. It gives you time to think things through and make changes, and to dream and plan for the future. This is just as relevant in a business relationship, where the level of empowerment you give or receive is significant. A key question to ask is, ‘What is freedom for you and how would you know you had it?’ It may be totally different for different people. Here is an example:

Two current director-level coachees have both been empowered by the same CEO. One has a 121 meeting with the CEO once a month and is left to his own devices to manage his business, lead his team and make strategic decisions. The other is new to the role and within the vital first hundred days of a new role. He has 121 meetings with the CEO each week, they jointly agree strategy and direction, and the director feels totally supported. The CEO supports him in understanding the political environment and the key stakeholder relationships that will be fruitful. Here we see different levels of freedom and empowerment as appropriate. Have you asked anyone what freedom means to them?

Friendship from Support

Many successful relationships start with people being friends and colleagues, and develop from there. Lasting relationships are built on two people who are best friends and closely linked to friendship is support. Support means helping each other out and sharing responsibilities. In short, it is about thinking about the other person as well as yourself. If you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and see what the relationship is like on their side, then you can start to see what you both need to do to be happy. Ask yourself what objections they might have to what you would like to do? And then take their feelings into account.

Here are four tips for great friendships —

  • Take the opportunity to learn about the other person’s point of view
  • Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things
  • Accept who you are; you don’t need to be better than other people to be liked
  • Be open to the feelings and needs of the other person
  • Work at your relationship.

Many people think that once a successful relationship has been established, then all the hard work is over and it will just take care of itself. Working at it simply means putting effort into the relationship to keep each other happy. It is about being interested, attentive and thoughtful. It is about turning a blind eye to the things you find annoying and focusing on the things you like. And it’s about solving problems before they escalate, and making each other feel special.

The trick is, every time you think something nice, say it. Say ‘Thank you’ as often as possible, ‘Thanks for listening’, ‘Thanks for being nice to me when I felt down.’ The more positive feedback you give, the more the other person will continue to be nice to you — the Trust Pyramid win-win.

Working at it also means having fun. We all need routine, but if you can predict what you will be doing every night of the week for the next month and the next year, then things could go horribly wrong. Have too much routine and, although it can be pleasant at times knowing what you are going to do, the rest of the time it can become dull and boring. Try to plan to do something different and take turns to choose an activity. Relationships don’t just coast along happily ever after; they require effort and commitment to make them work.

Learning to Love Yourself (or at Least Like Yourself)

Finally, one of the biggest challenges for many people is learning to love and respect themselves. Coaches use every opportunity to reinforce the positive qualities and skills of the coachee through feedback and interactions. Many people concentrate on asking why rather than how. Focusing on how helps people to concentrate on improvement, whereas why questions keep the individual in the problem and are more likely to confirm the feelings of low self-esteem. Get them to focus on their strengths, keep logs of their achievements, and celebrate what they are good at.

In any relationship it is important to recognise what you have to offer, your good points, what makes you, you. Consider this. You’re in a shop and admiring a new suit you think you’ll buy, when a sales assistant comes over. ‘This is great,’ you say, ‘just what I have been looking for.’ ‘Do you really think so?’ they reply, ‘Actually it is not very well made, the seams are not stitched properly and I think it is over-priced.’ Rather than responding by buying it, you are more likely to walk away. It is the same in a relationship, if you don’t think you have something to offer, how are you going to convince someone else?

So, why are relationships so important in achieving success? Many people give priority to values that reflect only one area of their life – work. Goals can be achieved, but some people then find that their life still feels incomplete. Realising that something else is just or even more important than work can be a scary thought. Successful relationships are the basis of a different kind of success, and living up to that means letting go of an old way of life and making way for the new. Working with a coach to identify development needs is a positive way to move forward and improve relationships. It’s important to remember that any development is an ongoing process; in fact it is a way of life! The coach and coachee chemistry must be right to build on the relationship of trust. People in general should choose their relationships carefully. In true coaching fashion, we shall conclude this module with a number of questions to be answered by you, your coachee and anyone who is interested in improving and developing:

  • Are you around the people you need to be? If not, what action are you going to take?
  • What or to whom are you not currently communicating?
  • What are you not currently noticing with regard to commitment and trust?
  • Are you giving and receiving the right amount of freedom and/or empowerment in your relationships?
  • Who do you need to give or receive friendship and support from that you currently are not?
  • Which relationship do you need to start working at now?
  • How are you going to acknowledge your strengths?
  • What next?

Effective coaching offers huge potential for personal and organisational development. From behavioural changes and performance improvements, to renewed employee engagement, measurable difference through sustainable results into the long-term will materialise.

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Refs —

Stephen Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.