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What is Coaching? - New Coaching Research Now Available

Recently, my co-researchers, Tatiana Bachkirova and Adrian Myers, and I completed research funded by a grant from Harvard’s Institute of Coaching. Under this grant, we developed an 80 item instrument that can be used to describe what happens in a coaching session.

As part of our research, 41 coaches from 5 countries used the instrument to describe a typical mid-engagement coaching session. Although we had expected to find subgroups of coaches with differing approaches, we found more similarities than differences, and were unable to find a significant sub-group deviating from the group consensus.

For those interested in reading an article that appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Human Resource Development Quarterly, you may download it here: Coaching Research report submitted to Harvard Institute of Coaching

For those who would like a quick summary of our findings, here is a high-level summary of what we found:

There was relatively strong consensus that a typical coaching session:

  • Focuses on the client’s agenda, not the agenda of the coach or a third-party
  • Pays attention to the client’s overall goals and goals for the session
  • Includes a sense of optimism, empathy and rapport
  • Consists of exploration, including using questions to “open new possibilities” for the client and, often, an exploration of the client’s values and mindset (beliefs and assumptions), as well as an exploration of the client’s resources (e.g., strengths,  accomplishments, and/or external resources), as well as the deeper meaning of an issue
  • May challenge the client’s perspective of a situation or of himself / herself
  • May involve a discussion of “homework”
  • Does not usually include advice giving, helping the client to deepen his or her emotions, or exploring the client’s “apparent defensiveness”
  • Is not fast-paced or highly structured

Participants were somewhat more divided (the majority finding the following items “uncharacteristic”, but at least 20% having a diverging opinion) about:

  • The coach sharing his or her own feelings and bodily sensations that are evoked in the session
  • The exploration of potential unconscious motives (out of the client’s awareness)
  • The use of psychometric instruments
  • The coach offering potential solutions

We also received the following general feedback about the instrument and the sorting process:

  • Many participants found value in using the instrument to think about their own coaching style, despite some concerns that the online sorting process was difficult and time-consuming, but also
  • Several participants saw the potential value of using the instrument as a training tool for coaches
  • Because we designed an instrument to be used in describing both actual and imagined coaching sessions, some items are more appropriate to describing actual sessions than imagined sessions (e.g., “Coach is verbose)
  • We did not receive any final feedback that items were missing from the instrument (of course, this may change as more coaches are exposed to and use the instrument)