Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

My boss asked me to work with a coach who has worked with my colleagues. But I’ve heard nothing positive about this person. In fact, the coach often repeats what is told in confidence and has made trouble for a number of my colleagues. It isn’t my style to tattle on this person and tell my boss why I would prefer someone. But it isn’t my style to be open and honest with someone I don’t trust. If I work with this person, it would not be beneficial to the company or to me.

The other problem is that I’m not sure why I am being asked to work with a coach. My performance review was very positive and my boss was cagey presenting this idea to me. I couldn’t tell if my boss thought this was something I was being rewarded with or whether it was to help me improve. I know you will tell me to clarify this with my boss but you don’t understand the full dynamics here and it can be career suicide if you don’t just smile and say “yes” to everything.

I need help navigating with this coach. Do I share and take my chances? Say what I’ve heard about past experiences? Share very little and hope it isn’t obvious? You do coaching so I thought you might have a perspective on this situation.

O.P.

Coach
keijj44 / Pixabay

Dear O.P.,

There are so many pieces to your inquiry that I want to address them all and not just your questions at the end. There really is only one answer to the direct question you pose – being candid with a coach is the only way you are going to get any “real” feedback or input. It worries me that you have heard this person is repeating things or spreading rumors, because most good coaches value confidentiality and know they can only be helpful if they keep things to themselves. I think you have to give the person the benefit of the doubt that perhaps what you heard is not entirely truthful, or may be shaded by someone else’s lens. In fact, a good coach should hear this feedback directly – you would not disclose who you heard it from, but that it was a reliable source and it makes you a bit wary of the relationship. Let the coach know they have something to prove by valuing your confidentiality and being careful about the information you share.

That said, you then want to share information slowly and carefully. It’s perfectly okay to “test” a bit to make sure the coach is upholding your confidences. And in any trusting relationship it takes time to build. You both need to get to know one another.

More concerning to me is the fact that you don’t know why you are entering in to coaching. My number one rule of thumb is to establish the “success outcomes” at the very beginning. A good coach should do this with your manager, and also with you directly to identify outcomes – how will you both (you and your boss) know if the coaching engagement has been successful? What measurement with you use? Measurements should be both qualitative and quantitative. I’m often surprised at the number of times clients of mine will tell me about coaching engagements where there is no clear outcome – it’s just a general “work with this person” or “fix this.” That makes it hard on the coach and on the engagement. You have to know where you are aiming!

You should suggest a three-way conversation at the outset of the coaching. Suggest to your boss, in your interest of using the company’s funds wisely, that the three of you sit down together to talk about outcomes and metrics. It would be good to hear directly from your boss, and to have the coach see the two of you talk together about desired goals. I know coaches who tell me they have been told the “real story” by the boss, but they are unable to share what’s really going in with the employee. They have to go about finding out in a more stealth manner hoping that the employee will get it and open up appropriately. This isn’t good for anyone! If the boss and the person being coached aren’t on the same page (which thankfully I find is most often not the case with my own engagements) then somebody is set up for disappointment.

Go into this looking at it as a gift. Your company is investing in you. This means they care about your success and they want you to improve somehow. Be positive and open but make sure you are clear around outcomes at the very beginning. Work in an honest fashion with the coach, but take it slowly and make your own determinations about his/her trustworthiness. Base it on your own experience, not what you have heard from others.

By Beverly Flaxington, read the full article here.