Creating Coaching Contracts – Part 6

The relationship contract, client’s outcomes (goals) and tasking

In my individual Supervision sessions and Supervision Groups I sometimes notice a Coach who will launch straight into the “story” they want to talk about. This is always a clue for me that we may be about to discuss “parallel processing”.

Note: Parallel processing is where a behaviour or a dynamic is mirrored in more than one level. In this case it may be the problem the Coach has brought to Supervision may be the very one they are acting out themselves with the Supervisor. The roles have moved so the Coach is acting out the Client’s behaviour inviting the Supervisor to act out the Coach’s behaviour.

When this happens I need to interrupt the Coach and remind them that in Supervision we always start with the Contract. What does the Coach want to get out of the session? What do they need from me as Supervisor? How will they know they have got what they need?

These are similar to some of the questions you may ask your clients in the Coaching session. You will clarify goals, outcomes and responsibilities as part of the session contract. When a Coach forgets to set the contract with their client or if the client launches straight into the “story” the session can often ramble, go in circles or end with little being achieved.

The skill you need to develop is the ability to interrupt your client gently and firmly so the contract can be agreed. The contract in many instances helps the client to get more focused and they may start spontaneously discovering options and solutions as they talk through outcomes and goals.

Remember last time I said the work is in the contract (thank you Julie Hay).


In the first session with a new client it is worth including some relationship contracting. Find out how much challenge your client wants and how they would like you to offer challenge. Some people prefer blunt, direct feedback and get irritated with “fluffy” feedback. Others would prefer a softer touch. I often give my clients or the Coaches I supervise a sliding scale of 1 to 10 as a subjective way to identify the level of challenge or feedback required.

I also explain about the importance of interrupting them as a tool to help them both in setting contracts and sometimes within process. I ask the client to give me permission to interrupt them and share a phrase I commonly use.

As you gain understanding of your client you will notice that some people find it easier to set goals and outcomes than others. You may need to contract the level of goal setting that works for them. For example, if we look at personality types, some like to have concrete plans while others like to keep their options open. One client may be looking for pragmatic action step facilitation while another could just as easily wish to explore an issue in order to gain insight with no specific action attached. It is worth saying the same client may vary in what approach they need depending on the context.

Tasking is a useful tool you may wish to offer your clients and this too needs contracting. Tasking involves agreeing specific actions the client will take between sessions. This may be suggesting the client research ideas, for example in my most recent Coaching Circle I tasked one Coach to look at three successful Coach profiles to model what they would like to adopt in their own business. It may be, like this example, an action specific to a goal or an outcome. Alternately, it can be interesting to suggest a metaphorical task.  For example, suggest to your client they take a walk in the park and count how many different types of trees are in it. (with metaphorical tasks we never explain the purpose, when the client returns we ask them what they noticed and what insights this gave them).

The agreement and commitment to carry out the task is contracted in the session. Do avoid using terms like “home work” as this may trigger a reaction that is unhelpful for the client. If a client does not complete tasks discussing why (without blame) can be insightful for the client. Bottom line remember tasking is designed to help the client not to please the Coach!

Next time I will introduce some tools that you as a Coach can use to develop and grow your skill set.

Melody Cheal MSc MAPP
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