Contracting in Coaching - the neglected competency?


Contracting in Coaching - the neglected competency?

A quick search in the index of our ‘go to’ coaching books reveals what we have always suspected… that contracting doesn’t always receive the appropriate level of focus when it comes to learning what makes a great coach. Of a random sample of five books written by highly respected and experienced coaches with many years experience – some of the ‘best in the business’ – only one had dedicated more than a throwaway line to the subject of contracting.

Our Coaching with Confidence Training programme, which has achieved the EMCC Quality Award and provides each delegate with a European Individual Accreditation Professional Qualification at Level 5, places much greater emphasis on contracting; we know the difference robust and effective contracting can make when working with clients. It’s a fundamental underpinning and, arguably, the foundation to ensuring that the client feels the psychologically safety needed to explore their life and work with curiosity, openness, and challenge.  Furthermore, we know that many of the problems that arise in a coaching relationship or that are brought to supervision stem from poor initial contracting and a lack of re-contracting as the relationship progresses.

So what are the areas that need to be considered when contracting with clients? A great place to start is to consult the guidance provided by one of the professional coaching bodies such as the EMCC.  Their Global Code of Ethics provides robust guidance on contracting, integrity and confidentiality amongst other topics.

At Matthew Radley & Associates we recommend the following as a comprehensive checklist for an initial contracting conversation:

  • Explain what coaching is and what it is not
  • Explore what the coachee/client can expect from you and how it may differ from other development conversations they may be familiar with
  • Outline your expectations of the coachee/client including logistics and preparation for sessions and cancellation terms/costs
  • Confirm if the client is a ‘statutory director’ (UK only) and if they are aware of their legal responsibilities
  • Set clear goals that are also agreed, if relevant, with the line manager or sponsor
  • Explore the client’s learning styles or preferences
  • Discuss and agree how the client wants to receive feedback from the coach and vice versa
  • Be clear on how the client will take the learning forward – will they take notes, how do they feel about being given work in-between sessions?

In addition to the above it’s critical to contract robustly around confidentiality order to establish clear boundaries and to reinforce psychological safety. We recommend a discussion around what confidentiality means and to agree the rare circumstances when confidentiality would be broken such as if the coach believes there is a clear safeguarding concern for either the client or a third party.  We also suggest that when you are coaching within an organisation to be clear on their safeguarding policy/process and how coaching fits with that.  In addition, it’s helpful to ask the client to nominate a trusted person that you can go to if you have concerns for their safety/safety of others.

Furthermore, as part of our agreed ways of working, all the professional coaches at Matthew Radley & Associates will check-in with clients when contracting regarding their physical and mental wellbeing – current and past – to ensure a fully rounded picture of the context within which the client is entering into the coaching relationship.  It also allows open discussion on the boundaries of coaching and the difference, for example, between coaching and counselling.  

And finally all clients are asked if they are neurodiverse in any way – this ensures that the coaches adapt their approach where necessary with clients who process information differently and who may require a more personalised learning experience. This information is crucial in upholding a person-centred approach to Executive Coaching, which is at the heart of our values.

A fantastic resource for any coach is David Clutterbuck’s  ‘Powerful Questions for Coaches and Mentors’ published by the EMCC – it provides a great reference for possible contracting questions such as ‘what behaviours by each of us will create the greatest value?’ ‘What might get in the way of this relationship working?’ How much challenge are you prepared to take from me?  How much challenge are you willing to give back?’

Contracting isn’t something you do once and tick it off your list to get to the real work, it’s a continual process and needs to be re-visited at every session or client interaction.  Where you start in terms of the coaching relationship, the client’s objectives, the overall context, will inevitably evolve over time and attention needs to be paid to this to ensure a successful outcome.  Jonathan Passmore in ‘The Coaches’ Handbook’ (2021, p.353) shares a useful mnemonic – the ABC of coaching – Always Be Contracting – checking-in, making appropriate adjustments and ensuring that the space you create continues to be one of psychological safety to allow the appropriate support and challenge to be provided.

At Matthew Radley & Associates we’re committed to ‘Professionalising the Profession’ of coaching and a big part of that is to ensure contracting gets the focus it needs and our clients deserve.  If you want to learn more about developing your own or your organisation’s professional coaching capability through our EMCC Level 5 accredited Coaching with Confidence programme, or if you would like to work with one of our professional coaches then please contact us


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