Contracting 3: The Medium is the Message

Contracting 3HOW . . .

You go about coaching and mentoring will set the scene for an effective and ethical relationship right from the outset of the process. The medium really is the message.

As coaches and mentors we forget that the medium is the message at our peril. How you go about coaching and mentoring will set the scene for the establishment of an effective and ethical relationship both for you and for your coachee or mentee.

Why is the ‘how’ so important?

Every good coach or mentor knows that the success of the coaching and mentoring process is dependent on the quality of the relationship established between you and your client. And that such a relationship has be built on professional, ethical foundations if it is to provide a safe – for you and the client – and non judgemental environment within which deeper level learning can occur.

However, we do not always give ourselves the time to stand back and ask what we ‘do’ that enables such a relationship to be established. The temptation is to think that providing you have all the practical arrangements in place and have explained the process all will go smoothly. And . . . as all of us involved in coaching and mentoring know, it is far more complex than that.

HOW . . .

. . . quickly and successfully you are able to establish an effective relationship that creates that safe and secure environment so essential to success, will depend on what your client ‘sees’, ‘hears’ and ‘experiences’ and not just on what you say or they see written down. It will depend far more on what is processed unconsciously than on what is taken note of through the conscious mind.

Current research into how we make decisions is demonstrating how little of what we decide is processed consciously or cognitively. Rather that it is what we take in through our senses, which feeds into and through our unconscious, that determines how we feel and what we do.

And this is why the ‘how’ we go about coaching and mentoring is so crucial. It is the unconscious messages communicated between you whenever you make a connection with your client – whether this is face to face, on the phone or through the written word – that are so powerful in determining how your client views both the process of coaching and mentoring and your ability to deliver. A sobering thought!

Remembering that the medium is the message

. . . is particularly crucial in the contracting part of the coaching and mentoring process. What your client experiences – in terms of what they see and hear – right from the outset will influence their understanding of coaching and mentoring and how you are going to go about it. In brief, what they think and feel about it and you.

Role modelling what good coaching and mentoring looks like from the outset will support you to build the trust and confidence necessary to achieve the kind of relationship which optimises the learning opportunities for your client. Contracting in a way, for example, which signals that it is your client who sets the agenda and not you, will lead to a very different outcome to that if you set the agenda – both in that first session and subsequently.


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