Contracting 4: Negotiating the Contracting Maze

Contracting 4Spending time exploring

. . . what we mean by ‘contracting’ in coaching and mentoring helps us put into perspective – as well as negotiate – what can sometimes feel like a contracting maze. Scoping the territory before venturing into the maze ensures you’re able to negotiate it easily and successfully.

As with any other professional relationship, the coaching or mentoring relationship takes time and effort to establish and can have its ups and downs.

Understanding and managing the contracting process is central to the establishment of a successful relationship. This is why spending time exploring what we mean by ‘contracting’ in coaching and mentoring is so crucial.

As a coaching supervisor

. . . I know from experience, that when something goes wrong in the relationship more often than not it can be traced back to an omission or misunderstanding during the contracting process. Yet, in the early days of being a coach or mentor, it can sometimes be difficult to understand why so much time needs to be spent on thinking about, preparing for and carrying out the contracting part of the coaching and mentoring process. Most of us want to dive in and get on with the practice of coaching and can find the emphasis placed on contracting at its best, time consuming and at its worst, irritating.

The inevitable learning

. . . from the experience of not getting contracting ‘right’, however, soon persuades us that we need to give contracting some dedicated attention. This is where you are in danger of moving from the sublime to the ridiculous. Moving from an erroneous position of thinking that contracting is a process that can disposed of in 10 minutes to a position of feeling that you are in the middle of a maze that it is difficult to negotiate.

The contracting process, once you have got your mind around what needs to be covered and why, is very straight forward. Like any other maze the difficulty comes when you venture in without any pre thought or preparation. Once you know what needs to be covered then you are in a position to be able to decide which bit of contracting you do when, and in what way, with each individual client. Some clients, for example, need to have the opportunity to have read something in advance while others prefer to talk things through.

Contracting

. . . should cover what I call the 3 P’s – the Principles, Practice and Practicalities.

  • Principles – in terms of what underpins the practice of coaching and mentoring. What it is and what it is not
  • Practice – how we are going to work together in light of these principles
  • Procedures or practicalities – covering logistical issues such as where you’ll meet, how often etc.

There are some elements of contracting which are non-negotiable, some which need to be negotiated to ensure ownership by the client and others which are relevant to a particular individual, organisation or context. The skill, as always, is in knowing not just the what, but also how to go about the process in a way that meets the needs of an individual client – and, where there is a duality in the contracting arrangements, the needs of the organisation.


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