- Posted by Liz Gooster
- 4 Comments
- business coaching, business publishing, chemistry meetings, coaching clients
Meeting someone in person gives rise to a different dynamic than is possible by email, or even by phone. You very quickly get a first impression and discover the strength of the rapport, if any. In my job as a business publisher, I always like to meet my authors before we sign up to work together, because it lets me ‘see the whites of their eyes’. In business coaching, a chemistry session gives the coach the opportunity to explain their approach and to contract with the client. For the client, it’s a chance to ask questions and to form a view on the coach and their coaching style. For both, it’s about deciding whether or not to work together: does it feel right? All makes perfect sense.
Then I had a conversation with Patricia, a business contact who is herself a coach. I was initially surprised to hear that she fundamentally disagrees with the whole concept of chemistry meetings. She argued convincingly that they ‘can lead to prejudice’. Bias can occur on both sides, though my friend was more worried about clients discriminating against a coach on the basis of their age, gender, ethnicity, or any other dimension of possible difference. This again is very logical and threw up issues that hadn’t previously occurred to me. What if, as Patricia colourfully put it, ‘old grey men only want to be coached by other old grey men?’.
You could argue that this applies to any form of recruiting. However there are two factors which may be unique to coaching. Firstly, and most radically, clients are not always knowledgeable enough about coaching to be able to assess a coach’s ability. Chemistry meetings therefore allow clients to take up a professional coach’s time and then reject them on uninformed grounds: as Patricia says (and she won’t mind me quoting her) ‘they offer the client a get-out-of-jail-free card’. Secondly, a good coach should be able to coach anyone and it is their job to establish rapport, so there’s no need for a chemistry session to see if they can work with someone.
To me, the second point seems less contentious. Most of what I’ve read so far suggests that the main reasons for coaches turning down clients are that they feel it would be unethical or inappropriate, perhaps most commonly when a client has been coerced into coaching and is not personally motivated to change, or when counselling or therapy would be a more suitable response to the client’s situation. I’m less persuaded by the idea of a client not being in a position to make an informed choice of coach. If we subscribe to the belief that the client possesses the solutions to their own questions, problems and challenges, shouldn’t we grant them the resourcefulness to make up their own mind about the person they are going to trust with their thoughts, concerns and insights?
Having only conducted two chemistry meetings myself at this point (both of which I found useful and enjoyable), I don’t feel in a position to make a definitive decision on this, but I’d be interested to hear what experienced coaches think of this issue.
 Patricia is not her real name
I like to describe myself as happily ‘At Large’ in an independent portfolio career, balancing executive coaching, maternity coaching, leadership development and coach training. Other interests include travel writing, literature, fitness, food and drink. Connect with me on Twitter @lizgooster.