The Contracting Conversation

Communications (documents to read for the client)

Conversations (the actual encounter and dialogue)

Mastery (the being, knowing, and doing of the client and coach inside and outside the conversation)

Script for the Initial (Discovery) Coaching Session or the Contracting Conversation

The Steps so Far

The discovery session is an agreed session at a specific date and time with a specific duration. It is not a spontaneous session or something by happenstance unfolding.

Before this session, there was a sales conversation during which the coach and the prospective client decided to work together, and the prospective client decided to enter a coaching program. At the end of the sales conversation, the prospective client has become a client.

The Client Entering the Discovery Session

The person entering the discovery session is now a client. The client has decided to enter a coaching engagement with the coach. The client is not looking for alternative coaches but decided to start with this coach.

By now, there have been several interactions between the client and the coach, and the client had an experience with the coach’s services, either in a teaching session, a workshop, or a seminar. As a result, some level of rapport is established.

The client may be at any stage in the change process.

In a previous interaction, for example, the sales conversation, which was the initial prospective client conversation with the primary focus of establishing the relationship, the following three-fold purpose was fulfilled:

(1) the coach introducing himself, personally and professionally;

(2) the coach informing the prospective client about coaching; and

(3) the coach interviewing the prospective client to establish preliminary needs, goals, and vision for the coaching.

The outcome of the initial prospective client conversation was the decision to initiate the coaching engagement, and the next step agreed upon was the discovery session appointment.

In preparation for the discovery session, the coach has sent the client the initial (discovery) coaching session information package for the client to read and peruse before the appointment. This information package, which I also refer to as the onboarding package, includes the contracting communications, the welcome message, and the onboarding documents checklist with links to the success guidelines and other support documents.

Now we have arrived at the appointment.

The client has prepared for this planned meeting.

Previously the relationship has been established; now, the relationship is built, and the working alliance or partnership is forged. The coach and client get to know each other better, clarify expectations, announce commitments, agree on communication guidelines, and declare their decisions to proceed.

At the end of each conversation, the next step and agreed actions are announced.

The client is a willing participant in the coaching engagement. During the discovery phase, the client commits to her positive growth and change process.

The seven organizing themes of effective coaching and seven key principles of effective change guide the coaching engagement (The Contextual Coaching Model).

What I know about the client

From the Pre-Coaching Questionnaire, I know the client’s single-most reason she decided to enter into a coaching relationship; what support the client needs from her direct manager and/or manager-once-removed to make the coaching a success, and how the client will ensure their support and the resources.

From the “Getting to Know You!” Reflective Questions, I know the client’s short answers; the client will share her extended answers and reflections in ongoing coaching sessions, depending on the agenda. The client has revealed her major strengths as she perceives them to be, some of the most significant values that provide direction for her, the biggest change the client wants to make in the next three months, and what stands in the way of making this change.

In this discovery session, I act in awareness of these reflections.

I have assessed the viability of the coaching relationship using the Four-Way Coachability Index.

Some questions may still need answering.

Does the context for coaching support the nature of the necessary coaching conversations and the changes contracted for?

In my self-assessment, am I intrinsically motivated to complete the agreed-upon coaching?

Assessing client coachability, is the client sufficiently motivated to undertake the agreed-upon behavioral commitments to bring about desired changes or goal attainment; capable of changing the behaviors related to the identified goals; willing to learn through dialogue, reflection, and experimentation; and personally invested in the coaching process?

Assessing fit between coach and client, from my perspective as the coach, do I have concerns about self-management in working with this client?

I have previously gathered information about the client’s career and performance story. During the discovery session, I may assess how much short-term pressure the client is under to change or grow. This pressure may be organizationally driven, internal to the client, or both.

(a) If pressure is high, I explore the causes and mobilize the process more quickly.

(b) If the pressure is low, I can take more time for insight and learning.

I think about and possibly suggest a “doable” development goal or two consistent with the engagement’s contracting details. I am beginning to set expectations for the coaching relationship.

I clarify the responsibility balance between the client and me.

I show my commitment to the client’s emerging goals within the boundaries of what I can do in my coaching role.

At the end of the initial (discovery) coaching session:

(a) the client and I summarize in simple terms what has been covered, highlighting emerging goals and other insights.

(b) Reconfirm process expectations and mutual commitments.

(c) Ask for reactions to the session and coaching in general.

(d) Schedule Session Two and beyond, if possible.

The purpose of the discovery session is to build a relationship with the client. The essential aspect is the design of the alliance between the coach and the client. 

What are the main focus areas this client wants to bring to coaching? What goals have they set? What are the values they want to honor in their life? What motivates them to action? How have they created change in the past? What works?

The (initial) discovery coaching session aims to air and reconcile assumptions, expectations, desires, and commitments for the coaching relationship, the coaching process, the coaching engagement as a whole, and the coaching agreement.

What the client needs to know to be an informed decision-maker entering the coaching engagement is provided as communications beforehand.

The conversation serves to clarify any questions on behalf of the client and to receive input from the client for the coach to co-design the coaching process.

Most items listed in the conversation agenda have already been communicated to the client. Therefore, they may require only mentioning or confirmation during the conversation.

Entering the contracting conversation, I assume the client has received and read the contracting communications in the onboarding package, reflected on the questions and inquiries provided, and formed an idea of what the coaching engagement entails.

At each conversation step, I ask questions to clarify and confirm understanding.

Opening Words

“I want you to engage fully and be open: open to what arises, and open to surprise, open for something precious to emerge.

Also, pay attention to your feeling psychologically safe, notice when you do, and also notice any incongruence; give voice to both.

I also want you to feel seen; this is an important one; watch out for this one, and when you notice this feeling, take it in, and savor this moment of connection.”

Contracting Conversation Agenda Items

What will happen in the coaching process?

How will the coaching interaction take place?

What is the role of the coach in the coaching relationship?

What is the role of the client in the coaching relationship?

Inquiry into the client’s desired results from the coaching engagement.

– Input from the client, client manager, sponsor, and other stakeholders obtained in prior deliberations to be confirmed; or

– Exploration of the current view on desired results.

We may inquire into these initial contracting questions:

What work do you want to do? What would you like to achieve as a result of our work together?

How do you want to receive feedback?

What do you expect from me in our relationship?

What can I expect of you in our relationship?

Proposed structure for the coaching engagement:

Steps for realizing the goals: Phases of the engagement and Stages of change

Coaching methods employed

Time frames

Progress measures (milestone outcomes)

Related issues and other matters of interest

Disclosure, inquiry, and commitment to one another’s success

Agreement on communications (client, coach, sponsor): what to communicate to each other, by what method, and with what frequency.

Outcome of the Contracting Conversation: Clarity of purpose and a shared commitment by everyone involved to make the coaching successful.

The Contracting Conversation Agreements and Commitments

The contract is an evolving document and a living commitment. Therefore, during onboarding, assessment, goal-setting, and development planning, addenda will be added and open questions answered.

It is the outcome of a conversation. The conversation is contracting. The communication is agreeing and announcing.

Some items may be agreed upon, filled out, and announced during the initial (discovery) coaching session.

1. Logistics  

(a) Meeting place. Coaching sessions will be held online via audio or video conferencing.

(b) Meeting frequency and duration. We will meet for coaching sessions twice monthly, every other week, for up to 1 hour each session. 

(c) Duration of the coaching engagement and the total number of coaching sessions. The coaching engagement is contracted for three months and six coaching sessions. Renewal of the contract is in three months and six coaching sessions modules.

(d) Payment terms apply as per the payment agreement document.

(e) Cancellation or non-attendance to sessions.

2. Initiating the Working Alliance

(a) Confidentiality agreement.

(b) Code of ethics.

(c) The psychological contract.

(i) Openness and engagement of the client.

(ii) What you can expect of the coach.

(iii) Other expectations and commitments.

(d) Requirements of the client, the organization, and the sponsor.

(e) Requirements of the coach.

(f) Establishing and committing to success guidelines.

(g) Obstacles and overcoming obstacles.

(h) Roles and responsibilities of the coach and client. An example of a client’s responsibility could be completing preparatory work before sessions.

(i) Behaviors and interactions during the coaching relationship, including distractions during coaching sessions (e.g., cell phones), completing assignments on time, and beginning and ending coaching sessions promptly.

(j) When and by what means the coach and client will provide mutual feedback, which should address the coaching approach, progress made, and any perceived violation of their agreements. The agreement may include when and how to present insights about “blind spots” or potentially sensitive matters.

(k) Psychological Safety

What can I do and be for your psychological safety:

I be trustworthy: I promise (i.e., announce, say), and I adhere (i.e., do) to clear confidentiality guidelines. My word and my deed are the revelations of my being.

I do honesty: I observe and share observations without blame or judgment. I do not distort, deceive, hide, or cheat. I am aware of my reactions and their standing on the ladder of inference. I discern whether I “see” a fact or an abstraction of my mental apparatus.

I do care: I empathize and connect.

I be credible: I do act professionally, grounded in ethical guidelines. I do command the process, I know, and I do.

Am I able to foster qualities of trust, honesty, caring, and credibility in relationships I establish with my clients?

Am I able to foster, encourage, or promote the development of something good in my client?

Am I able to discern what characterizes this coach-client relationship?

Am I aware of the essential elements for successful outcomes of this executive coaching engagement?

3. The Coaching

(a) Public goals: determination, alignment, tracking.

(b) Private goals.

(c) Timeline for qualitative interviews with client manager and manager once-removed; with client mentor, peers, HR, and direct reports.

(d) Timeline for goal announcement.

(e) Determinants of a positive outcome: 

quality of the coach-client relationship, 

quality of goals,

client commitment,

client engagement,

expectation and conviction of the coach of positive outcome achievement. 

4. Information Sharing

What information will be shared, with whom will it be shared, and in what manner?

Agreements on what the parties (client, coach, and sponsor) involved in the coaching engagement should communicate to each other, by what method, and with what frequency.

5. Shared Commitment

Announcing our shared commitment.