Establishing the Coaching Agreement in Four Steps

What is in an Accredited Life Coach Training Program?
November 20, 2021
Understanding ICF PCC Markers
November 26, 2021

Establishing the Coaching Agreement in Four Steps

Coaching agreement

Have you ever noticed that you can talk for an hour with a client…

…and get nowhere?

After too many of those sessions, most coaches don’t need to wonder why a client doesn’t continue coaching.

Is it because…

  • They’re not getting value?
  • They’re frustrated with you (or the coaching process)?
  • They’re just not ‘ready’ for real progress?

My coach and I were talking about these ‘coaching horror stories’…

Sessions that meandered around complaints…

Sessions where our feedback was attacked or rejected…

Sessions that ended in confusion…

So I hope you know… you’re not alone.

Those coaching sessions can be devastating…

  • to you as the coach.
  • to the client and their goals.
  • to the coaching relationship itself.

Yesterday I was on a coaching call with one of my clients…

…and we started going down ‘the rabbit hole’…

I wanted to jump in and give coaching.

I wanted to tell my client what to do to ‘fix it all’!

I wanted to help them overcome their ignorance and limitations.

…but I stopped myself.


Because I didn’t even know what she wanted.

Because I had no real clue about the impact our conversation was going to have on her goals.

Whatever I did was almost guaranteed to fall flat…

…considering that my client and I hadn’t even agreed on the point of our session.

The ICF (International Coach Federation) calls this process…

Establishing the Coaching Agreement

Which means…

…before you go down that rabbit hole…

…and give advice or coaching…

…make sure you are on the same page as your client…

…not just at the surface level…

…but at a meaningful level that’s VALUABLE to your client.

Coaching agreement

And even though my client and I got off to a shaky start…

…I lead her through a quick process…

…that got us on the same page.

And (once we were on the same page)…

…the coaching session was MAGICAL.

So magical…

…that an hour later she texted me a video…

…of her singing along with the car radio.

I can still hear her now, belting out, “I am strong…

…I am invincible…

…I am woman…

…hear me roar!”

With a caption “Thinking of you.”

That was priceless, for HER as much as for ME.

But none of that would’ve been possible without setting up a powerful AGREEMENT between us for that coaching session…

…and EVERY session prior to that one.

So, how do you set up the agreement for a coaching session?

STEP ONE: Exploration: Understand what your client wants.

This step is pretty simple… just ASK THEM:

  • “What result would you like to get out of this session?”
  • “What would be most valuable for you to work on today?”

Once you have an idea of what your client wants, you’re ready for the next step…

STEP TWO: Motivation: Understand the motivations behind your client’s desire.

This is important to clarify what’s driving your client’s wants.

Why do they want it in the first place?

Some questions you might ask include:

  • “What is important about achieving that result?”
  • “What does that mean to you?”
  • “How will your life be different if we work on this?”

You want to make sure that you drill down to discover your client’s motivations at the deepest level…

Generally, all your client’s motives boil down to an attempt to meet their “survival needs”:

  • Certainty (safety, security, comfort – In modern society this is usually measured in terms of health or finances).
  • Significance (feeling special, unique, worthy, valuable, or needed).
  • Variety (novelty, adventure, or growth… usually a measure of enjoying life)
  • Love and Connection (relationship, or a feeling of oneness with others)

Survival needs are the drive behind everything your client wants.

Even if you don’t talk about it explicitly with your client, keep an eye on the deeper motivations behind their surface desire or problem.

STEP THREE: Agree on a measurable outcome.

Unless both YOU and YOUR CLIENT are clear on the destination…

…the odds are that you’ll miss the mark in that coaching session.

This step helps create clarity between coach and client about what you’re actually partnering to achieve during the session.

Ask your client:

  1. “At the end of the session, what would you like to walk away with?”
  2. “What do you hope to achieve at the end of this session?”

STEP FOUR: Agree on measurements of success.

Make your outcomes objective (if possible)…

…so you and your client are clear about your progress.

Make your outcomes objective (if possible)…so you and your client are clear about your progress.”

Without this step you won’t know when to stay the course, or shift gears in the session.

Ask your client:

  • “How will you know that you have achieved what you want to accomplish in this session?”
  • “What will be a reasonable sign that we’ve gotten there?”
  • “What will that look / feel like?”
  • “Where would you like to be by the end of this session?”

These four steps lead to a clear agreement between you and your client around the entire premise of that coaching session:

  • The goal
  • The ‘why’
  • The process
  • The proof

That agreement will set you up for a collaborative partnership – powerfully pulling your client towards success.

The lack of that agreement leaves your session vulnerable to a malaise of complaints, confusion, and wandering.

Getting the coaching agreement ahead of diving into each session will empower your clients…

…to determine their own outcomes, putting them in the driver’s seat.

Even if the rest of your coaching in that session is a flop…

…and all you did was help your client get clear about what they want…

…they STILL win!


Because your client has all the answers within themselves.

Even if YOU don’t have all the answers, when your client is clear…

…they often come up with the answer on their own.

Your client will magically move toward a solution…

…all because you:

  1. Provided an opportunity for self-reflection.
  2. Gave them the power to decide what is most valuable.
  3. Inspired confidence by creating a positive expectation of progress.

Taking a few minutes to establish the coaching agreement…

…creates a blank canvas…

…for your client to explore their dreams…

…and create a plan to achieve them.

And when you empower your clients in this way…

…they love you (and your coaching) all the more.

Colette “Coaching Agreement” Coiner

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar