Managing Tensions in the Coaching Relationship

It’s pretty common for coaches to experience a range of internal ‘tensions’ in various coaching relationships. These can include juggling the pull between challenging and letting things go, being fully present, and thinking of what comes next, among others. GCI Executive Director Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh, with co-author, David Love, explores these and other coaching practice ‘tensions’ in his newest book, Advanced Coaching Practice (2019). Experienced coaches are finding this a worthwhile read!

Another immediate tension facing leaders when they enter into coaching conversations with team members is the tension that comes from being a coach and a supervisor. This is not easy to resolve, and leaders can sometimes find that it compromises their role as coach, manager, or both. Edgar Schein has insightfully explored the dynamics of power in helping relationships in Helping: How to offer, give and receive help (2009). However, these situations vary in their complexity and context, and there are no easy, neat solutions to resolving them. Though as coaches and leaders, we do need to be working on this.

A similar tension exists within the context of developing new teachers. How can teacher educators and mentors bring a coaching approach to the developmental conversations they have with beginning teachers when a pass or fail grade is also a factor in the learning experience? What kinds of conversations and relationships ameliorate the tension that exists between review and assessment, and the need to encourage growth and development in adult learners? Pre-service (and early career teachers) undoubtedly need training and expert knowledge as well as feedback and appraisal of their readiness for entry to the profession. How can we do this in a respectful way that enables the individuals to become engaged critically reflective professionals?

It is this very issue that we are exploring in our Curious Convos webinar this month. Mary-Clare Relihan works with pre-service teachers and their school-based mentors in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, where she is also undertaking her doctoral research looking at coaching, mentoring and adult learning. This month, Mary-Clare discusses this topic with GCI Managing Director Chris Munro, also someone with past experience of navigating what he calls the “delicate partnership’ between the university, schools and pre-service teachers.


  • Schein, E. (2009). Helping: How to offer, give and receive help. Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
  • Van Nieuwerburgh, C. & Love, D. (2019). Advanced Coaching Practice: Inspiring change in others. Sage Publications Inc.