The following article is an extract from Christian’s latest book, An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide (2nd Edition) published by Sage. Used with permission. It highlights the importance of the Coaching Way of Being, perhaps the most important factor contributing to effective coaching.

The phrase ‘way of being’ in relation to one-to-one relationships was coined by the influential humanistic psychologist, Dr Carl Rogers (1980). He founded the ‘person-centred approach’ and his principles continue to influence coaching practice today.

Rogers based his thinking on two foundational premises. First, he proposed that people are their own best experts. In other words, people know themselves better than others can. Second, he believed that people are self-actualising. This means that people naturally grow towards achieving their full potential, rather like plants that grow towards the light. These two premises led him to suggest that the role of a counsellor is to simply create the conditions in which a person can be allowed to self-actualise. Rogers famously outlined the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions' for a successful counselling relationship:

  1. Two persons are in psychological contact

  2. The client is in a state of incongruence

  3. The counsellor is congruent in the relationship

  4. The counsellor experiences unconditional positive regard for the client

  5. The counsellor experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of refer- ence and endeavours to communicate this experience to the client

This communication is achieved to a minimal degree. (Adapted from Rogers, 1957: 95). Roger used the word ‘therapist’ instead of ‘counsellor’ in the bullet- points above

Bearing in mind that Rogers developed this set of necessary and sufficient conditions for counselling relationships rather than coaching relationships, which ones are still relevant and appropriate for us as coaches?

  1. There must be a good relationship between the coach and the coaches

  2. The coachee must want to make a change

  3. The coach must be authentic in her interactions with the coachee

  4. The coach’s positive regard for the coachee must be unconditional

  5. The coach must demonstrate empathy

Point 4 may need some clarification. The phrase ‘the coach’s positive regard for the coachee must be unconditional’ means that the coach should respect the coachee and view her positively (as a human being) regardless of what she might say or do during the coaching conversation. The opposite of this would be conditional positive regard, meaning that a coachee would be given respect and viewed positively (as a human being) as long as she spoke and behaved in a way which met with the approval of the coach.

Based on Rogers’ necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change, it is proposed that the five revised ‘conditions’ listed above may be necessary for successful coaching to take place. There is currently debate about whether Rogers’ conditions, by themselves, are sufficient for change to occur. In my view, when translated into a coaching context, the conditions are necessary but may not be sufficient. To put it another way, the conditions are necessary, but other things need to happen as well. I have argued in this book that three elements are needed:

  1. A conversational process managed by the coach

  2. A set of coaching-related skills

  3. A ‘coaching way of being’ (including the five revised conditions listed above)