The not-so-secret ingredient of creating a safe coaching space

An in-depth look on the first Core Coaching Competency out of our experiential online course Decoding The Coaching Genome, accredited with 21 CCEU by the ICF.

The first guideline set up by the International Coach Federation is about understanding and practicing ethical guidelines. Of course, as a professional, it’s a given that you will follow professional guidelines. When you don’t, you expect to be punished and if you’ve deeply harmed one or more of your clients you can expect to be permanently removed from the profession. The coaching profession is no different.

But why are guidelines so important in the first place? Guidelines help set up reasonable expectations for both coach and client about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Clearly, doing harm to your client is not acceptable. Most of us would not consciously decide to deliberately hurt our clients. But how do these ethical guidelines help you co-create reasonable expectations for a successful coaching experience?

Ethical guidelines create a safety net to catch and hold both the client’s and your expectations. Coaching when done well is an intimate profession. We listen to our clients’ dreams and desires as we live out ours. In the midst of such intimacy, wires can get crossed and boundaries can unwittingly be broken.

Take confidentiality, for example. Your client tells you a heart-wrenching story about some violence that occurred at his office earlier in the week. You managed to listen and hold the space while you were in the session with him. However, it’s now several hours later and you can’t get the story out of your mind. You’re feeling anxious.

Your wife comes home and you confide your upset to her. She is not a coach and is not bound by confidentiality. While you haven’t mentioned your client’s name and you know your wife doesn’t know him, you have shared enough information that he might be identifiable in the future. You have broken the seal on your sacred agreement with him. Regardless of whether anyone ever finds out that you told your wife, you know that you have broken your contract with your client and that you have cut a hole in the safety net.

You do deserve support in dealing with your feelings and concerns. Your client has already agreed that you are free to get supervision on your work together. The ethical path to follow would have been to call a supervisor or another coach who understands the impact of trauma on helping professionals. While your wife may be well meaning and kind, she lacks the skills and the stance to adequately support you.

Creating a conscious relationship is the business and meaning of Coaching Mastery. It is also necessary to help clients do the transformational work that is necessary for them to successfully live their life purposes. Understanding the ethical guidelines as supports rather than rules that must be followed or punishment will ensue is a gift to and from the coaching profession.

Learn more about this coaching competency and all eleven ICF Coaching Competencies in our entertaining, interactive online course, “Decoding The Coaching Genome” starting September 14th 2017. 21 ICF Coach Competency Units awarded upon completion. Register at:

Written by Judith Cohen.

Judith Cohen is Co-founder of The Wisdom Tree Academy and infusing it with her 30+ years of experience in coaching and leadership. She is also a Senior Faculty member at CTI (The Coaches Training Institute).