Confidentiality in coaching

The level of confidentiality in coaching depends on who the coach is. Where the coach is an external professional or an internal person from another part of the organisation (ie “out-of-the-line”), the same principles apply generally as with mentoring. Where the coach is a peer in the same team or the coachee’s line manager, the issue becomes more complex.

In general, the less confidence people have in the confidentiality of the coaching process, the less open they are likely to be in their conversations. Hence, to reinforce confidentiality, it would normally not be appropriate for an external coach to work with, for example, both an individual and his or her boss.

The out-of-the-line coach may in some circumstances have discussed with the coachee’s line manager or the Human Resources function what the coachee’s development, skills or performance needs are. There are likely to be some aspects of this conversation that need to remain confidential to the coach and the line manager/ HR professional.

Within the coach and coachee conversations, the normal expectation is that: confidentiality covers any opinion, advice or personal disclosures voiced by coach or coachee.

The coach may sometimes be asked to give feedback to the line manager or Human Resources about the coachee’s progress. This should only take place under the following conditions:

  • It has previously been agreed with the coachee that this feedback is intended
  • The coachee is aware that the feedback is taking place and has an opportunity to discuss it with the coach beforehand
  • The content of the coach’s conversation with the line manager/ Human Resources is limited to
    • specifics relating to the performance, development or skills goals defined at the beginning of the relationship
    • any issues the coach may have in managing the relationship

Where coach and coachee work together as peers or as manager/direct report, it simply isn’t possible to maintain a separation between the coaching conversation and normal working relationships. However, both coach and coachee have a right to expect that coaching conversations will remain confidential between them.

© David Clutterbuck. All rights reserved

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