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Rapport and chemistry in Coaching?

I’ve been thinking about just how much of a focus there really should be on building rapport and chemistry in a coaching relationship…

There’s no denying that it’s nice to have rapport and to feel that there is good chemistry. Often coaches and coachees will point to this as part of what they value in the coaching relationship. Similarly, there are studies that point to both rapport and good chemistry being the foundation stones of coaching or similar “helping” relationships.

My question is, could that starting point be a nicety or potential pitfall rather than a critical and essential component?

Looking at definitions of rapport, it is variously described as:

“a sympathetic relationship or understanding”

“intense harmonious accord”

“relation characterized by harmony, conformity, accord, or affinity”

I understand why both experientially and definitionally we might seek to associate rapport and good chemistry with a coaching relationship. Yet there is a mutuality illustrated in the above which indicates the coach needs to get something from the relationship…

So whose agenda are we working with? How useful and accurate is it for the coach to expect the coachee to see their relationship in this way? Given that coaching is not meant to create dependency, what expectations have we created around rapport and chemistry when the coaching relationship ends?

We can show compassion, empathy and sympathy genuinely and usefully without creating a sympathetic relationship.

We don’t always need intense harmonious accord. We often need difference and challenge in coaching.

We should be very wary of the pitfalls of affinity and like-mindedness.

Genuine rapport and chemistry in relationships is to be valued, always. My sense is that trust, commitment, challenge and skill are perhaps far more usefully important in coaching relationships than our notions of rapport or chemistry.

Perhaps we only focus on starting coaching relationships with just those 4 elements in mind and let the relationship flourish from there?


8 thoughts on “Rapport and chemistry in Coaching?

  1. Nice pot-stirring David! I see rapport as an essential part of the coaching relationship because of the positive effect it has on the client’s ability to think well by enabling them to feel safe. And, as you say, this has to always be balanced with continuing to see your client for who they are – not becoming cosy and mutually reliant because from there we can’t see difference and we can’t challenge effectively. That’s why I know I couldn’t be an effective coach for someone beyond 18 months – and even that would be at the very most I would do. For me this is where our skill is in holding a safe, non-judgemental space so that the client can be open and honest, and can hear our observations or accept the challenge of our questions, because they don’t feel squashed or fearful of our reaction to their answer. So for me you can have rapport and bring challenge. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.


    Posted by Helen Amery | September 22, 2015, 9:22 AM
    • Thanks Helen – not sure I’d disagree with anything you’ve said. I’m advocating letting rapport and chemistry emerge but not beguile. As in many other aspects of life, we can have a great and productive relationship without having to create the rapport that is often intimated in coaching circles. You can bring useful challenge both with and without rapport providing you have trust, commitment and skill. That feels contrary to much apparent coaching wisdom where rapport and chemistry are often stated to be the bedrock of coaching…


      Posted by David Goddin | September 22, 2015, 10:11 AM


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