ICF Core Competency: Cultivates Trust and Safety

For coaches, creating a foundation of trust with their clients is one of the most important aspects of the coaching relationship.

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In the field of professional coaching, the International Coach Federation (ICF) Core Competencies guide coaches in their practice and professional development.

These core competencies satisfy two needs – they’re both a theoretical framework for the work of coaching and an honest reflection of the collective understanding and commitment of ICF coaches worldwide towards upholding the highest standards in their work.

ICF Core Competency: Cultivates Trust and Safety

Imagine being asked to trust a stranger completely with your innermost thoughts, goals, hopes and dreams. 

What would it take for you to feel secure and open enough to be honest? 

A great coach can create an environment where every client feels recognized and listened to – an atmosphere where they can unwind and be open, knowing they’ll be heard with respect and empathy. Coaches offer the unique experience of talking with someone who truly understands you and "speaks your language."

For coaches, creating a foundation of trust with their clients is one of the most important aspects of the coaching relationship. From that foundation of trust and safety comes open communication, true reflection, and effective, ongoing personal growth. 

What Does It Look Like in Action?

The ICF defines Cultivates Trust and Safety this way: “Partners with the client to create a safe, supportive environment that allows the client to share freely. Maintains a relationship of mutual respect and trust.” 

While we may think we know how to make others feel safe and secure, what does this look like in action? 

Every central competency is made up of a set of “sub-competencies” that, when brought together, makeup the whole. Let’s take a look at the building blocks of creating an environment of trust and safety for our clients.

Understanding the Client

Coaches need to take a look at what elements “make up” the client and strive to understand these in the context of who their client is – this includes their identity, experiences, and the socio-cultural factors influencing them. 

For example, understanding intersectionality is crucial. Recognizing how different identities interact on multiple levels and affect experience and perception can help a coach appreciate the client's unique perspective.

Demonstrating Respect

Coaches need to suspend their own personal judgments and biases when it comes to working with clients. Especially when it comes to matters of perspective! 

A vivid example of this is the different perceptions of cilantro—some people find it soapy due to genetic differences in taste perception, while others love the taste and enjoy it. Given the different ways so many people experience the same situations, coaches must honor their clients' perceptions and adapt their methods accordingly.

Adapting Language and Style

Coaches should do their best to understand and mirror the client's language and communication style. Language is constantly evolving and being able to connect with your clients in a way that makes them feel heard and seen is a crucial part of creating both trust and safety. 

Take your cue from the client! This might mean staying on top of new slang with younger clients, or sticking to more formal language with certain generations. 

Acknowledging Client’s Contributions

Clients are doing the hard work of showing up and putting in the effort. This means they’re bringing their entire self, including their unique talents, perspectives, and insights. Recognizing these contributions validates the client and encourages them to keep showing up as they truly are.

This acknowledgment can be as simple as praising their commitment to the process or highlighting the insightful ways they've approached a problem. 

Supporting Emotional Expression 

When clients feel comfortable expressing their true emotions, they are more likely to delve into deeper, more meaningful reflections that drive personal growth. 

Coaches can facilitate this by being attentive, empathetic listeners and by asking questions that encourage clients to explore their feelings about various situations. This emotional exploration can reveal underlying beliefs and values. Plus, expressing emotions can help relieve stress for clients!

By creating an atmosphere where emotions can be freely shared, coaches help clients navigate and understand their inner emotional landscapes.

Being Open and Transparent

Coaches should also be honest, open and transparent to build deeper trust. This involves sharing their own experiences when appropriate. Your story is your gold, and it’s how you bring that to the world that attracts your clients to want to work with you! 

Transparency about the coaching process and the coach's methods also helps clients feel secure and informed about what to expect, further building trust. Handling sensitive information with care and maintaining confidentiality is a fundamental part of this transparency, ensuring that the coaching space remains a secure and trusted environment. 

The Outcomes of Trust and Safety

By understanding and implementing these sub-competencies, coaches can facilitate a transformational process. 

There’s so much more to coaching than just setting and achieving goals. When clients feel genuinely understood and supported, they are more likely to engage deeply with the entire coaching process, making the coaching experience truly transformative for both coach and client.

Cultivating trust and safety is a continuous commitment to understanding, respecting, and genuinely caring for the client. This commitment lays the groundwork for effective coaching outcomes and profound, lasting change.

Interested in expanding your coaching toolkit? 

Coaching is a rapidly growing field that is continuously evolving. Even for seasoned coaches, there’s always more to discover. If you’ve not already earned your ICF accredited coach certification, there’s no better time to get started! 

Grounded in science, the Lumia coach training program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, support as you embrace your coaching career opportunities and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.

‍Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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