ICF Core Competency: Establishes and Maintains Agreements

Learn the steps involved from pre-engagement to setting goals, and how they empower client autonomy and thoughtful decision-making. Essential for any coach!

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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 are not just a theoretical framework, but an honest reflection of the collective understanding and commitment of ICF coaches worldwide towards upholding the highest standards in their work.

ICF Core Competency: Establishes and Maintains Agreements

At the heart of any productive coaching relationship lies the ability to establish and maintain clear agreements. This competency is about crafting a shared understanding that sets the stage for transformational client growth. 

The ICF dedicates significant resources to ensure coaches are adept at navigating this process, recognizing its complexity and the protective barrier it forms for all involved.

Why Agreements Matter

Coaches today operate across diverse environments—from corporate sectors to government and education, and even in global initiatives like economic recovery and nation-building. 

But many coaches will be operating in one on one coaching with individual clients.

The role of clear agreements becomes even more important in that context, ensuring mutual understanding and alignment of goals, processes, and expectations.

Breaking Down the Competency

The "Establishes and Maintains Agreements" competency is comprehensive, addressing every phase of the coaching engagement. Here's how it unfolds:

Pre-Engagement Clarity

Before the coaching relationship begins, the coach facilitates clarity between all parties to the coaching relationship.This includes:

  • Defining Coaching: Explain what coaching is (and isn't) and describe the process.
  • Setting Boundaries: Agree on what's appropriate within the relationship and what each party is offering.
  • Logistics: Establish guidelines around logistics, fees, scheduling, and confidentiality.
  • Compatibility and Goals: Partner to determine compatibility and set overarching plans and goals.

This phase is important for setting the stage for a successful coaching engagement, ensuring all parties have clarity and are comfortable with the process.

The Art of Agreement Setting

As we delve deeper into the nuances of setting agreements, we encounter several key areas:

Educating on Coaching: Coaches must articulate what coaching entails, differentiating it from mentoring, consulting, and therapy. This clarity helps manage expectations and establish coaching's unique value.

Exploring Work Dynamics: Understanding how the coach and client will work together, including communication preferences and boundaries, lays the groundwork for a productive relationship.

Interpersonal Compatibility: Ensuring a good fit between coach and client, based on communication styles, values, and the coach's ability to maintain a non-judgmental stance.

Moving Towards Engagement

The final steps before diving into the coaching work involve:

Establishing a Coaching Plan and Goals: Both coach and client evaluate the coachability of the topic and set realistic, agreed-upon goals.

Confidentiality and Reporting: Clear expectations around confidentiality and information sharing, especially in contractual or workplace settings, are essential.

The Coaching Session Begins

With the foundation set, the coaching sessions can start on solid ground. The coach and client work together to define the session's focus, desired outcomes, and measures of success, ensuring each session is purposeful and aligned with the client's goals.

Empowering Autonomy and Thoughtfulness in Coaching

But why do we spend so much time setting agreements with our clients? Because coaching is client-led, and client-directed!

At the core of ICF coaching is the principle of empowering clients to direct the work within each session. This approach not only reinforces the client's autonomy but also reaffirms that they are the best source of knowledge and wisdom for their lives. Through the process of coaching, clients learn to tap into their inner resources, creating self-reliance and confidence.

By introducing a structured questioning process, coaches provide clients with the opportunity to pause and reflect deeply. This pause allows clients to transition from the reactive tendencies of the limbic system, responsible for emotional responses, to the more analytical and strategic functions of the neocortex. 

This shift enables the client to gain a broader, more objective view of their situation, paving the way for them to make thoughtful and informed decisions.

How to Set Agreements Within Each Coaching Session

Following a brief exchange of pleasantries, the coach's first task is to invite the client to set the agenda: "What are we working on today?" 

This sets the stage for the client's autonomy and leadership in defining the session's focus. For those new to the process, a more guided question like, "What brings you to coaching today?" can help clients articulate their immediate needs, giving a clear direction for the day’s session.

Defining Outcomes

For ongoing clients, questions such as, "From what you’ve shared, what would be most helpful to achieve in our session today?" will help the client clarify their objectives and goals for the immediate session.

Uncovering Urgency

The conversation then deepens to explore the urgency and motivation behind the chosen focus: "Why this, why now?" The client can dig deep to see what’s pushing them towards this goal in this moment.

Establishing Goals

Asking, "At the end of our session today, how will you know we’ve reached our desired outcome?" gives the client some space to dream big and allows for the establishment of clear, measurable goals. 

The Impact of Clear Agreements

Clarity in agreements influences the coaching relationship and outcomes.

It builds trust, aligns expectations, and sets the stage for meaningful progress. Adjusting or referencing shared agreements can resolve misunderstandings and realign goals.

Knowing how to set and maintain an effective agreement is a cornerstone of professional coaching, showcasing the commitment to clarity and ethical practice. 

By mastering this competency, coaches not only protect everyone involved but also lay the groundwork for positive, transformative coaching relationships that lead to real, meaningful change!

Interested in expanding your 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 than now to get started! Grounded in science, our program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.

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