Confidentiality in Coaching

By Katee Van Horn
Published on: May 13, 2020

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I have shared a lot about the concepts and logistics of coaching; now I am going to share something that is a bit more personal. For a coaching relationship to be effective, there has to be trust between the coach and the client. That is a non-negotiable. For there to be trust, there needs to be some agreement on what is confidential and what is not. This doesn’t mean you need to sign an iron clad non-disclosure agreement. I would recommend that you start with a conversation outlining what information stays between the two of you and more generally, what types of things you will in fact be sharing.

Why is confidentiality such a big deal? The client needs to be able to share personal feelings and struggles at work. Without the proper level of trust, the client will not be comfortable sharing. Without that sharing, the coach will be flying blind on how to help. If the coach is flying blind, the goals of the coaching relationship will not be achieved.

My take on confidentiality is pretty simple. If I am hired by an individual, everything between us is confidential. If I am hired by an organization to coach one of their employees, everything between the employee and myself is confidential. The one difference is that I will provide a high level progress report to management, usually monthly, to show how things are progressing.

The progress report I provide to the client company includes the themes we have uncovered that need to be addressed, action items as they pertain to the themes, and how the company can support the person’s development. I will go over the progress report contents I provide with the hiring company when the coaching process begins so there is no confusion. I also ask the client to review the progress report before I send it to their leader.

I have had organizations who want me to sign a non-disclosure agreement before I begin working with their people. I am generally not opposed to this, but I do review the agreement carefully. I want to make sure I am not obligated to share anything with the company that I am not comfortable sharing, ie: session notes. I have found that most companies are just trying to protect any intellectual property or damaging information that could impact the company. I get it.

As a client, you need to discuss the topic of confidentiality with your coach. You want to make sure they will not share certain things with your employer. You want to make sure if they are coaching multiple people in the organization they are not using what you say in other sessions with other people. Even if this is an individual coach that is not hired through an organization, you want to make sure what you share with them stays between the two of you.

Katee Van Horn

Katee Van Horn

Katee is an HR strategist and international keynote speaker focused on global Inclusion, Diversity and Belonging (IDB). She is a former VP of Engagement & Inclusion for GoDaddy, a Fortune 500 company, where she helped build a truly special IDB culture. Her work there was featured in the NY Times and resulted in earning HRDive’s 2017 Executive of the Year Award. She now leads VH Included Consulting & Coaching, focusing on partnering with global organizations to strengthen their cultures. She sits on the Multicultural Advisory Board for One Community and is a board member of Firefly Education. She is particularly interested in moving underrepresented groups into leadership to achieve IDB goals.

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