Coaching Relationship Skills

Establishing Strong Trust and a Positive Rapport

A positive coaching relationship needs the development of of strong trust and a positive rapport with others to creative an effective and fulfilling outcome of change. Here are some of the specific qualities that contribute to this:


Unconditional Acceptance

In coaching, it is essential for mentors to try to express unconditional acceptance towards their mentees so that the mentees believe their mentors are on their side. Although judgement, criticism and disappointment – both spoken and unspoken – do not motivate or support changes of habit, these are common habits we all carry. Learning to become self-aware of this tendency and different ways to react is a very useful coaching skill.

Similarly, it is not beneficial for the mentor to point out mentees’ shortcomings in order to teach them better ways.

Instead, mentors should celebrate mentees’ strengths and invite them to figure out better ways.

When a mentor expresses unconditional acceptance of the mentee – regardless of what he or she accomplishes, the relationship can promote self-confidence and self-esteem.

Self-Inquiry Questions

What habits do you have that may get in the way of expressing unconditional acceptance?

What would trigger you to struggle with unconditional acceptance?

What are some simple ways you can you show unconditional acceptance of your mentee?

What are some of the strengths you could celebrate in your mentee?

Can you make a list of strengths to share in some way, for the next time you meet?


Showing Empathy

In coaching, it is important to express a respectful understanding of another person’s experience, including his or her feelings, needs and desires. Empathy acknowledges the mentee’s right to feel and experience the situation however he or she experiences it, without eliciting pity, sadness or disappointment from the mentor.

When mentees are struggling, it’s especially important to connect with their feelings, needs and desires in a positive, supportive and non-judgemental way. Empathy helps to build relationships, trust and rapport, and encourages growth.

Self-Inquiry Questions

How do you respond when others are struggling with emotions?

What are the words you could say to support the mentee in expressing her feelings without minimising, saving or amplifying her experience.


Keeping Promises

In coaching, its’s important to deliver on any promises made.

Self-Inquiry Questions

Do you ever make (even small) promises to the mentee that you do not follow through on?

What is a way to ensure you remember any promises you may make during a session?


Finding Solutions

Coaching is about fostering growth and not forcing it. From a coaching perspective, telling mentees what to do can interfere with a trusting relationship. It can also create resistance and hold back a mentee’s ability to change. Instead, the mentor should offer options to consider as if from the passenger seat, rather than grabbing the steering wheel and deciding where a mentee should go next. Allowing the mentee to make choices supports his or her autonomy to create goals, figure out strategies or develop methods for change.

Self-Inquiry Questions

How often do you offer others solutions when they present with a problem?

What would help you to think differently about the value of offering solutions?

What does it feel like for yourself when you make a choice about your future, instead of someone else?



The coaching relationship is built on a foundation of confidentiality. It is important for the mentor to create a safe place by establishing a policy of confidentiality from the beginning.

Self-Inquiry Questions

How would you like others to treat your confidential information?



Mindfulness is a non-judgemental awareness of what is happening in the present moment. Everyone has the ability to be mindful, although it takes practice to sharpen this ability.

By paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and environments without judgement, we wake up to the experience of what’s going on around us and within us while it’s actually happening. This frees us to make informed decisions about where to go next.

Eating provides a wonderful opportunity to become mindful. Instead of rushing through meals or snacks, doing two things at once with hardly a thought as to what we’re eating, where the food comes from or how it will affect our bodies and minds, we can slow down and pay attention in ways that increase enjoyment, change our relationship to food and make us more aware of what we are eating. Such mindfulness can also lead to be fuller experiences in other areas of life.

One strategy for promoting mindfulness is to minimise distractions (noise, phone and computer alerts) that could interfere with one’s ability to remain present and focused. It also enables mentors to manage their emotions during a coaching session. The more a mentor knows about what’s going on with themselves, the less they will allow their own feelings, options and worries to get in the way of being present in the moment. ‘Set your intention to pay attention’ is a great refrain to use before each mentoring session.

By mentors practicing mindfulness, it enables mentees to learn, grow and develop. The mentor can become a valuable role model in this skill.

Self-Inquiry Questions

How mindful do you feel you are?

What would be the benefits of practicing more mindfulness?

What are some simple ways you do or could practice mindfulness?


Mindful Listening

Mindful listening is one of the most important coaching skills and a crucial component in building trust and rapport with a mentee. It is also an important element in improving the quality of conversation between mentor and mentee. When mentors are distracted, whether physically, intellectually or emotionally, the coaching relationship suffers. Instead, listening that brings full, non-judgemental awareness of what someone is saying is a benchmark of great coaching.

Paying attention is about more than just listening or looking at the mentee. Mindful listening involves listening for the meaningful whole. It is important to not only listen to the facts but also to the feelings and needs beyond the facts. Mentees’ moods, emotions, energy and body language provide important clues. Here are some tips for mindful listening:

  • Don’t think about what you will say until your client has spoken the last word of his or her thought.
  • Listen for emotions and well as facts.
  • Try not to interrupt.
  • Mirror what the mentee has said to confirm your understanding.


Open-Ended Questions

To enable mentees to open up and explore their stories, it’s important to ask open-ended questions, which have the ability to elicit long, narrative answers. Closed yes or no questions can lead to a lifeless conversation, creating more work for the mentor and fewer insights for the mentee. ‘What’ and ‘how’ are often the best ways to begin open-ended questions because they encourage storytelling. By taking time to listen to a mentee’s story, a mentor demonstrates a genuine interest in a mentee’s experience and aspirations. Displaying curiosity is a wonderful way to help a mentee open up and guide them to discover their own answers.

Positive Reframing

Positive reframing means reflecting a client’s experiences in positive terms. This makes it easier to engage in brainstorming, action planning and forward movement. Without dismissing people’s problems, effective mentors know how to reframe a conversation in positive terms.

At times, mentees need to be reminded that setbacks are an essential part of the change process, that failures are essential lessons that help us learn.

By encouraging mentees to positively reframe, a mentor can help a mentee detach from feelings of failure and get back on track.

Soliciting Suggestions

It is important to ask mentees to make suggestions of how the coaching process can be made more productive and enjoyable. You could ask questions like ‘What was most valuable about today’s session?’ and ‘How could our sessions work better for you?’ Listen to a mentee’s perceptions, interpretations and points of view, respond to needs and develop strategies to improve.


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