Course Guide

Coaching as a Relational Process

The growth of emotional intelligence research highlighted coaching as a social – relational process that occurs either as a dyadic relationship between coach and coachee or among group or team members as they create “interactional richness … [and] a specific opportunity for individual learning and development” [1]. The assumption underlying the relational aspect of the coaching interaction is that learning occurs in social situations and is critical to growth and development [2, 3]. Moreover, emotional competence is developed through relationships based on mutuality and respect through which the coachee develops independence and takes control of their own learning [4, 5]. Human resource systems that promote relational climates indirectly influence the nature of relationships and understandings of helping behaviour [6]. 


As a relational process, coaching is aimed at non-judgmentally supporting growth and development [3, 7] by holding the coachee as the expert in their life with the necessary resources to address their challenges [8, 9]. The emergent working relationship is an equal partnership [10] with clear, mutually defined expectations [11]. The relational nature of the interaction allows coaches to provide candid and honest feedback on the coachee’s performance and behaviour [12]. As the coaching relationship deepens, self-awareness increases [13-16], which allows the coachee to bring “tacit understandings to a level of conscious awareness” [17].  A meta-analysis has revealed a moderate and consistent correlation between a high-quality coach-coachee working relationship and cognitive and affective coaching outcomes such as employee wellbeing, self-efficacy, motivation and work satisfaction [18]. However, to create change, coaches may need to challenge mental models “through inquiry and an outside or etic perspective” [19] to shift the coachee’s thinking, thus allowing them to achieve a different outcome [20]. 


The exact nature of the coaching relationship has been the subject of intense research since the 1990s when researchers focused on evaluating the impact and effectiveness of coaching from either psychodynamic [21, 22], behaviourist [23-25], person-centered [26], cognitive therapeutic [27] or system-oriented perspectives [28]. Researchers also investigated the use of disparate approaches such as transpersonal [29], gestalt [30, 31], narrative [32], integrative [33-35], solution-focused [36-39], neuro-linguistic programming [40-42] and motivational interviewing [43, 44] techniques.  


The coaching process incorporates three essential elements: accommodation of learning styles, an emotional component, and a relationship between the coach and coachee that is mutually respectful [7]. As coachees reflect on their behaviour and performance, they engage in single loop learning [45] that is necessary to respond and adapt to a continuously changing environment [7] and create new learnings that support the achievement of their desired future. Transformational learning occurs when individuals step back and consider what they have done or accomplished, “questioning and challenging existing patterns, thereby opening the door to creativity and innovation” [46] as they actively construct meaning based on their new perspectives of their contextual environment. They grow socially and emotionally as the coaching process supports their new experiences [47].  As individuals relate more interactively with others in their social environment, opportunities for continued learning present themselves and result in more fulfilling relationships based on interdependence and support [48]. 


The coach and coachee play different roles in the coaching process. The coach’s role is to understand the coachee’s issues and objectives to help them examine their situation with greater depth and clarity than they could do alone and assist them discover their own solutions [49]. Coaches stimulate recall from coachees to identify what they know about their situation and expose what they don’t [50]. The skill of the coach is to facilitate rather than prescribe outcomes [51]. Coaches believe that coachees have the necessary insights to solve their own problems [18] and facilitate such insight by improving the coachee’s “existing skills, competence and performance … personal effectiveness, personal development or personal growth” [52] through role-playing, behaviour modelling and intensive feedback to release individual potential [53, 54]. Conversely, the coachee’s role is to engage with the coach openly and honestly to uncover their motivation, hopes and fears, and generate new learning [55]. Curiosity, cultivation, and collaboration - three core ethno-relative values and behaviours  - promote discovery as coachees reflect on and delve beneath the surface of each situation [16]. Coachees learn to acknowledge their part in creating their situation and take responsibility for resolving it [56]. They identify the actions they need to take to achieve their goals and revisit the desired goals as necessary [28, 57, 58]. 


Research to separate the key factors influencing coaching outcomes from those of other psychological interventions identified significant factors such as the range of techniques available to the coach, perceptions of working relationships, client self-efficacy and, most importantly, the client–coach relationship [59], findings which have been subsequently supported in large-scale research [60]. Moreover, the coach’s academic background in psychology has been positively related to executive coaching effectiveness as evidenced by increased work performance and coachee self-awareness [61]. Critical moments in coaching precipitate new realisations which may appear implicitly or explicitly as the coaching proceeds [62]. 


This excerpt is taken from the book “Transforming Organisational Culture through Coaching” by Dr Susanne Knowles which is available from and . 



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