Core Skills – Trust and Intimacy

Core Skills – Trust and Intimacy

I shall talk about establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client. Intimacy in this case describes the close collaboration that occurs in a coaching relationship.


The ICF describes the skill of creating trust and intimacy as the ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust. The kind of trust that coaching needs, requires that the teacher:

  • Shows genuine concern for the student’s welfare and future
  • Continuously demonstrates personal integrity, honesty and sincerity
  • Establishes clear agreements and keeps promises
  • Demonstrates respect for student’s perceptions, learning style, personal being
  • Provides ongoing support for and champions new behaviors and actions, including those involving risk-taking and fear of failure
  • Asks permission to coach the student in sensitive and new areas

Tools for Building trust
What ways do can you think of that you can use to build trust between you and the students that you are coaching? Imagine that you are going to meet a student for their first coaching session. What will you pay attention to regarding building trust with this student?

There are mechanical ways to build trust. You can use your communication to physically match and mirror the student in a relaxed, not-too-obvious way.

Depending on how you are sitting or standing, you may choose to match = do the same, or mirror = do the mirror opposite. Both have the effect of building trust.

Mirroring and Matching
This mirroring and matching may come naturally to you and you may already know that you speak differently when talking to different students. This adaptation usually promotes good communication, and is felt in a cosy sensation of “trust” in your belly. Certainly when the communication is less than trusting, the sensation in your stomach is less than cosy.

The mirroring and matching needs to be done in a way that avoids catching the student’s attention, and the changes will sometimes be lead by you, and sometimes be led by the student.

During this mirroring and matching, the turn-taking in the coaching conversation will still be 20% coach and 80% student.

There are three areas to consider when mirroring and matching

1) Vocal language
2) Body language
3) Communication Channels

Vocal Language
Matching can include deliberately speaking in a similar tone of voice, at about the same pace and with similar intonation and pause patterns as the student.

Body Language
Matching can include sitting or standing in a similar way to the student, moving as the student moves, almost as in a dance.

Communication Channels
Another way to build trust is to communicate on the right “channel”, by channel is meant Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic channels. Visual means communicating through the eyes, Auditory means through the ears and Kinesthetic means through the body.

Some people naturally pick up on channels. There are methodical ways to uncover which channel the student normally uses so that you can match and mirror more effectively.

“Would you read instruction manual” – That would indicate they use or prefer the Visual Channel
“Would talk with a friend who knows about it” – That would indicate the Auditory Channel
“Would you just have a go” – That would indicate the Kinesthetic Channel

Obviously a single answer is only an indication, and the student probably uses two, or perhaps all three channels to some extent. This point is that this activity will give you clues that help you guess better during the coaching process.

Here are some examples of how you can use channels

Visual Communicators
As coach when explaining, or when you ask the student to explain, use diagrams, symbols, charts, and arrangements of words on a page. Make use of different colors!

Auditory Communicators
The coaching conversation is the perfect channel for them. If you want to deliver information you could read texts out loud for them rather than asking them to read the written text. Similarly prefer to get the student speaking rather than getting them to draw, or dance as you would with Visual and Kinesthetic communicators.

Kinesthetic Communicators
Make sure you use all of their senses, especially describing what they see, feel, smell, get them to act it out, dance, and use physical metaphors for example.
With Kinesthetic communicators you can make good use of role-playing challenging situations in your room before they meet them in the outside world.

Getting students unstuck
Sometimes students can get stuck in a coaching session. You can use your knowledge of the student’s preferred communication channel to get them unstuck.

If you have noted that the student is Visual – change channel to Auditory (get them to speak, sing, blurt the first word that comes into their minds, shout, whisper…) or change channel to Kinesthetic, get them on their feet, make a physical metaphor, dance like a … whatever it is that’s blocking them)

This channel-change activity always produce results, it often gets them unstuck as they snap back to their preferred channel.

As you develop your repertoire of communication channel activities you will become better at connecting with and developing trust with the student AND be better able to move them forwards in their coaching process.

Intimacy – Avoiding being too intimate

Two questions
1) What are the signs of a positive, constructive intimate relationship with the student?
There is a special “I trust you” look in the eyes of the coaching client who is about to cross an important threshold into a richer experience of life.

2) What might happen if you are too intimate with your student?
The student may weep, shout abuse, throw a punch

The question I want to ask here is “How can you know in advance what the right level of intimacy is?”

The answer is, you can’t know what’s right. If you are doing a good job as a coach you are going to cross over from private to intimate at least once with each student. Otherwise – if you never cross the line, or if you are avoiding crossing the line – you may be playing safe, and that’s no good at all for the student’s coaching process. Crossing the line between private and intimate requires preparation.

You CAN design a way of dealing with being too intimate in advance of it happening.

The Coaching Agreement
The thing that really helps with issues around trust and intimacy is the Coaching Agreement.

This is part of a series of 12 blogs about the ICF Core Coaching Skills