Decoding the coaching chemistry meeting


Offering an initial chemistry meeting for the coachee to meet his or her coach before taking a final decision is a well-established practice in the field of coaching. In fact, many coach providers and client organisations offer the coachee the option of meeting two coaches and picking the one he or she is more comfortable working with.

So, what is this chemistry meeting all about? Is it some kind of coaching swayamvara? What purpose does it serve? Going by the compelling statistic that over 90% of the time the coachee accepts to work with the coach presented to him or her, do we need this initial step at all or is it a mere ritual?

Drawing from my experience as a coach and coach provider over the past decade, here are some perspectives on the subject.

It is all about coachee centricity

Businesses which are customer centric do what is right by the customer. Similarly, good coach providers and coaches too demonstrate coachee centricity.

The first act of coachee centricity is respecting the right of the coachee to determine who he or she will choose to work with. By giving the coachee this right to choose, we would have taken that all important step to cement his or her motivation and commitment to change and development. So, whether this choice is symbolic or real does not matter. Having that choice is what matters.

An empathetic view of chemistry

Beyond honouring the coachee’s need for choice, ensuring chemistry has some substantive value too.

Seen from the coachee’s intuitive point of view, three important criteria must be met in this first meeting to declare that the chemistry is right:

Presence: The coachee must feel comfortable in the presence of the coach. The coachee must feel at ease, must feel natural and have positive vibrations (vibes as it is colloquially called).Presence cements the coachee’s belief that the space that they will create will be safe, warm, trusting and enabling for deep conversations. The quality of presence is perhaps the most important dimension of chemistry.

Connection: The coachee must be able to make a connection with the coach. This connection can come from a variety of things. They might make a connection because they find that there are things they have in common, or that they have complementary abilities or even because their life experiences are similar. For example, women dealing with career concerns might feel connected when they meet women coaches who have had to deal with such issues. Connection is what cements the coachee’s belief that the experience will be educative and value adding.

Intention:The ultimate marker of good chemistry is the intention of the coachee to meet the coach once again and work with him or her. When a coachee eagerly looks forward to meeting the coach, we can rest assured that the coach – coachee chemistry is good and is working.

This intention to meet and engage is extremely critical given that there will be times in the relationship when the coach will confront and challenge the coachee and it is during these times that the intention to collaborate is put to test.

The role of the coach
It might appear that the true judge of chemistry is the coachee and not the coach and that is indeed true to a large extent.

Good coaches are trained to uphold some of the golden values of the helping professional like being respectful, empathetic, genuine, non-judgmental and non-directive. Thanks to this training, coaches are in general able to accept coachees with their strengths and fallibilities. They are trained to establish good chemistry and even enhance the motivation of the coachee to embrace coaching.

They are also trained to expect a certain level of reluctance and scepticism.

The real challenge for the coach is this: coaching is also a business transaction with financial returns at stake. As a result, even the best of coaches are likely to be under pressure to “perform” and win the engagement. This is where good coaches get separated from the ordinary ones.
Good coaches demonstrate selfless independence, a term used by JagdishSheth and Andrew Sobelin their book titled Clients for Life.They outline three distinct dimensions of this independence – intellectual independence which comes from having and sharing an independent perspective, emotional independence which comes from having a level of self-confidence and self-esteem and not having the need for others approval and financial independence that comes from the mind-set that they actually do not need that money.
Coaches who are able to display selfless independence are likely to show their coachees who they really are and on that basis let their coachees decide if they can take that.
Of course, coaches must look for one singular characteristic before saying yes to the engagement – the unstinted motivation of the coachee to work with oneself through the coach.
Well, that is a lot to achieve in one single meeting. Here is where the role of the HR leader and the coach provider becomes critical. The HR leader and the coach provider can use their collective understanding of the panel of coaches and coachees to come up with a best fit candidate for the coachee. If this is done intelligently, there is a very high chance that the coachee and the coach will say yes, happily!