‘Getting to know you’ – establishing rapport between the coach/mentor and the individual

‘Getting to know you’ – establishing rapport between the coach or mentor and the individual

Any coaching and mentoring relationship (performed by coach or mentor ) is unlikely to progress very far or produce effective results if there is no initial rapport between the coach or mentor and the individual who is being coached.  The process of establishing rapport is essential. Mutual consent and a willingness to actively get involved in the relationship are essential ingredients to the coaching and mentoring relationship.

rapport between the coach/mentor and the individual

In certain cases, one party or the other may be an unwilling or an unaware partner in the process, for instance a direct report who does not want to be coached by a coach or where the person is chosen as mentee by someone more senior who takes a proactive interest in their development without disclosing the intent of the process.  The former is not necessarily a positive relationship and the latter may not be considered as a relationship at all if one were to apply the broad definition of the term.

It is important to establish mutual understanding of what the relationship entails

What is equally important is a broad sense of purpose, a mutual understanding of what the relationship entails, even if there is no fixed pre-set goal in place.  Even a casual friendship contains elements of being available, and of being able to provide practical or psychosocial support.  Relationships with low rapport and high clarity can still achieve results with respect to performance and learning.  A relationship with low clarity and high rapport is more enjoyable but less likely to create personal change.  Relationships that score high in both aspects are usually the most rewarding and successful with respect to measurable outcomes.  When both clarity and rapport are low, little can reasonably be expected from the relationship.

In establishing a rapport between the coach or mentor and the individual it often happens that a coach or mentor will encounter someone who maintains a high wall around themselves, protecting their privacy to the extent that creates difficulties for others who are attempting to get to know them.   While it is possible to have a relationship with such an individual, even on an amicable or more relaxed level, the relationship will lack substance and depth.  Reasons why certain people are unwilling/and or unable to share details about themselves are numerous, ranging from clinical problems such as Asperger’s syndrome to a fear of being exposed.  It is not usually the coach or mentor’s role to provide therapeutic counselling in those circumstances even if he or she may be qualified to do so.  The challenge is often one of reconciling the demand of the relationship for greater openness and rapport with the individual’s choice of not to venture into personal aspects of their lives.

The importance of authenticity

The essence of building rapport between the coach or mentor and the individual is authenticity.  This involves being present for and open to another person in a way that no technique, however skilfully applied, will achieve.  An authentic meeting between two individuals is the opposite of a programmed series of ‘moves’ which are not implemented for their own sake, but rather as a means to a predetermined end.  That is why a ‘have a nice day’ approach is counter-productive in that the recipient knows only too well that this utterance has nothing whatsoever to do with a spontaneous expression of goodwill towards them as an individual and everything to do with ‘selling burgers’.  As a result, being subjected to this type of formatted communication can cause alienation as opposed to bonding.

If it is to be successful, building rapport needs to be an un-studied, un-rehearsed response to the person as the interaction unfolds.  But it is also a reciprocal process (between the coach and recipient) in that the developing relationship co-evolves in real time in the space between the participants.  The essential ingredients for this reciprocity lie in authentic self-disclosure coupled with attentiveness and sensitivity towards the other person as to who that person is and ‘where they are coming from’.

Areas of common ground

The basic task of building rapport is to identify and start to explore areas of common ground in order to test for common values, attitudes and experience and the starting point for this is usually overtly trivial.  It may involve discussions about the weather, the latest news or the latest projects that the team is engaged in.  However, the content is not what is important here rather it should demonstrate sensitivity on the part of the initiator towards the recipient.

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