Should I coach my best friend?

By Toku

If you’re a coach for any length of time the question about who you should and shouldn’t coach will come up. Eventually, you’ll either want to coach a close friend or family member or they’ll want to work with you. But can you or should you do this? 

Recently a coach posted the following question in a community forum I’m a part of: 

What are your thoughts about coaching close friends/ having them participate in programs you facilitate?


And here was my response. 


I think this is dicey at best (This is coming from someone who coaches their own father soooooooo….. 😱😱😱😱😱) 


I think it’s 100% possible but you need to get very clear on a few things:


Priorities – If the friendship/relationship is the priority how will you deal with it if the coaching impacts the friendship. What’s the bail/pull the chord agreement? 


The last time I was in business/coaches a close friend we agreed beforehand the friendship mattered more to us than our business. Which made a HUGE difference when he wanted to bail suddenly. I could have held it against him, but I reminded myself of what we had said. I let the business go and kept the friendship and our relationship was even stronger as a result. 


Confidentiality – How will you handle information inside/outside the container? Can you ask questions or reference things you know about them as a friend? Or can you only talk about things that get brought up in the group? If it’s the latter how are you going to navigate that? 


If things get brought up in the group can you talk about them inside your friendship? And how are you going to make sure things stay sealed? 


I’m very clear with my father that I won’t bring up coaching things outside of our coaching, but sometimes things do come up when we spend time as a family. For me, the line is to reference things only in an energetic sense, but never directly. Luckily he generally talks about things like business with us in a family setting as well, so I trust us in how to navigate that boundary but if he was more private it might be more challenging. 


Roles – What roles do you currently play in one another’s lives. How will you discern between the coach/client role and the friend/family role? 


When I’m in sessions with my dad I refer to him as Al, I call his wife Peg, I’ll even mention his children. I use these named protocols two separate the two types of ways we relate to each other. I developed this technique when I worked for his company many years ago. It isn’t perfect but it helps. 

In addition when he wants to discuss personal issues during our coaching time (like the next time I come to visit) I ask that we bring those things to our weekly family call instead. I’m not saying there’s never any overlap, but I work to be constantly attending to the container so it’s as clean as possible. 


I think this is esp. important if you’re very different as a coach than as a friend. In my relationship for example I tend to be more empathetic and offer witnessing more than I would in my coaching relationship. Sure I hear my clients but if they loop, if the same pattern shows up again I point it out and challenge them. If I did this in my romantic relationship without checking in first it wouldn’t go very well.


If your friend expects you to show up as a friend and you show up as a coach how is that going to go? 


Consider how it impacts the space: Will you be able to be in the space and be impartial with your friend? Can you make sure not to use any inside jokes or inside language with them? How are you going to share the fact that there’s a different relationship in the space? 


When I run strategic planning sessions with my father’s company I presence the fact that we’re related to one another, esp. when a new team member is in the room. I feel confident about my ability to treat him the same way I’d treat any CEO. but I do know this is harder in group coaching when I have a close relationship with a few of the members. 


When I run Half Day Dojo’s and dojo alumni show up I have to be careful not to talk to only them, because it can leave other people feeling like they’re on the outside of the group. So I do my best to treat everyone the same. I might check in with someone I know well, but then I move my attention on to the group as a whole. 


Ideally, you need to let people know that there’s a relationship there and how you’re holding it. People will almost always pick up on it if you don’t. 


Are you getting supported? – Since coaching a friend may bring up your own stuff, how are you going to get supported so you can show up cleaning in the relationship or space you’re creating? 


I could never coach my own father or have a friend in my groups unless I was working with a coach. If you’re going to take this on, bring it to your coach (and if you don’t have one get one), talk it out and see what you would need to be a strong stand for them. 


I also bring these kinds of questions to my close coaching peers. It’s this kind of thing that the Pilea consultation groups are great for. Because you can discuss how other coaches handle this while also attending to your own boundaries. 


Final thoughts – 

So should you coach a family member or close friend? 

In most cases, they will be better served by referring them to another coach. Because the relationship is cleaner and the work can be more direct. But if you really want to do it, make sure you really consider the issues above. 


Yes, you can do this but it requires a lot of attention and work before, during, and after the engagement. It should only be done with the support of a coach and a group of peers and being able to be very clear an why you’re choosing to work this way. 


For me and my father, this arrangement works great for us. We both like being in charge in a way and both get a lot out of working together. Because in a coaching relationship the coach is in charge of the container and the client is in charge of the process it balances our relationship in a way nothing ever has. When I worked for him and disagreed with his choices I would get frustrated and annoyed especially when it impacted my day to day work. And I doubt he would enjoy working for me for the same reason. 


By coaching him I can give him my best insights, offer my best questions, and then let him choose what he wants. My role as a coach works for our relationship, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it for anyone else. But my hope is that what I’ve learned from working with him will help you work with your clients as well. 


Love, Toku


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