The 'working alliance' of coaching

The working alliance of coaching

the working alliance of coaching

A recent review of the available literature in coaching looking at what is known as the working alliance of coaching or what is important in coaching relationships has found that the quality of coaching relationships is vital to achieving outcomes, however this is hard to quantify. This new literary review and study looked at the quality of the relationship between coaches and coachees to see what impact, if any, the nature of the relationship has on the outcomes of the coaching.




Therapeutic interventions v coaching 

Firstly, the study found that a coaching relationship should really be considered to be an alliance, the quality of which reflects the level of joint engagement in collaborative and purposeful work and that this is constantly being negotiated and renegotiated as the relationship develops. Coaching is an ameliorative relationship or alliance based on making things better and creating a more advantageous environment for the coachee as opposed to healing the coachee.


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Coaching and psychotherapy

In the 1990s coaching was trying to assert itself as an industry and show its differences from psychotherapy. A piece of research was published at this time that showed that coaching was a lot more collegial, egalitarian and collaborative than the psychotherapeutic relationship. From that moment there has been a distinction between a ‘medical model’ of coaching and therapy towards a more partnership approach based more on examining the thinking and behaviour of the coachee in the present and towards some future goal rather than examining the individuals past to heal.

The separation between coaching and therapy, the study finds, is however can easily become blurred, and there is no hard and fast separation in practice like there is in theory, especially when issues revolve around intrapersonal issues, like confidence and anxiety for example.

 coaching relationships

Interpersonal skills of the coach (and coachee)

  1. The study found that, for a positive relationship and developing an alliance, coaches with a slightly dominant disposition tend to do better. Described as a ‘dominant – friendly’ approach. Coaches who are prepared to lead tend to form more productive relationships with their coachees.
  2. Further “reciprocal friendliness behaviours were positively linked to working alliance”. In effect, this idea of forming a working alliance between the coach and coachee, coupled with the slightly dominant disposition, is highly predictive of positive outcomes.
  3. Additionally the study found that coach dominant-friendly behaviour is positively related to positive coachee ratings of the quality of the working alliance.
  4. It was also found that the coach being in a pleasant mood prior to a coaching session predicted the amount of in-session dominant-friendly interpersonal behaviour.


The 5 attributes for developing a positive coaching relationship


It review discovered that found that there are five coach attributes that predict a positive working alliance or relationship:


  1. Trust building
  2. Understanding and managing coachees’ emotional difficulties and states
  3. Instigating two-way communication – listening and talking
  4. Facilitating and helping coachees’ learning and development
  5. Putting into place a clear contract and transparent processes.


The primary characteristic however was found to be the ability to form a strong working relationship with the coachee.


age of coach



The study also found that coachees tend to report better outcomes if their coach is similar to themselves in terms of background and gender. Interestingly age differences between coaches and coachees tended not to make a difference either in terms of the strength of the working alliance or the outcome of the coaching;


Reference – available to members




This interesting study of coaching effectiveness has found that the key factor for predicting the outcomes of coaching is the quality of the relationship between the coachee and coach. Known as the working alliance this one factor predicts the quality of the outcome of the coaching more than anything else.

Working alliance is based on reciprocal friendliness.

This is in turn effected by:

  1. That the coach is in a pleasant mood before the session
  2. That the coach shows what are known as dominant-friendly characteristics
  3. There are 5 attributes that develop a positive coaching relationships:
    1. Trust building
    2. Understanding and managing the coachees’ emotions (emotional intelligence and emotion regulation and management skills)
    3. Listening and talking skills
    4. Having a facilitative approach
    5. Putting a clear contract and process in place.
  4. Coachees tend to prefer coaches who have a similar background and are the same gender (although the gender aspect of this is disputed by other research).
  5. Age is not an issue.


The negative side effects of coaching and how to deal with them – new study

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David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson is the Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford Review. He is also acknowledged to be one of the world's leading experts in dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty and developing emotional resilience. David teaches and conducts research at a number of universities including the University of Oxford, Medical Sciences Division, Cardiff University, Oxford Brookes University School of Business and many more. He has worked with many organisations as a consultant and executive coach including Schroders, where he coaches and runs their leadership and management programmes, Royal Mail, Aimia, Hyundai, The RAF, The Pentagon, the governments of the UK, US, Saudi, Oman and the Yemen for example. In 2010 he developed the world's first and only model and programme for developing emotional resilience across entire populations and organisations which has since become known as the Fear to Flow model which is the subject of his next book. In 2012 he drove a 1973 VW across six countries in Southern Africa whilst collecting money for charity and conducting on the ground charity work including developing emotional literature in children and orphans in Africa and a number of other activities. He is the author of The Ambiguity Advanatage: What great leaders are great at, published by Palgrave Macmillian. See more: About: About David Wikipedia: David's Wikipedia Page