How simple and easy it is in the animal world !!!
What do these barks and purrs translate to in the human world?


CC4 is one of the 8 competencies that comprise the ICF framework of coaching competencies. ICF defines this competency as “Partners with the client to create a safe, supportive environment that allows the client to share freely. Maintains a relationship of mutual respect and trust”.  

This competency forms the foundation of the relationship between a coach and their client. Consider a building or any tall structure. Think about the foundation on which this structure is built. The stronger the building on top, the stronger the foundation needed. Can one see the foundation of a constructed building?  No. Does one live in the foundation? No. But what would happen if there was a crack in the foundation? Will that make the structure of the building weak? Yes.  So even though the foundation is not seen, it’s necessary for the survival of the structure built on top of it. 

So it is with this competency. It is the bedrock of the coaching relationship and therefore its components need to be “Cultivated” or “Nurtured”. 

What are the components of this competency? Trust and Safety. Let’s understand the nuances of each of these components and see how they interact and how they play out in a coaching relationship.

What is trust?

“Choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s  actions” – Charles Feltman 

“Trust is a confident belief in the competence and reliability of another person”  – Robert C. Solomon and Fernando Flores 

“Trust is the confident reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of  someone or something” – Charles H. Green 

Trust is a crucial element in fostering a supportive, non-judgmental, unbiased, and conducive environment for personal and professional growth. This is aligned with ICF’s definition of coaching “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”. 

In the context of the coaching relationship, trust can be related to: 

  • The client trusting the coach, that the coach will hold their confidence,  that they can take the risk to be vulnerable and open. 
  • The client trusting themselves, their competence, and their ability to find answers to their questions, answers that they can own and that will work for them. 
  • The coach trusting their clients, that their clients have the capacity to think and find answers to their questions. 
  • The coach trusting themselves, their competence, their knowledge, skills,  and their intuition. 
  • The coach trusting the process of coaching, and the frameworks they use that enable them to bring “all” of themselves to coaching.

How can trust be built

In a coaching context, the onus of building and nurturing trust lies with the coach. A coach can establish trust by demonstrating confidentiality, empathy, and authenticity. By creating a safe space for clients to explore their challenges opportunities and aspirations openly and vulnerably.

Once established, it is important to cultivate it, and nurture it, as the coaching relationship is a sustained one, going beyond just one session. The trust can be cultivated through consistency, transparency, and reliability.  

What does the presence of trust enable

The presence of trust enables deeper exploration beyond the obvious surface level so that the client can make discoveries about themselves that would inspire them to action and results that they want in their lives. 

In the presence of trust, clients are more likely to be authentic and vulnerable,  knowing that they can express themselves without fear of judgment or betrayal. It enables them, to reflect deeply, share openly and take risks in their development journey. 

Trust helps foster deeper connections and a sense of mutual respect. This connection can then translate into a collaborative partnership where clients would feel empowered to explore new perspectives and strategies. 

What is safety

When it comes to human relationships, it is about physical and psychological safety.  

Both the coach and the client need to “experience” safety. Feeling safe is a matter of perception. You can be the best version of yourself and yet I may not feel safe around you. It could be that you remind me of someone (real or fictional) who I feel threatened by. If we are meeting in person, it could be that I  am intimidated by the closeness between us, maybe I need more space. And when I don’t “feel” safe around you, I will tend to be on the defensive. That will make me closed and unwilling to share with you. Interestingly, the same could happen for the coach. The coach may experience feeling unsafe around their client. 

These dimensions make the aspect of physical safety extremely important in the coaching relationship. The onus of being aware of what is happening in the space lies with the coach like it does for trust. 

The other is about psychological safety. This phenomenon has been a subject of study for a very long time. Let’s look at some of the perspectives. 

The term was first coined by the psychologist and psychotherapist Carl Rogers in the 1950s. The context was establishing conditions necessary to foster an 

individual’s creativity. This is so aligned with our understanding of creating an environment in which the client can access their resourcefulness and drive results in their lives. 

Kahn describes psychological safety as the “sense of being able to show and employ self without fear of negative consequences to self-image or career”  (Kahn, 1990, p. 705).  

Psychological safety is the belief that it is safe to speak openly without fear of being punished or judged for doing so. 

During her TEDx talk, Brene Brown said “Psychological safety is the cornerstone of a healthy workplace culture. It allows people to be vulnerable,  build meaningful relationships and feel a sense of belonging, which is crucial for their personal and professional growth. 

The actual term was coined as early as 1999 by Amy Edmondson but popularly cited from her 2002 paper on the subject. She explains, “In psychologically safe environments, people believe that if they make a mistake, others will not penalize or think less of them for it. They also believe that others will not resent or penalize them for asking for help, information or feedback. This belief fosters  the confidence to take the risks described above and thereby to gain from the  associated benefits of learning.” 

What it means in the context of coaching

Safety is about the client feeling safe to go inward on a journey of exploration.  It is often an uncomfortable and risky proposition. Facing outward and learning about the world around us is safer and less risky. The same is not always true about the inward journey. The inward journey is about facing the beliefs,  assumptions, values, and biases that might have been limiting them. When the client is walking this path which is unknown, uncomfortable, and risky; it is comforting to know that someone (the coach) is walking along holding a safe space so the client can move forward with courage. A space that is non-judgmental, and unbiased, where the client can feel safe to express themselves without fear of being judged or being made wrong.  

Interestingly, safety is not the same as being comfortable and taking no risks. A  coach’s job, while providing a safe, trusting, non-judgmental environment; is also to provoke the client to think beyond their current level of thinking. When the client does this, they are able to reveal for themselves perspectives they had not seen before, perspectives that open up new possibilities for them,  possibilities that then inspire them to take actions that give them the results they 

want. This way of provoking the clients may take the clients into a zone of discomfort. And that is the challenge – holding them in a safe space while challenging them into a zone of discomfort.  

safty is not safe

And because this is such a delicate balance, this competency of Cultivating  Trust and Safety becomes the foundation of the coaching relationship, the coaching process, and the framework of coaching core competencies. 

The foundation is where both the coach and the client feel safe to be authentic,  transparent, and vulnerable.

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