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The First Meeting


Disciplines > Coaching > Process > The First Meeting

Before you meet | At the start | The rest of the meeting | After the meeting | See also


The first meeting between coach and client is a critical one. If it does not work well enough, then all future meetings are at risk.

Before you meet

Before you meet, start the process of assessing the client, finding what you can. However, do not form a fixed opinion of them and stay open for some time after meeting too. People are complex and we easily simplify them.


Prepare, prepare. It's a large part of the secret of success, especially for the first meeting. Unless you are very experienced, over-prepare. Listen to any brief you have been given.

Find out about dress code. Whilst you do not want to appear too starchy, you also need to appear professional and comfortable. As a general rule, you should be dressed to a similar level of formality to your client.

At the start

The first few seconds

Humans connect very quickly and develop opinions about the other person in the first few seconds. The executive may or may not have experience of coaches and will hence have varying expectations.

Start with confidence. Say hello with a smile, gazing calmly at them. Say their name and how pleased you are to meet them. Say your name and move into the next session.

The first few minutes

Start with them. Ask them what they are expecting. Listen and watch to read between the lines to try and understand the person and any anxieties. They may be concerned about what 'coaching' means. Explain clearly, concisely and positively.

The rest of the meeting

Clarify confidentiality

An early point to make is about confidentiality. Whilst therapists can promise absolute confidentiality, coaches are sometimes obliged to share some information, for example with the contracting HR department. Be clear and honest about this. In general, though, as much confidentiality as you can promise is a very good thing.

If you are going to share information about the client, agree this beforehand, then show them the information. Maintaining trust in this is critical.

Sell the process

Your client may have a very different idea from you as to how the coaching process is going to proceed. If you have a different idea or have been mandated differently from elsewhere, then you should sell the process. For example your client may be rather worried about the idea of psychometrics or 360-degree assessments that could show them up to be less than perfect.

Frame the process in terms of outcomes. Sell the benefit first before talking about the methods. Nudge their need that coaching can help. Frame coaching overall as a career-enhancing opportunity.

Do not, however, over-sell the process. Do not promise cures. Do not say what will be achieved in a given timescale unless you are confident that you can deliver on your promises.

Establish ground rules

Take time to agree the rules and process by which you and they will work. This includes the time you will meet and the effort that the client will put into improvement and other activity between sessions. You may also need to agree that you, as coach, will sometimes need to appear critical and say things that others might not say, albeit in support of their longer-term development. You may need to make and refer to notes during the sessions -- it is usually worth mentioning this too.

Ensure these rules appears fair and reasonable to them. Rules that seem just to benefit the coach are not the basis for a good relationship. On the other hand, this is also a time to show your need for assertiveness. A coach who rolls over at the smallest criticism will not be successful. Thus, for example, ask them to give you at least a week's notice if they need to cancel.

Confidentiality, as discussed above, is one of these rules.

Set the first goal

End the meeting with an objective for the client to complete before the next meeting. There are many possible tasks you can give them, such as:

  • Observing the body language of people around them.
  • Keeping a note of times when they are feeling less than confident.
  • Writing a short essay on what they are seeking in life.

The first goal should be reasonably easy and provide information you will use in the next meeting. Whatever the goal, frame it in such a way that you can determine if it has been completed, and how well.

Ending the meeting

End the meeting with a health check, asking how they are feeling. Summarize agreements about goals (including any commitments you have made) and agree the time for the next meeting. If they can call you between meetings, ensure they know this and have your number.

After the meeting

Immediately after the meeting, review your notes and add other thoughts whilst they are fresh in your memory. At an early opportunity, write them an email or memo, summarizing what you have agreed.

See also

Communication, Conversation techniques


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