Create safe, sacred space when coaching

Professional coaches recognize the importance of creating safe, sacred space for coaching.  This involves preparation before, during , and after the coaching session.

  • Select a quiet, well-lit, distraction-free environment where you can be fully present for the client. 
  • Allow adequate time to decompress from other activities before engaging in a coaching session.
  • Take time to review coaching notes, commitments, and loose ends from the last coaching conversation with the client.
  • Pray for the client, their desired outcomes, and that the Spirit may guide you in bringing out God's best in that person.
  • Encourage the client to also create space in their schedules so that they can be fully presence and not preoccupied by other matters.

  • Some coaches light a candle, offer a prayer, or suggest a moment of silence before the coaching session begins.
  • Set up you coaching space so that you're not looking for a document or a pen, or anything else that might be needed.
  • Listen deeply to what is said and not said, and how you respond to these cues.
  • Pay attention to the pace of the coaching conversation.  Allow adequate time to pause, reflect, and to not feel rushed.
  • Train yourself to be fully present. Avoid thinking about what your next question will be.
  • Use language that is neutral. Share observations without offering interpreting the meaning of these observations. 
  • Follow the clients lead, and avoid playing the role of a fixer of someone else's problems.
  • Seek to understand rather than be understood.  Keep the focus on the client.
  • Practice active listening where you expect to hear something new or surprising.
  • Ask open-ended questions to help your client explore himself or herself more deeply.
  • Recognize that silence is okay - in fact it's a gift. This allows clients more space to share what’s on their mind. Often we feel the need to fill in the gaps during a conversation and this can sabotage your effectiveness as a coach.
  • Smile when appropriate. Pay attention to you body language.

  • Help the client identify where they can find safe space for further reflection and experiment after the event.
  • Invite the client to identify people in their lives that can be life-giving dialogue partners for them.
  • Invite the client to find ways to slow down, be more mindful, and more open to joy and abundance in their life.

The best coaches are keenly aware of the conditions may help or hinder the creation of safe, sacred space. Make a list of the things you can do to create an environment that's conducive to great coaching conversations.
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Bill - February 3rd, 2021 at 12:31pm

Having a safe and quiet space is essential. I have had too many very "important pastoral" conversations that are sometimes distracting because of the environment that I happen to be in. There is nothing better than to have someone listen to you and have their full attention on you and your issues/problems/situations. Being "fully present" to someone is a gift that the client receives and a gift that the coach gives. As coaches we have to be mindful that the session is about the client not us.

Jim - February 8th, 2021 at 6:17am

I've had several pastors share with me that I'm one of the few people they have in their life where it's safe to share what's really going on in their life. Being fully present is so important. Any thoughts about what you'd do to eliminate distractions in your settings?

Kate - February 3rd, 2021 at 12:48pm

One of the things that attracts me to coaching is the ability to coach from anywhere. I have aspirations of being able to travel and work as a coach. And that also brings up the issue of how you secure space around you that holds - where you are not interrupted. I am thinking I might be able to create safe space talking on the phone inside a locked car (that is not moving). Just something I'm thinking about.

I also appreciate the thinking about the before, during and after - but find the number of things included in the lists above a little overwhelming to manage. I'll have to work on articulating this for myself in something simpler that still prompts me to take similar actions.

Jim - February 8th, 2021 at 6:21am

The car actually works quite well. What's been helpful for me is to look at my calendar for the day and then anticipate where I will be and what I need to do to create that safe space. It's usually when I don't plan ahead is when I get in a situation that isn't optimal.

Saeed - February 3rd, 2021 at 12:55pm

My experience as social worker and pastoral care provider has always involved the spiritual, biological, psychological, & social perspectives (spiritual now becoming more prevalent in the therapist world) it is encouraging to see the spiritual aspect in the coaching model.

That said, I've always seen/experienced coaching from a secular perspective. I'll add that it's doubly interesting and encouraging to hear talk of praying and using the Holy Spirit as a part of the coaching model, too. I'm actually interested in talking about using our full spiritual toolset in addition to our cerebral ones and secondly, how you market/expose your self in the professional circles with this intentionality.

Jim - February 8th, 2021 at 6:25am

When we talk more in later sessions about creating norms and expectations for the coaching relationship, remind me to talk about ways to intentionally lift up the spiritual element of a coaching relationship.

Mike Marsh - February 3rd, 2021 at 3:14pm

I think the creation of safe and sacred space begins with my own inner work. We bring a presence to the physical space. If I am not centered and present it will be difficult for the client to be centered and present. This article holds for me an image of contemplative prayer and deep listening - the coach listening to the client, the client listening to herself or himself, and the coach and client together listening for a Word, the movement of the Spirit, and how that Word can become flesh, embodied and enacted, in the client.

Jim - February 8th, 2021 at 6:27am

I really like your comment about the inner work we need to do as part of the coaching process. I also like the way you've categorized the types of listening that occurs during coaching sessions.

Jessie Bazan - February 5th, 2021 at 11:21am

In these days of back-to-back-(to-back!) Zoom meetings, I appreciate the suggestion to leave enough space between coaching sessions to get centered, focused, and to pray for the client. The most efficient use of time is not always the most effective. It is important that the client knows I am fully present and listening closely to their insights and concerns. This can only happen if I am not feeling rushed or anxious about time.

Carl Horton - February 8th, 2021 at 12:47pm

What I'm going to say here is mostly about "set up." I have noticed how important my "coaching space" is when coaching on Zoom. Things like lighting, positioning of the camera, what's in the background, possible distractions or sources of interruption and having what I need nearby all contribute to creating a safe and trusting environment. Even how I arrange my screen top so that I can be looking my client in the eye. My camera and the image of my client need to be close to each other so that it doesn't appear that I am looking at something else. Its hard, but eye contact on virtual coaching seems important to me. I've been learning while doing and each time I learn something new to hopefully help me create the most safe and trusting environment possible.