For all of the contact that most coaching clients have with other people during their career, these men and women rarely have an opportunity to talk candidly and exclusively about their own work and the values, aspirations and fears associated with that work. An open-ended, wide-ranging interview that takes place near the start of a coaching engagement will often assist an organizational coaching process by not only helping clients gain greater clarity regarding their own career aspirations and needs, but also helping to establish trust between the coaching client and coach who conducts the interview.
The client interview schedule listed below usually lasts for at least one hour and typically is held away from the client’s place of work. The interview should not be held in the coach’s office, at the home of the coaching client or in a location (such as a snack bar) that is more conducive to socializing than to serious introspection.
Typically, when conducting an interview one should make effective use of “people skills” (such as probing, summarizing and paraphrasing). Often, the most telling and important statements made by an coaching client come not from an answer to a clever question asked by the coach doing the interview, but rather from the stories and anecdotes that accompany this answer. An effective interviewer will test her understanding of a key word or phrase used by a client rather than assuming that she knows what the person being interviewed means by this word or phrase. A phrase such as “I don’t trust people like I used to!” could mean many different things. One can test out the meaning of this phrase by asking the coaching client to recount a story from his own past experience that illustrates this change of attitude.
Of greatest importance is the interviewer’s willingness to be helpful. Although in some sense an interview is a structured conversation, it is one in which the client is doing most of the talking. The job of the coach is primarily to help the person being interviewed clarify, expand and more clearly understand the implications of his clients’ attitudes, values, and assumptions about her own work and the setting in which she works.