The (Mis)perception of Coaching (Part 2 of 5)

Part 1 on the (mis)perception of coaching outlined the nature of the survey and the demographics of the participants.  This post seeks to answer one of the questions explored in the survey.

Question 1: There are a vast range of academic definitions in common use across the coaching industry.  Are participants confused by this diversity?

If you research coaching definitions you will find at least 12 which are in common usage in academic literature. Jonathan Passmore’s Excellence in Coaching* provides a range of coaching definitions which he describes as “accepted”which include the definitions from Whitmore (2003), Grant (1999), the ICF (2005),Downey (2003).   In addition, there are a number of other high profile definitions including Parsloe (1995), the Special Group of Coaching Psychologist (part of the BPS), the CIPD, Caplan (2003), Driscoll (2005), Peltier (2010), Whitworth et al (2007)  and Clutterbuck (2003)

Two definitions are of particular note:

  1. Grant’s 1999  definition which is used by the Association for Coaching in 2005.

“A collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and person growth of the coachee” 

  1. The other  notable definition is given by Staff (2003):

“A conversation, or series of conversations, one person has with another”

The participants were provided with 7 definitions of coaching and asked to indicated which best described their understanding of what coaching is. The participants were also provided with “free text” to write an other definition.

In the survey, Grant and Staff’s definitions both received around a third of the responses.

  • The remaining definitions each received between 8 and 15 responses each.
  • 7 participants provided their own definition
  • 1 participant stated that they did not know what coaching is.

It is clear from the research that there is not a unified definition that is referred to, although two definitions – those of Grant and Staff – are the most widely recognised by the participants in the survey.  Only Grant’s definition is included in Excellence in Coaching;  the Staff definition is one provided by the CIPD in their guide on buying coaching services.

You might be interested to learnt that there was no significant correlation between the coaching experience of the participant and their chosen definition. Equally, there was no significant correlation between the important behaviours of a coach and the chosen coaching definition.

If you look at the two definitions again, you will not that they are not similar in terms of their description of what coaching is.  So whilst there is some level of synergy in that two definitions of coaching were chosen by 60% participants reflect their understanding of what coaching is, the only conclusions is that there is no one clear definition that participants understand to represent “coaching”.

The survey also highlighted a strong positive correlation between the field of coaching the participant had previously experienced and their chosen definition:

  • Sports coaching and the BPS definition
  • Education coaching & the Grant definition

However, as you will have noted from Part 1, only 19% of respondents had received Sports coaching and only 8% had received education coaching.  The number of participants are so small, that I would view the correlations with caution.

Without doubt, the survey results supports the view that there is a the lack of clarity around the definition.     Coupled with this there is an increasing trend to develop bespoke coaching niches, each would require their own working definition.

The results so far suggest that the lack of clarity about the basic working definition could be the first step to explain why there is a public misperception about coaching.

*Excellence in Coaching is an excellent “beginner” coaching book.  If you’re interested in reading it, the publisher is the Association for Coaching, and the editor is Passmore, J.


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