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"Coaching or Counseling"?

By Matt M. Starcevich, Ph.D.

(For individual use only, not to be reproduced or used in any way without permission)


Business people like to see themselves as coaches. A person who improves individual performance for promotion and advancement, builds a team, melds diverse resources, encourages, cheerleads, helps and goes for a win'/performance. Coaching has a very positive image: teacher, mentor, trainer, developer, leader.

Counseling is often equated with therapy from a third party psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker. The focus is in dealing with some dysfunction that is affecting a person's mental or physical health. Most business people don't like to see themselves as counselors, this is dealing with problematical behaviors. A person's job description would more likely list a responsibility for coaching than counseling. Yet, don't we do both? Aren't we concerned with the mental and physical well being of others, not just their output and performance? Or are we like the professional coaches who don't want to become too attached or close to players for fear that it will mar their objectivity and willingness to trade that player? An interesting business card might read:

Evelyan Smitters, Plant manager/coach and therapist Rocky Road Manufacturing Data Input, Inc.

Labeling obscures the fact that we are really talking about a communication process that is useful in a variety of contexts. When I talk to another person about their career am I coaching or counseling? How about helping another person cope with, and adapt to, change? If I am concerned that another person needs to seriously examine their career-life balance, am I coaching or counseling? Or, what am I doing if I address others performance deficiency? You are trying to exert some positive influence with another person, regardless what you call it. The process we found most useful to positively influence another person is the our Coaching model utilized in a collaborative way.

Labeling also has a tendency to think of things as unique events separate from our day-in, day-out interactions with others. Thus, do I coach or counsel only during the annual performance review? Are my coaching and counseling efforts limited to formal meetings? Can I coach or counsel teams of people or is it limited to one-on-one interactions? When do I stop coaching/counseling and manage/lead? Regardless of what we call it, it is not a separate event, it is a way of conducting all our interactions, a daily work style-a way of being.

Lastly, labeling implies a type of relationship: coaching implies a superior-subordinate relationship; counseling a therapist-patient relationship. We think a healthier mind set is to see the relationship as a partnership. 360 coaching broadens the application of the process to all our relationships: team members, upward, and clients.

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Contact Matt Starcevich at matt@coachingandmentoring.com
Copyright 1999 Center for Coaching & Mentoring, Inc., update: November 26, 2012