What are the Challenges of Being a Coach? 30 Negative Effects from Research | by Kerryn Griffiths PhD, PCC

Editors Foreword: This article is more technical than usual - with academic research included. It also answers the question, "What do these negative effects this mean for our practice?" and wraps up with 4 practical suggestions. Written by Kerryn Griffiths, whose PhD was on "The Process of Learning in Coaching",  this article is from her archives of "Coaching Research in Practice".

A significant portion of the coaching research to date has been dedicated to the study of the positive impact of coaching. Decidedly less research has focused on the negative impact of coaching (understandably, that wouldn’t be good for business) and, to my knowledge, there is only one study of negative impacts of being a coach.

This issue of Coaching Research in Practice highlights just that – the negative impact of being a coach. It provides an overview of the frequency and intensity of the negative impact coaches experience as a result of their work and it identifies those issues that coaches find burdensome. Finally, it makes some suggestions for how to avoid and alleviate any burdens that arise.

Coaching Research - The Negative Effects of Coaching

In a quantitative study of German business coaches, Schermuly (2014) examined the frequency and intensity of negative effects coaches experience in both recent coaching engagements as well as across their career. The study began with structured interviews with experienced coaches, together with a literature review, to identify the negative effects coaches experience as a result of their work.

Then, 104 coaches (average demographic of 51.4 years old, with 11.2 years work experience, spending 36.1% of working time on coaching and 56% female) completed a questionnaire asking them to identify the degree to which they experienced particular negative impacts, i) in their last coaching engagement and ii) in their career. Here are the results (p. 173):

  1.  I was disappointed that I could not observe the long-term influences of the coaching. [i) 45.2%, ii) 77.9%]
  2.  I was personally affected by the topics discussed during the coaching. (Those topics discussed had a direct relation to aspects of my own life that I find problematic or have found to be problematic in the past.) [i) 44.2%, ii) 78.8%]
  3.  I was scared that I would not fulfil my role as coach. [i) 40.4%, ii) 71.2%]
  4.  I felt insecure. [i) 38.5%, ii) 80.8%]
  5.  I was frustrated that the problems the coachee was facing could not be resolved. [i) 36.5%, ii) 70.2%]
  6.  I felt underpaid. [i) 36.5%, ii) 69.3%]
  7.  I found it difficult to be an effective communicator (e.g. active listening). [i) 35.6%, ii) 62.5%]
  8.  I felt under pressure as a result of high expectations. [i) 29.8%, ii) 68.3%]
  9.  I was scared to do something wrong. [i) 28.8%, ii) 71.2%]
  10.  I felt emotionally exhausted. [i) 26.9%, ii) 74%]
  11.  I was disappointed that the coaching was ineffective. [i) 23.1%, ii) 68.3%]
  12.  I felt a sense of guilt that I had not done enough for the coachee. [i) 23.1%, ii) 60.6%]
  13.  I experienced anger towards the coachee. [i) 20.2%, ii) 73.1%]
  14.  I felt stressed. [i) 20.2%, ii) 61.59%]
  15.  I felt too much responsibility towards the coachee. [i) 19.2%, ii) 55.8%]
  16.  I found it difficult to maintain personal boundaries with the coachee. [i) 17.32%, ii) 43.3%]
  17.  I felt burdened by the extraordinary topics discussed during the coaching. [i) 15.4%, ii) 48.1%]
  18.  I found it difficult to refrain from thinking about those topics discussed during coaching in my private life. [i) 15.4%, ii) 44.2%]
  19.  As a result of the coaching process I had too little time for myself or my family. [i) 14.4%, ii) 44.2%]
  20.  I felt bored. [i) 12.5%, ii) 59.6%]
  21.  Following the coaching sessions I found it difficult to open up to those important to me. [i) 10.6%, ii) 23.1%]
  22.  I felt over challenged. [i) 10.4%, ii) 64.4%]
  23.  I felt lonely. [i) 7.7%, ii) 21.2%]
  24.  Those services provided were inappropriately or not compensated. [i) 6.7%, ii) 26]
  25.  I felt sexually attracted to the coachee. [i) 6.7%, ii) 19.2%]
  26.  I felt feelings of love towards the coachee. [i) 3.8%, ii) 6.7%]
  27.  The coachee made sexual advances on me. [i) 1.9%, ii) 14.4%]
  28.  The coachee insulted me. [i) 1%, ii) 9.6%]
  29.  The coachee stalked me. [i) 1%, ii) 2.9%]
  30.  The coachee threatened me. [i) 1%, ii) 1.9%]

Thus, negative effects on coaches from their work as coaches "seem to be a regular part of the work as a business coach in Germany. More than 90 per cent of the coaches were confronted with at least one negative effect in the last coaching. Only one participant declared that he/she had never experienced a negative effect in the career… To summarise, negative effects of coaching for coaches occur very often and in a very heterogeneous way but they are of rather low intensity" (p. 178).

The study also highlighted the impact of perceived negative effects in a recent coaching engagement on coaches. This included feeling less empowered, incompetent and decreases in confidence. Finally, the study compared coaches with supervisors (this was deemed a similar role with a similar demographic) and found that "compared to supervisors, coaches experience higher psychological empowerment and less emotional exhaustion and stress" (p. 179).

What does this mean for our Coaching Practices?

Within the paper itself, in addition to highlighting their relevance in coaching, Schermuly identified perhaps the most important application of this research, namely to prompt coaches to "identify negative effects early and [learn] to adequately prevent or handle them" (p. 179). He encourages that special attention be given to the most frequent effects and also emphasized the importance of self-awareness.

For example, "almost half of the coaches were frustrated in their last coaching because they could not observe the long-term consequences of their work" (p. 180). Therefore, with awareness of this as a negative impact, "evaluations at the end of the coaching but also follow up questionnaires or meetings with ex-coachees some month following coaching termination could help coaches experience greater work satisfaction" (p. 180). Similarly, as coaches are frequently personally affected by a topic, "if [you] know '[your] difficult' topics [you] can refuse a coaching or prepare [yourself] better when the difficult topic presents itself" (p. 180).

Reviewing Schermuly's list of negative impacts, I notice that in my career as a coach, there have been only a handful that I have not experienced at least once. It seems therefore that negative impacts of being a coach, while typically low in intensity, are fairly probable. Knowing that other coaches experience such negative impacts is helpful in relieving feelings of inadequacy as a result of these experiences. In addition, as I reflect on ReciproCoach supervision sessions over the years, I see the majority of these topics arise fairly frequently. That said, it takes courage to show up to a supervision session and admit, for example, that you felt bored with a client’s sessions or that you were scared about doing something wrong. Thus, this research may serve as support for coaches to come forward in supervision to address similar experiences.

The suggestions I offer for coaches to practice from this research are to:

  1. Allow enough space after sessions to notice if you’re feeling any negative impacts.
  2. Don't be hard on yourself - remember you're not the only one!
  3. Have the courage to share the experience within a supervision group or with another trusted colleague. Remember, they've probably experienced it too, or are likely to experience it in the future.
  4. Create a strategy for addressing it, with the support of your colleagues, and from a place of professional self-compassion.

Reference: Schermuly, C. (2014). Negative effects of coaching for coaches: An explorative study. International Coaching Psychology Review, 9(2), 167-182.

If you liked this article on some of the challenges of coaching, you may also like:

Kerryn Griffiths Headshot

Contributing Author:

Kerryn Griffiths, PhD (coaching and learning), is the founder and global coordinator of ReciproCoach, an international community of professional coaches for quality, affordable reciprocal peer coaching, mentoring and supervision. Join thousands of like-minded coaches at ReciproCoach.com with the coupon code: CoachingToolsCo and not only will you be on your way to having your own coach, but you'll also receive a year's subscription to your choice of one of the ReciproCoach Business resources ($27.50 value).

Learn more about Kerryn & see all their articles here >>

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  1. Shine and Rise Coaching

    I would also recommend the practice of regularly establishing and strengthening emotional boundaries within yourself, as well as with your clients. In addition, practicing mindfulness with the intent of non-attachment to specific outcomes, is extremely helpful as a Coach.


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