Successful Coaching Part 2: The Art of Changing Minds

The Art of Changing Minds

One of the roles of educational leaders is becoming a change agent. It involves inspiring educators to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. While “inspiring” motivates action, “coaching” is what helps someone learn, develop, and enhance skills towards the achievement of a goal.

According to Terblanche & Heyns (2020), the success of a coaching relationship has a lot to do with the quality of the coaching relationship. The higher the quality of the relationship, the higher the chances of success. How then do we build high-quality coach-coachee relationships? The answer lies in first learning to build trust. Without trust, the foundation becomes too weak to build upon further, let alone to expect any behavioral change.


-Rafael Echeverría and Julio Olalla (1993)

The Economics of Trust

Trust is defined as “the feeling of confidence we have in another’s character and competence”.  The confidence in one’s character is formed by the integrity and intent shown by that person. When there is suspicion of one’s integrity and capabilities, distrust arises (Covey & Merrill, 2008, as cited in Aguilar, 2013).

Covey & Merrill (2018) illustrated trust best when they presented trust as an economic formula affecting speed and cost. They asserted that trust is positively correlated to speed and inversely correlated with cost. When trust is low, we can expect slower speed and increased cost. The opposite is also true whereby speed is increased and costs are lowered when trust levels are high. When there is little trust in a relationship, more time and effort is wasted trying to question and verify intentions and outcomes. Time and effort in turn bear an impact on organizational costs.

Figure 1: The economics of trust (Covey & Merrill, 2018)
Figure 1: The economics of trust
(Covey & Merrill, 2018)

Building Blocks of Trust

Trust isn’t something that you earn once and be done with it. Trust requires intentional effort and constant maintenance. Peer-Ed (2018) has listed 6 building blocks for building trust. They include compassion, communication, commitment, collaboration, ability, and integrity.

Behaviors That Build Trust in the Workplace

1 | Compassion

Displaying compassion for others is a good way to begin building trust (Peer-Ed, 2018). This can be done by being an active encourager to lift up others and avoiding behaviors that put others down.  Aguilar (2013) suggested practicing simple and sincere validation as a way to build trust as most coachees tend to feel vulnerable at the start of coaching relationships. A sincere validation of one’s feelings, rooted in a heart for compassion can go a long way towards building trust. For example, a simple, “That must not have been easy. You must’ve put in so much time and effort to set everything up.”

2 | Communication

Being a skilled communicator makes building trust easier for a coach. A skillful coach has the ability to put others at ease and bring about open discussion by communicating accurately, openly, and honestly. The skillful coach listens attentively and values the ideas of others (Peer-Ed, 2018). The other component of good communication is learning to ask good questions. In new coaching relationships especially, asking clarifying questions can yield pretty revealing and surprising results. It is also a good way for the coach to express interest in the coaching by wanting to know more (Aguilar, 2013).

3 | Commitment

Nothing breaks trust quicker than broken promises. To develop trust, be intentional in keeping promises and commitments. A good coach does not only care about personal success but is deeply committed to the success of the Coachee (Peer-Ed, 2018). Aguilar (2013) also advised against making too many promises early on in a coaching relationship. When commitments are not honored, trust is broken.

4 | Collaboration

A coach who is a good collaborator generates trust. It is good practice to ask for permission to coach rather than assume someone will automatically agree to be coached. The frequent and explicit act of asking for permission to coach is also a subtle way to “remind the client that she is in control of the process and can put the brakes on whenever she needs to”  (Aguilar, 2013). The act of asking also shows humility and respect. A collaborative coach is also open-minded and advocates for others. They treat others with respect and this includes respecting the time of others (Peer-Ed, 2018).

5 | Ability

In order to build trust, it helps if a Coach is knowledgeable and has the ability to give confidence to the Coachee that they have something to offer. To this end, Coaches should continually strive to be knowledgeable and maintains a strong focus on teaching and learning. Another way to build trust is to demonstrate confidence in the abilities of the Coachees (Peer-Ed, 2018). We tend to trust people who believe in us more.

6 | Integrity

It is important for a Coach to act consistently and responsibly to build trust (Peer-Ed, 2018). Aguilar (2013) suggests establishing confidentiality right from the very first coaching conversation and repeating this during the first few coaching sessions. It is even more important to be sure to honor and maintain this code of confidentiality because once violated, it is extremely difficult to regain trust.

Figure 2: Building Blocks of Trust (Meyer et. al, 2011, as cited in Foltos, 2013)
Figure 2: Building Blocks of Trust
(Meyer et. al, 2011, as cited in Foltos, 2013)

How to Change Someone’s Mind

Now that we’ve established the foundation for impacting change by first building trust, let’s take a look at what changing someone’s mind entails.

Successful coaches have the ability to change minds through changing beliefs and we can change beliefs once we understand how a belief was created (Aguilar, 2020). Aguilar (2020) presents six conditions for beliefs to change which in turn, impacts behavioral change.

1 | Beliefs change when we feel safe enough

According to Aguilar (2020), before we can begin to contemplate shifts in beliefs, we need to first feel safe and that feeling of safety is built upon trust. Guilt and shame are powerful emotions that hinder growth. A coaching relationship that is non-judgmental will ensure that the coachee feels safe enough to open up and share. To help the coachee feel safe, the coach needs to build trust and communicate confidence that the coaching process will be worth the effort. Helping the coachee to cultivate a growth mindset can also help, one whereby setbacks are simply viewed as learning opportunities. Growth mindset is the belief that skills, intellect, and talents can be developed through practice and perseverance. Cultivating growth mindset reduces feelings of shame when faced with setbacks because one’s personal worth is not tied to the outcome.

2 | Beliefs change when we understand how the belief originated

In order to guide belief change, it is important for a coach to explore the origins of the coachee’s beliefs. It is even more powerful when the coach can help the coachee to realize the origins of their beliefs and how those beliefs have shaped their behaviors (Aguilar, 2020). This process requires patience, compassion, and skillful communication to extract these beliefs through conversation with the Coachee. A useful tool that coaches can use to help coachees understand how the beliefs they hold on to were developed is the Ladder of Inference by Chris Argyris (1990). The bottom rung of the ladder represents the reality and facts that we experience and observe. We then select data that is relevant to us and discard the data that seems irrelevant. Next, we tend to add meaning to the data that we have selected and make the assumption that the data and meaning are accurate and represent reality. We then draw conclusions based on those assumptions and adopt beliefs based on those conclusions. Finally, we take action based on the beliefs we have adopted.

Figure 3: The Ladder of Inference (Argyris, 1990)
Figure 3: The Ladder of Inference (Argyris, 1990)

3 | Beliefs change when we encounter new information

When we come across data that does not fit what we believe, there is a possibility for beliefs to change. However, it must be predicated by being in a trusting relationship with psychological safety (Aguilar, 2020). Coaches can gather data, texts, videos, and surveys, and share these with the coachee to help them on their journey of discovery.

4 | Beliefs change when our core identity is preserved

According to Aguilar (2020) “human beings are psychologically wired for self-preservation” and this includes preserving our own sense of self. Resistance to change happens when we feel that the call for change interferes with our core identity. However, if the coachee can be made to see that the change does not impact the coachee’s core identity, the barriers and resistance to change are lowered. Aguilar suggests for coaches to “coach to affirm a more expansive sense of self”.

5 | Beliefs change when we see the benefits of changing a belief

When the coachee can be convinced and helped to see the benefits of changing their beliefs, they are more likely to change their beliefs. The coach might try finding a gentle way to achieve this by finding an entry path to present the benefits of changing a belief as well as the cons of holding on to an old belief, resisting change. Focus on the coachee’s purpose, legacy, and help the coachee experience liberation from letting go of an old belief (Aguilar, 2020).

6 | Beliefs change when we recognize alternate beliefs

Coaches can successfully help their coachees change their beliefs when they help them recognize alternate beliefs. Coaches need to be prepared to help coachees manage and process the emotions that arise as a consequence of shifting beliefs which can range from sadness to guilt and regret (Aguilar, 2020). 

Aguilar (2020) sums it up nicely when she said that our behavior is driven by our way of being. Our beliefs are what create our way of being which in turn, influences our way of being. Understanding the 6 conditions for belief change provides a framework for action towards changing behaviors.


  • Aguilar, E. (2013). Art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. Jossey-Bass.
  • Aguilar, E. (2020). Coaching for equity: Conversations that change practice. Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, John.
  • Argyris, C. (1990). Overcoming organizational defenses: Facilitating organizational learning. Allyn and Bacon.
  • Covey, S. M. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2018). The speed of trust: The One thing that changes everything. Free Press.
  • Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Corwin.
  • Terblanche, N. H. D., & Heyns, M. (2020). The impact of coachee personality traits, propensity to trust and perceived trustworthiness of a coach, on a coachee’s trust behaviour in a coaching relationship. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology46.