Why coaching can appear to work, even when it doesn’t

New research reminds us that it's hard to tell what works.

1 min read

There are at least 26 reasons why coaches can think what they are doing works, even when in reality it isn’t.

That’s the implication, anyway, of a recent study looking at the reasons why psychotherapists sometimes think the therapy they are providing is effective, when in reality it isn’t. The researchers looked at the thinking biases that can lead therapists to mistakenly believe that their clients have improved and then categorized them. They found 26 different such biases. These included things like:

· Mistaking palliative benefits for real ones (when the client feels better about their issues and problems but does not actually get better or improve);

· Confusing insight with improvement (when the client better understands their problems, but does not actually show any real improvements);

· Confirmation bias (when both therapists and clients believe that improvements were due to the therapy, but in reality they were due to some other factor).

What’s the relevance for us? Just as a reminder that it is genuinely hard to tell whether coaching and other developmental activities really work.

And this, in turn, is a reminder of how important it is that you track and measure specific behavioural outcomes that you want to achieve. The late William Deming, the great American engineer and statistician, once said, “In God we trust, all others bring data”. He had a point.

© Nik Kinley, 2024

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