Ethical dilemmas in coaching

As a coach I find myself facing ethical dilemmas. These can be my own, or my clients’. An ethical dilemma is defined in Wikipedia as a moral situation in which a choice has to be made between two equally undesirable alternatives. By definition, whilst binary, ethical dilemmas are neither obvious nor easy; solving them is more than an intellectual challenge, it goes to your values.

Let me give you some examples of some these dilemmas I have faced lately :

1-My coachee will soon be going on maternity leave. She confesses during one of our sessions that she will be looking for a job outside the organisation while on maternity leave. Do I share this information with the organisation that hired me in the first place?

2- A prestigious organisation hires me to coach one of its top executives. Initially, we work well together. As the programme progresses I realised he is deceitful and dishonnest. He is a senior member of the firm and I am scared that by dropping the programme my role with the rest of the organisation will be jeopardise? Should I stay, or should I go?

4- My coachee has returned from maternity leave. She fells discriminated and she is planning to take legal action against the company that is my client. What shall I do?

I do not have an answer to what is the right course of action. However, I have learned through experience that certain ways to proceed can help both coaches and coachees to deal with these situations.

When clients confront ethical dilemmas the first step is to make them articulate the problem and clarify it. Often, these dilemmas are the result of confusion, and lack of clarity about a particular matter. By helping clients to articulate the problem and rationalise it, they can often solve the ethical issue by themselves.

It is also useful to analyse the wider context and who is involved? Who in their network (personal or professional) could you talk to? What other opinions and perspectives may be relevant?

Encourage your clients to think about similar situation they were exposed to in the past. Which resources they used to solve it?

Remember that as a coach it is never too late to recontract with your client/organisation . Also, bringing the ethical issue to supervision can help a lot .

Once the dilemma is clearly articulated by the coachee, and the wider context analysed, it is time to look at the implications and risks. I normally ask my clients for potential risks of doing something in terms of career, financial, reputational, safety etc… Often clients have just looked at the short term implications of following one path versus another and once they look at long term picture there perspective can begin to shift.

Once risks are assessed, then the main question: what is the right thing to do?

This is when we need to bear in mind that no decision is going to be purely right or wrong, but that an ethical decision is one that tries to achieve a healthy balance for everyone involved.

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