Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Have Coaches Forgotten about Congruence?

Being authentic and congruent is essential to establish trust and rapport with a coaching client, so they can speak openly about their thoughts, feelings, vulnerabilities, and aspirations. Congruence is about being genuine, acting without front or facade. You are congruent when you are aware of your own feelings and ensure that words and actions are matched to these internal feelings. But has the origins of congruence and the importance in coaching been lost, and replaced by the need to enable the client to self-direct a coaching session?

Many theoretical underpinnings of coaching come from counselling. When I first studied coaching and counselling, I was introduced to the work of Carl Rogers, the founder of Person-Centered Therapy and his 6 core conditions. Through his work, Carl Rogers identified that these core conditions were necessary and sufficient for psychological growth and successful therapeutic outcomes. The following 3 conditions are directly relatable to coaching:

  1. Empathy
  2. Unconditional positive regard
  3. Congruence

As coaches we learn to demonstrate empathy early on in our training through developing rapport, building trust and the skills of active listening. Also, a coach develops a positive view and acceptance of the client without evaluation, so unconditional positive regard. But, congruence seems to be an under used term in relation to coaching and an under developed skill.

Congruence has been described as a state of being, when the outward responses consistently match the inner feelings towards a client. When congruent, there is a match of thoughts and feelings to the words spoken and action taken. There is consistency. Carl Rogers wrote about congruence being the basis of trust, that being perceived as trustworthy requires the therapist to be “dependably real.” Through congruence “It is only in this way that the relationship can have reality…” If words, tone and gestures are unified and consistent, the communication is clearer and more understandable. But if the counsellor/coach is incongruent, the client is likely to be confused and lack confidence in the relationship.

In the coaching profession, congruence does not seem to be valued or discussed. In his seminal book On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers commented “The therapist “permits as little of his own personality to intrude as is humanly possible.” The “therapist stresses personal anonymity in his activities, i.e., he must studiously avoid impressing the patient with his own (therapist’s) individual personality characteristics.” To me this seems the most likely clue to the failure of this approach…” The final few words, which I have emphasised in bold and italics are the most important part of Carl Rogers summary of congruence, but often forgotten. Carl Rogers wrote this in 1967, but why are coaches still trying to be invisible and deny their own thoughts and feelings, fearing these would have a negative influence on the coaching space? Are coaches promoting incongruence and so denying one of the three core conditions?

Coaching has learnt much from counselling, but maybe not enough. There is a richness of complexity and subtlety which provides greater understanding. Rather than simple acceptance, coaches need to question and explore the origins of approaches.

What are your thoughts on congruence, and Carl Rogers?

Carl Rogers Core Conditions are an essential part of the part-time postgraduate coaching course at Warwick University, and Module 3 in year 1 is Establishing Trust and Building the Coaching Relationship, starting in April 2024 and October 2024. To find out more contact course director Ian Day at opens in a new window or visit our webpages.

About the author

Ian Day, Director at Coaching programmes, Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Warwick