ICF Core Competency - Establishing a coaching agreement

Establishing the Coaching Agreement- An ICF Core Competency

The ICF core competency Establishing the Coaching Agreement is first on the list of the 11 core competencies after ethics. It falls under the category of Setting the Foundation.

Establishing the coaching agreement, as long as you’re an ethical coach, is the first order of business for a practicing life coach.

In this post, we’ll cover:

• What is establishing the coaching agreement?
• Establishing the coaching agreement on two levels.
• How and when to establish a coaching agreement.
• An example of feedback from an ICF assessor

What is the ICF Core Competency Establishing the Coaching Agreement?

According to the International Coach Federation, establishing the coaching agreement is defined as:

“Understanding what is required in the specific coaching interaction and coming to an agreement with the prospective and new client about the coaching process and relationship.”
Source: ICF Core Competencies PDF

Specifically, ICF wants clear expectations about desired coaching outcomes, preferably with measurable evidence of success. Moreover, ICF wants to see that the life coach is not dictating outcomes or playing an authoritative role.

Life coaching is a partnership between the coach and client, so outcomes should be mutually agreed upon, beginning with the client’s desires, supported freely by the coach.

Two Levels of Coaching Agreement

Establishing the coaching agreement is both a formality and an ongoing process. It happens in two ways.

  1. When life coaching clients enter coaching, life coaches should be clear about what life coaching is and isn’t (life coaching is not therapy or consulting or mentoring). The coach should also outline clear expectations regarding appointments, payment, and other expectations.
  2. In each and every session, a coaching agreement should take place as applied to that specific session. What will be accomplished? How will you know if you’re successful during the coaching session?

These two levels of coaching agreement apply to the coaching partnership.

ICF Core Competency Establishing a Coaching Agreement

How and When to Establish the Coaching Agreement


Establish it formally (usually with documents) at the initiation of the coaching cycle. Then, establish a coaching agreement in each and every session that is specific to that session.


Regarding the coaching agreement that applies to each and every coaching session, here is a guideline for establishing it according to the ICF standards for life coaching.

  1. Ask the client what he or she wants to accomplish during the coaching session.
  2. Use active listening to ensure you understand the client’s goal.
  3. Ask questions to clarify any elements you do not understand.
  4. When you believe you understand the client’s goal, briefly explain what you understand and ask for confirmation.
  5. Seek more information about elements of the goal that concern you as a coach, if any.
  6. Establish some measure of success during the session. For example, what will the client see, hear or feel when he/she meets the goal?

By following these guidelines, life coaches should be able to meet the ICF criteria for the core competency of establishing the coaching agreement in each session.

Feedback from an ICF Assessor

If your life coaching performance evaluation is not up to par for establishing the coaching agreement, your ICF assessor will let you know with detailed feedback. Here is a sample of such feedback.

“The coach clarified the terms of the coaching relationship. He took what the client wanted to work on but did not establish a measure of success for the topic. The coach was too directive and needs to partner more with the client when opportunities arise to go in different directions.”

For example when the client said …”what the point of this session for me is……” The coach responded with a surface question and then went on to formulate a goal, rather than asking the client about it.

You can tell from this feedback from a real ICF assessor that ICF cares about the core competency of establishing the coaching agreement and are willing to give specific, directive feedback to coaches who need to improve.

Establishing the Coaching Agreement: Do and Don’t


• Work in partnership with your client
• Use active listening to ensure understanding
• Seek to understand at a deeper level
• Come to a mutual agreement
• Establish a measure of success


• Dictate the agreement
• Rush past the agreement
• Assume you understand
• Continue without agreeing on evidence of success

These guidelines are intended to support International Coach Federation standards for meeting the core competency of establishing the coaching agreement.  If you are seeking an ICF credential, you will demonstrate your level of competency to ICF through a performance evaluation of your coaching via recorded/transcribe coaching session.

As an ICF accredited life coach training center, the iNLP Center is here to ensure that you understand and can apply all ICF core competencies and pass the performance evaluation.

We offer ICF coaching certification trainings that provide all of the requirements to obtain your ACC or PCC credentials.

iNLP Center Staff
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