Coaching is a confidential process. The notes taken during coaching sessions are confidential. Sometimes people forget to think about what this means and how to protect confidentiality. For example, if a coach takes notes on a company owned computer, then the notes are not confidential. If notes are sent via a company email address, then the notes are not confidential. Bottom line, company computers and emails with all they contain are owned by the company. Of course the IT department has access and anyone with a higher level position typically can get the information too.
• The boss of a coaching client asks the internal coach for the notes from the coaching sessions. The coach explains the confidentiality and shows the boss where it is protected in the agreement and in the Code of Ethics. The boss decides to do an end run around the coach, goes to the IT department, and gets copies of all the notes.
• A manager asks an external coach for copies of the notes from the coaching sessions. The coach provides a copy of the agreement and a copy of the Code of Ethics protecting confidentiality. The coach offers to co-create a report with the client and the manager agrees. Then the manager goes to the IT department and gets copies of all the client’s emails, which include the notes.
In these examples the intention was to protect confidentiality. Unfortunately, because the coach was unaware of the risk, the notes were accessible to others. These are just a few examples that coach training and transparency about record keeping are essential. For example, if the coach were transparent with the client about where and how records were kept, the client could have challenged that, chosen to accept the risk, or refrained from engaging with the coach. Alternatively a different approach could be planned.
Ideally, of course, a coach is trained and knows to take basic steps for protecting confidentiality, then is readily transparent with where, how, and for how long records are kept.