Key differences and defining features/characteristics
Almost everyone serving another person in any form of personal advisory capacity is commonly referred to as a coach. But not every personal and interactive discussion between two people is necessarily coaching. Coaching in its broader understanding may also be referred to as mentoring or consulting and is at times even understood as counselling. There are not necessarily any fixed definitions for any of these notions but commonly they are distinguished as follows:
A mentor has a certain expertise, experience or wisdom that may be valuable for another person (the client or mentee). This other person lacks certain knowledge, information, skills, expertise or experience and looks to the mentor for guidance, learning, know how or new skills. The mentor will ask questions in order to find out what input is required of him or to ascertain the areas of expertise or experience from which the other person wishes to benefit. In other words, the mentor tries to ascertain or understand the other person’s problem or lack in order to then share from his experience and expertise and provide input and possibly solutions to any given issue, question or circumstances.
Consulting and mentoring have much in common; with consulting the existence of a situation that needs improvement or resolution by the help of an outside expert may still be more in the focus. The consultant asks questions to diagnose a problem and find out what needs to change. The consultant will advise on new strategies or a step plan or any other solution that may seem appropriate from his perspective and experience as an expert. Again however, the expertise is mainly with the consultant (the expert).
A coaching relationship is built on the principle that people can solve their own problems as they are capable of thinking and processing information for themselves and are able to make purposeful and strategic decisions for themselves, their business or their own lives that would move them toward fulfilling or realising their potential. A coach provides a facilitative communication structure and process of asking exploratory questions which cause the other person (the client or coachee) to discover for themselves new perspectives, insights, understanding or which provide a new frameworks for attending to opportunities or dealing with challenges. The other persons learn at a deeper level because they are forced to think more deeply or more broadly or are challenged to “think out of the box” or be creative in finding additional options they had not thought about before. Ultimately, they will come up with decisions and actions that they personally take ownership for and which result in personal development to their full potential, personal growth goals realised or a commitment to defined actions or initiatives.
Coaching incorporates active listening, a real interest in the other person and curiosity, asking powerful questions meant to facilitate discovering options, solutions, alternatives, constructively framing observations and feedback and creating a vision of what can be achieved in contrast to focusing on current problems.
Ultimately the difference between mentoring and consulting on the one hand and coaching on the other hand may be summarised as follows: the former two coach the problem, the latter coaches the person. The former two may provide for “quick fix solutions” built on the experience and expertise of the mentor or consultant but coaching will equip the client/coachee with the ability to find or develop own solutions.
Dealing with emotional or behavioural symptoms or patterns, areas of pain and/or dysfunction or, more generally, fixing something in life that is not working at all or well is the expertise of a counsellor. He will ask questions to identify causes and diagnose problems which have been caused in the past but have an effect in the present and which require mending, coping skills, healing or wholeness for the future.
So, the orientation of counselling is really past/ present whereas coaching and mentoring are clearly present/future oriented and consulting may have a past/present/future orientation.