The Three C’s: Consulting, Counseling and Coaching
Consulting and counseling services are usually provided by professionals with expertise, academic degrees and licenses in specific fields or disciplines. A certified accountant, professor of business or organizational psychologist often engages in organizational consultation, while counseling is usually provided by a mental health professional. Coaching, on the other hand, can be provided by a trained professional and even by a wise and communication-savvy (though unlicensed and uncertified) colleague.
While clear distinctions may be drawn between the roles of counseling, consulting and coaching, in reality, these three roles often overlap. In some cases, we find that two or all three of these roles are blended in a single initiative. In other cases, the person who serves in a helping role will shift from one role to another depending on the needs and roles played by her client. The overlap in roles and functions is particularly common when one is assisting a formally-designated leader, for this person can benefit from all three types of service. . . .
Coaching bridges the gap between friendship, on the one hand, and both consulting and counseling, on the other hand. Unlike either a consultant or counselor, a person providing coaching to someone could at least hypothetically switch roles (if both people wish) and become the recipient of the other person’s coaching. Roles are flexible, and at times fluid. The primary role of the coach varies, given the needs and interests of his client. A coach might help his colleague expand the availability of valid and useful information. He might instead (or in addition) help his colleague gain a clearer sense of her personal intentions (often as related to the intentions of her organization) or help her generate and critically examine a variety of potential solutions to the complex issues she faces. Most importantly, a coach helps his client make informed decisions and take informed and sustained actions, based on intentions that she has reflected upon and therefore committed to and on viable options that have been generated and evaluated.
Members of organizations often face considerable stress and must frequently re-examine personal aspirations in highly complex situations. Counseling can be very helpful in these settings. The contemporary member of an organization also confronts critical and intricate systematic issues that are best addressed with the assistance of a consultant. This person might need a safe and supportive setting and relationship in which to reflect on and learn more about her own behavior. Organizational coaching that is conducted from an appreciative perspective can meet these needs. Thus, in order to better understand the way in which one might best assist members of organizations, and the context in which organizational coaching should take place, we will briefly describe the functions of counseling, and consulting and contrast them with one another and with organizational coaching.