Location,, location, location: the right environment for coaching and mentoring meetings

Kirsty and Phil are right. Location is really important. As a coaching and mentoring practitioner I need to apply this to meetings with my coachees, so that the environment is right.

The right environment

There are certain rules of thumb I operate by for meetings and to borrow from Buzan, “nobody has ever had an earth-shattering idea when sitting behind a desk”. So my advice is don’t ever assume coaching and mentoring should take place behind the desk or at the coachee’s place of work. In fact, it’s the opposite. Your prime responsibility is to create and ‘hold’ the right environment and apply some professional practice to it.

Location makes a big difference and needs to be thought about and discussed. There is a combination of principles, ethical behaviour and understanding legal requirements that support this.


  • No distractions or interruptions

  • Emotionally and physically safe

  • 100% confidential at all times

  • Neutral ground (face to face mentoring especially)

  • Be on time and stick to times

  • It’s not an interview so no barriers between you such as tables

Legal requirements

  • Health and safety of yourself and others, the location and surrounds, accessibility

  • Data protection and GDPR where your coachee/mentee sends you items (some do to me) to read, and in relation to where and how you are storing information about them

  • Safeguarding where applicable; remember this is an example of where you would break confidentiality if a coachee/mentee makes an allegation under this legislation

  • Equality and diversity

Ethical behaviour

  • Stick to and manage the boundaries of the role

  • Follow a code of conduct: the EMCC and Mentorsme both have good examples

  • Be a role model

  • Highlight any conflicts of interest as early as possible

  • Build trust through rapport

  • Only ever operate and provide your service with the client’s interests at heart

Some tips about location

  • Get the location right and use the principles. If needed go and recce a place first.

  • On the basis it’s neutral ground, if you know somewhere, do suggest it.

  • Ask. I always ask where they like to go or if they know somewhere suitable. Most often they have somewhere in mind.

  • Always agree it, don’t impose. You’re both looking for a good location geographically and a venue that is safe and appropriate. Make sure if you find the location you are acting in the interests of your client.

  • Think broadly and creatively. I meet in coffee shops, cafes, hotel lobbies, tea rooms, community centre meeting rooms, church halls, parks, pubs, green spaces, on hills and mountains, in National Trust gardens. The hot UK summer has lent itself to outside meetings has it not?

Objections to cafes – too public, people will listen in, too many distractions. Don’t rule them out, stick to the principles and you could well be ok. Time of day makes a difference and layout, for example. I recall meeting a client in a coffee shop once a month in the early morning before work. ‘One man and his dog’ frequented the café at this time and it had an alcove with sofas where we couldn’t be heard or disturbed. It’s about the space, time of day and being able to meet the principles.

Manage the principles

  1. All of these aspects are your responsibility to plan for, agree and manage with input and discussion from the client.

  2. Discuss and agree everything before you have your first meeting.

  3. Ideally having some form of agreement to work to on responsibilities, commitments, boundaries and some of these principles is worth considering.

  4. Review location and accessibility at meeting’s end. Check it is ok with the client. If not, try somewhere else.

When it’s not face to face

Location is still important, even if you are meeting over the telephone or using Skype or Google Hangout. The same principles apply. I have found on the telephone it is especially important to make sure the client is alone, in a private, safe space, not at their desk for example. And if they are communicating from home, distractions need to be managed (e.g. what if the doorbell rings, turn phones off). You still need to agree what will happen and how you will both manage this.

There’s a lot to do to make this right

The right environment is a critical aspect of appropriate, professional coaching and mentoring meetings. It supports you being able to hold confidential, trusting and beneficial conversations.