Understanding the difference between coaching and training

Life is full of nuance and there’s often a very thin line of grey that separates one set of behaviours from another.

It doesn’t take much, for example, for dogged persuasion to resemble coercion, or for praise to feel like patronisation.

In the field of coaching and development, a similar grey line exists between coaching and training, and it’s not unusual for person receiving that support to mistake one for the other. So where, then, does coaching end and training begin, or vice versa?

Who is doing the doing?

At its most simplistic level, a good definition of coaching might be that the person being coached does most of the work and, in that sense, is an active participant in the process of achieving their personal and/or professional growth.

In coaching, the coachee is doing most of the doing.

Training, it can be argued, is – or at least can be – a more passive experience for the individual being trained.

Training is the academic process of passing on knowledge or skills, and while the trainee will usually need to practise those skills in order to master them, the process of receiving the necessary skills is often a passive one.

In training, then, it is usually the trainer doing most of the doing.

Abstract vs. Tangible

Another way to look at how the two processes differ is to consider the intended outcomes of each.

In a training situation, the aim is for the person or people being trained to leave their learning environment with a predetermined set of skills or knowledge.

So if, for example, you were to take up night classes to learn basic car maintenance, you would probably work to a fixed set of modules that might teach you how to change brake pads and discs, how to replace an oil filter and fuel filter, and so on.

There is only one way to change a set of discs and pads and filters, and ultimately your basic car maintenance course is focused on you and every other course member leaving with the same knowledge and able to perform the same process successfully.

Training, then, is largely based on tangible concepts and outcomes.

Coaching is often far more abstract. In my own work I will go through a discovery process with each new client that means I have a very clear understanding of what that person is trying to achieve.