Bilateral executive coaching involves working with the client, while coaching his/her manager to maximize their relationship. This case example highlights the:

  • Rationale for this model
  • Situations in which it works best
  • Coaching issues for the client’s manager
Bilateral coaching

Bilateral coaching

Bilateral Executive Coaching - Rationale

Bilateral coaching makes the following assumptions about relationships at work.

  • Both parties have a hand in creating, and are affected by, the dynamics of their relationship

Interpersonal dynamics


  • We all bring temperamental differences and longstanding emotional scars to work relationships
  • When someone touches these emotionally sensitive areas, we get triggered and over-react in unexpected ways
    • Unless we’re incredibly secure and resilient or have healed these hurts
  • We unknowingly bump into and set off other people’s triggers, and often
    • Don’t know how to respond effectively
    • Unintentionally damage the relationship
    • Risk longer term relationship problems unless we learn how to effectively address these triggers in ourselves and others

Bilateral Executive Coaching - What Situations Does it Address?

We develop many of our emotionally sensitive scars in response to the inevitability of imperfect parent child relationships. As children we all experience the threat of parental disapproval. We also fear the accompanying loss of love. We don’t yet have the psychological maturity to realize our parents’ love endures. Negative messages and emotions are imprinted in our brains and tattooed on our hearts when these feared threats become real, as they inevitably do.

I’m not good enough

I’m flawed

I’m unlovable

Parents are our first and primary authority figures. The manager is another important authority figure. He/she affects our well-being. The manager’s role includes providing positive and corrective feedback. In this, and other roles, she can unknowingly scrape old scars, triggering emotional reactions whose intensity exceeds the immediate situation. Bilateral coaching, with an expert who understands these psychological dynamics, allows managers to address these unintentional relationship missteps. Coaching also ensures the employee, and primary coaching client, recognizes and addresses his own triggers. Both parties act on their desire to build a highly effective and enjoyable relationship.

Bilateral Coaching in Action

Shame Holds Leaders Back describes a situation in which I applied bilateral executive coaching. Ken, my client, over-reacted to his boss Marty’s feedback. I had the benefit of being present. It was clear Ken couldn’t hear and address development issues Marty identified, which needed to include Ken’s over-reaction to perceived criticism. Yet a clear message from Marty was what Ken needed to hear. At my suggestion, and with Ken’s and Marty’s agreement, we shifted to a bilateral executive coaching approach for the short term. We would specifically address the issue of giving and receiving feedback.

Given slight changes in Marty’s delivery, Ken was able to process the message about his over reaction. He didn’t experience or display emotional interference from past hurts. Ken also expressed appreciation for Marty’s care and attention in delivering specific, clear feedback. Ken committed to address this issue in our coaching work.

At our next session, Ken revealed his reaction and sensitivity to perceived criticism was a pattern. It reared its head with Marty, Ken’s peers and previous bosses. Ken and I explored the source of his over-reaction. We identified the body sensations that preceded Ken’s emotional over reaction. Then we developed tactics for him to step back, if and when he felt these warning signals of an approaching emotional storm.


Note: In bilateral coaching, the coach holds all coaching conversations with each/both parties in strict confidence, as she does in unilateral coaching engagements.


Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel
When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:

Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.
Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.
Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.
Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.
At the gym.

As Seen In:

Bilateral Executive Coaching Addresses Relationship Missteps at Work