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Coach, trainer, consultant ...

A guide to helping business professions

Coach, psychologist, trainer, consultant, mentor - in these newfangled professions you will get confused today! Many of these names today sound like abusive ones. So what's the difference? And is she there? Who is hiding behind these specialties? Let's figure it out.

Coach, trainer, consultant ...
Photo Shoot: Austin Distel on Unsplash

Olga Zbarskaya

business coach, social psychologist

But first, a joke.

The postman delivers telegrams. Ringing the doorbell of one apartment. A 10-year-old boy, in a red silk robe, opens it to him, a glass of whiskey in one hand, a Playboy in the other, and a Cuban cigar in his mouth. The taken aback postman asks:
-And ... are your parents at home?
- And what do you think?

So, in my opinion, this question is a coaching one. There is such a technique in the arsenal of a business trainer - to return a question to the participant, and if the participant does not cope, then ask the whole group. How it works? What people have generated themselves - is appropriated by them more firmly than if someone, even the most authoritative, tells them it.

But if the kid would say:

- Why does it bother you? - the question would turn out to be psychotherapeutic. Once my teacher in psychotherapy told us about psychotherapeutic tactlessness - and so, this is the same “tactless” question from which you can push off and help the client to understand a lot about himself.

The third option:

- And what will my answer give you? - This is a coaching question, because it helps to realize the importance of what is happening here and now, to better understand your own intentions and the vector of movement.


- Let's figure out what to do if the parents are at home and if they are not. And at the same time - if only one of the parents is at home ... - this is no longer a question, but the replica could belong to a business consultant.

And finally:

- Think: do your actions really have to depend on such conventions as parents at home? Is a question a mentor might ask - guru, mentor and inspirer of your movement towards life goals.

The first thing to understand is that all these specialists are representatives of the so-called helping professions (in some sources you can still find the definition of "helpers"). All of these specialists help people in their development - but in different ways.


Business trainer (or just a coach, if it is clear from the context that this is NOT about sports) is a specialist in adult education. The task of a business coach is to help working people develop and improve their professional skills.

The main teaching method used for adult education is business training. It contains up to 80% of the practice.

How so? - you ask. After all, training is primarily knowledge, how can you get it through practice?

The task of a business coach is to help working people develop and improve their professional skills.

The fact is that business training as a training format appeared for those who already have work experience. At the same time, theoretical concepts can be mastered precisely through practical activities and analysis of real and play experience: group discussions, games and exercises, etc. By the way, no one forbids mini-lectures in the training either. After all, we have 20% left to master the theory. The main thing is for this theory to be as applied as possible.

The choice of training as the main format of adult education is dictated by the need to get a real practical result in a short time: so that the specialist returns to the workplace and immediately begins to use what he has learned in his work. However, any business coach can conduct a simple lecture, a seminar, a webinar, and a master class ...

There is a misconception that a business coach is someone who teaches how to run a business. This is only partly true: there are trainers specializing in the topic of entrepreneurship. But a business coach can teach working adults on other topics as well: management skills, change management, negotiations, sales techniques, marketing ... Today, training in a training format can be developed and delivered on any topic that is relevant for a particular company.

Does the trainer have to be an expert practitioner in the topic they teach? For many years, there have been fierce debates in the coaching community on this issue. It is believed that it is more important for the trainer to be a specialist in adult education than in the topic of training. It’s not about the lack of knowledge at all, but about the fact that you may not have serious practical experience. Knowledge is just important - the value of a coach's work is that he is able to select from large layers of information the most necessary for these participants and conduct concentrated training with practical activities.

In my experience, it is the practicing trainers that are highly valued by the participants. This creates more trust between the trainer and the group, which means that the training will be more effective.

Do you need a coach as a full-time business unit? It all depends on the real need for training: if the company is growing, or if there is a serious turnover in it (and therefore, regular staff training), if it has its own unique technologies and a special product, training is needed. For the time being, the role of a coach can be assumed by a manager or an experienced specialist, but with the growth of the company, the question of a special employee will arise anyway.

If the need for training is irregular and rare, it is more expedient to invite an external specialist.

Coach - this is a separate profession (you may be familiar with the word "coach", but today it is outdated). A coach is not a trainer, although many trainers now have the qualifications of a coach: this helps to expand the "repertoire" of professional technologies.

So who is a coach?

We will start from the word "coaching", which is defined by the founder of the method, Timothy Golvey, as "the art of creating, through conversation and behavior, an environment that facilitates the movement of a person towards the desired goals, so that it brings satisfaction."

Coaching as a method of helping people has taken a lot from psychology and psychotherapy: for example, a coach works as a force of relationships as a psychotherapist, work is carried out through conversation and lasts longer than a single session if serious changes are important. But if a psychotherapist and especially a psychologist can put forward their concepts regarding your problems, give advice or recommendations, homework, determine a strategy in working with you, then the coach position implies complete non-directiveness and following the client. One of the main ideas of coaching is that no one knows better than a person about his goals and objectives and that a person has all the resources to achieve the goal - and the coach's task is to help discover these resources.

The coach's task is to find the resources necessary for a person to achieve a goal.

Coaches are often described as “the one who asks the uncomfortable questions”. Well, this is partly true. Only the question is rather not about "inconvenient" questions - but about those that you yourself would not ask yourself, due, for example, to a certain "corridor" of thinking or unconscious psychological defenses.

The value of a coach's work lies precisely in the fact that he asks strong questions that help you think about the situation and find the best solutions, as well as the ability to hear you qualitatively and deeply, including “between the lines” (at the level of sighs, facial expressions, intonations) - and highlight something important for you that you have not yet realized. People still often describe the essence of coaching with the words “think about someone” - and I really like this definition. A person needs a person - including for mental activity.

When does an organization need a coach? Most often, it is necessary for leaders and managers in a situation of rapid company growth, strategic changes, crises, new projects. It is needed by entrepreneurs - business ideologists. It is also needed by performers for whom it is important to achieve heights in their profession and make a career. In a word, we need it, where there is a goal-challenge.


Consultant Is an expert in a certain area, for example, finance, marketing, HR. A consultant is invited when there is a specific management task that the organization cannot cope with with existing resources.

As a rule, the role of consultants is played by practicing experts who, with their own hands and minds, carried out what they are consulting about: the introduction of certain accounting systems, the formation of effective teams, the implementation of changes, etc.

A consultant is an expert on a specific topic.

A consultant can work in two conceptually different formats: consulting a manager - or doing something instead of him. In the first case, the consultant holds a meeting or a series of meetings with the manager, at which he explains to him what and how to do, and accompanies his work in the process (less often, does not accompany him). In the second, it is introduced into the system of the organization for a certain time and itself does what is necessary. There are projects that sometimes require a whole team of consultants.


Mentor - this is someone who is quite close to the position of the consultant and at the same time is just as different from him. Also, a mentor is often compared to a mentor. But mentoring is broader than consulting and mentoring. If a consultant helps a manager to solve a certain management challenge, and a mentor helps a newcomer to form a certain, very specific skill, then the mentor has a more serious and large impact on his ward (who is usually called a mentor).

A mentor is a person with extensive and versatile life and professional experience, comprehensive expertise. People choose a mentor for themselves from those who for them are an example of professionalism in a wide framework, life, professional and career success. This is an important point: a mentor is chosen based on a high level of trust in this person, and the further work of the mentor and the mentor goes in tandem. The mentor's position, in addition to trust, assumes expertise and directiveness - the mentor knows how, gives instructions to the ward - and he strictly fulfills his tasks.

The mentor tells the ward how he can achieve his goal, introduces him to the right people or promotes these acquaintances, inspires him and supports him. This is a very broad social and professional role - and an important touch is that many mentors do not work for a fee, but pro bono - simply because they consider it important to help others and share their experience.

The institute of mentoring exists mainly not within the framework of organizations, but for people interested in development and success. But the idea is so good that mentoring as a system is gradually being introduced in companies.


Psychologist Is an expert on the inner world of a person: he is studying the functioning of our psyche and all its processes - for example, perception, memory, thinking, speech, etc.

A psychologist helps people cope with psychological problems and trauma, for example, burnout, divorce, loss of a loved one, communication and relational difficulties, interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts, etc. Psychological consultation is, as a rule, a one-time, short work of a psychologist with a client: the client presents his problem, the psychologist clarifies it, diagnoses it and gives the client recommendations.

There is also such a profession as a psychologist-psychotherapist (now we are NOT talking about a specialist with a medical education). The work of a psychotherapist is aimed at serious, profound changes in a person and lasts a long time: months, or even years. At the same time, an important aspect of it is the relationship between the therapist and the client: the more trusting they are, the more successful the work is.

The therapist and the client meet at regular intervals and discuss what is happening with the client. A psychotherapist can be a psychologist trained in one of the methods of psychotherapy (for example, gestalt therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, positive transcultural psychotherapy, etc.).

In our Russian practice, psychologists work in organizations mainly in personnel assessment departments. They carry out various kinds of diagnostics of candidates for vacancies and employees of the company, if career growth is expected.

In recent years, businesses have begun to take care of the internal resources of their employees and turn to specialists for psychological support for their employees. Back in the early 2000s, I myself was lucky enough to work in a company that had an agreement with a psychotherapy center, and any employee could turn there for help free of charge. For me, this was a great, inspiring example of how the business cares for its employees. An important aspect of such assistance is confidentiality: neither the content of the meetings with the psychotherapist, nor often even the names of those who applied are not known to the employer.


I wrote this review of helping professions because there is so much confusion in the market today.

First, it is often not clear who is which of the specialists and how he can be useful to the organization, its leaders and employees.

Secondly, sometimes those who are not called themselves psychologists and coaches. Psychology presupposes higher education or professional retraining in the relevant specialty; coaching - training in coaching according to the program accredited by ICF - International Coaching Federation. Many peers who consult on specific topics call themselves coaches. With all due respect, when it comes to the provision of industry-specific application information by an expert, this is no longer coaching. Inspirational speeches to huge halls from the stage are also neither business training nor coaching.

Thirdly, many specialists accumulate several helping competencies in their arsenal. For example, I know psychologists who received coaching training, and then increased their coaching education. I myself first qualified as a business coach, then as a coach, and then as a social psychologist. So don't be alarmed if the same specialist offers you different services. Nowadays, owning several professions is the norm.


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