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The impact of coachee personality traits, propensity to trust and perceived trustworthiness of a coach, on a coachee’s trust behaviour in a coaching relationship

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Orientation: Coaching continues to grow in importance as a learning and developmental intervention in organisations. It is therefore important to understand what makes coaching successful. Research purpose: The coaching relationship is a known predictor of coaching success, and trust is a key ingredient of a high-quality coach–coachee relationship. This study investigated whether coachee characteristics influence trust in a coaching relationship. Motivation for the study: Research on trust from the coachees’ perspective is sparse, and specifically it is not known which characteristics of the coachee influence trust behaviour (TB) in the coaching relationship. Research approach/design and method: This study used a cross-sectional survey (n = 196) to measure coachees’ propensity to trust, perception of the trustworthiness (TW) of their coach, TB and their Big Five personality traits. Structural equation modelling was used for analysis. Main findings: Results revealed that neither personality traits nor propensity to trust are predictors of coachee TB. Only the extent to which the coachee perceives the coach to be trustworthy predicts coachee TB. No indirect and moderation effects were observed. Practical/managerial implications: Coaches can actively work towards increasing their TW and by implication the TB of the coachee by demonstrating competence, integrity and ability. Contribution/value-addition: This study makes an important contribution to the under-researched field of the role of coachees’ characteristics in successful coaching engagements, in the process contributing to the understanding of what affects coaching efficacy.
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SA Journal of Industrial Psychology
ISSN: (Online) 2071-0763, (Print) 0258-5200
Page 1 of 11 Original Research
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Authors:
Nicky H.D. Terblanche1
Marita Heyns2
Aliaons:
1Business School, Faculty of
Economic and Management,
Stellenbosch University, Cape
Town, South Africa
2Optena Research Focus
Area, North-West University,
Potchefstroom, South Africa
Corresponding author:
Nicky Terblanche,
nickyt@usb.ac.za
Dates:
Received: 01 July 2019
Accepted: 24 Oct. 2019
Published: 24 Feb. 2020
How to cite this arcle:
Terblanche, N.H.D., &
Heyns, M. (2020). The impact
of coachee personality traits,
propensity to trust and
perceived trustworthiness of
a coach, on a coachee’s trust
behaviour in a coaching
relaonship. SA Journal of
Industrial Psychology/SA
Tydskrif vir Bedryfsielkunde,
46(0), a1707. hps://doi.org/
10.4102/sajip.v46i0.1707
Copyright:
© 2020. The Authors.
Licensee: AOSIS. This work
is licensed under the
Creave Commons
Aribuon License.
Introducon
Coaching is growing in importance as an intervention aiming to promote personal and
professional learning and growth (Cox, Bachkirova & Clutterbuck, 2014; Grant & O’Connor,
2019). The dynamics of the coach–coachee relationship is an active research area in the quest to
understand how coaching works (Baron & Morin, 2009; Grant, 2014). The coach–coachee
relationship is more important than any specific coaching technique or type of intervention
(Bluckert, 2005; De Haan, Culpin, & Curd, 2011; Gyllensten & Palmer, 2007), and trust is one of
the most important factors contributing to a high-quality coach–coachee relationship (Bluckert,
2005; Boyce, Jeffrey, & Neal, 2010; Grant, 2014; Gyllensten & Palmer, 2007; Rekalde, Landeta, &
Albizu, 2015). The factors that contribute to trust in coaching in general (Markovic, McAtavey, &
Fischweicher, 2014), and from the coachee’s perspective specifically (Lu, Kong, Ferrin, & Dirks,
2017), are however underexplored.
Trust, defined as ‘a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based
upon positive expectations of the intentions or behaviours of another’ (Rousseau, Burt, Sitkin, &
Camerer, 1998, p. 395), has been linked to positive coaching outcomes. Mutual trust allows a client
to share and reflect more openly (Bluckert, 2005; Boyce et al., 2010) and creates a safe environment
that permits the coachees to face their issues and take risks, in the process promoting
growth (Boyce et al., 2010; Colquitt, Scott, & LePine, 2007; Cox, 2012; Parker, Hall, & Kram, 2008).
Orientation: Coaching continues to grow in importance as a learning and developmental
intervention in organisations. It is therefore important to understand what makes coaching
successful.
Research purpose: The coaching relationship is a known predictor of coaching success, and
trust is a key ingredient of a high-quality coach–coachee relationship. This study investigated
whether coachee characteristics influence trust in a coaching relationship.
Motivation for the study: Research on trust from the coachees’ perspective is sparse, and
specifically it is not known which characteristics of the coachee influence trust behaviour (TB)
in the coaching relationship.
Research approach/design and method: This study used a cross-sectional survey (n = 196) to
measure coachees’ propensity to trust, perception of the trustworthiness (TW) of their coach,
TB and their Big Five personality traits. Structural equation modelling was used for analysis.
Main findings: Results revealed that neither personality traits nor propensity to trust are
predictors of coachee TB. Only the extent to which the coachee perceives the coach to be
trustworthy predicts coachee TB. No indirect and moderation effects were observed.
Practical/managerial implications: Coaches can actively work towards increasing their TW
and by implication the TB of the coachee by demonstrating competence, integrity and ability.
Contribution/value-addition: This study makes an important contribution to the under-
researched field of the role of coachees’ characteristics in successful coaching engagements, in
the process contributing to the understanding of what affects coaching efficacy.
Keywords: trust; trust propensity; trustworthiness; trust behaviour; executive coaching
relationship; coaching; personality traits.
The impact of coachee personality traits, propensity
to trust and perceived trustworthiness of a coach,
on a coachee’s trust behaviour in a
coaching relaonship
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Page 2 of 11 Original Research
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Trust is a multidimensional concept that is interpersonal and
context-specific and depends on the characteristics of both
the trustor (person who trusts) and trustee (person to be
trusted) (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995; Schoorman,
Mayer, & Davis, 2007).
In the coaching context, research has shown that characteristics
of coaches influence trust (Alvey & Barclay, 2007; Bluckert,
2005; Boyce et al., 2010; O’Broin & Palmer, 2006; Wasylyshyn,
2003). Coaches can, for example, raise feelings of trust by
being transparent about their coaching methodology
(Gyllensten & Palmer, 2007) and by displaying consistency
and competence (Bluckert, 2005; Hodgetts, 2002). A coach can
also transmit and generate trust in the coachee, leading to
increased chances of the success of coaching (Rekalde et al.,
2015). In the related field of psychotherapeutic research,
similar findings suggest that therapists’ characteristics, such
as empathy, unconditional positive regard, respect and
support, are deemed essential components of a relationship
of trust (Wampold et al., 1997).
Personality traits have been shown to predict critical work
behaviours (Gaddis & Foster, 2015; Kaiser, LeBreton &
Hogan, 2015). It has therefore been suggested that the
characteristics of the trustor and specifically their personality
traits may influence trust (Freitag & Traunmüller, 2009;
Glanville & Paxton, 2007). In coaching, it is however not clear
how coachee (trustor) personality traits may influence trust,
which is not surprising given that in the broader field of trust
research, studies that focus on the follower’s perspective on
trust in a dyadic relationship are sparse (Lu et al., 2017).
It is evident that trust is a very important aspect of the
coach–coachee relationship and, by implication, of coaching
success, yet very little research has been conducted on trust
and even lesser on how a coachee’s characteristics influence
trust. This fact was highlighted by Bozer and Jones (2018)
who stated that the characteristics of coachees, which may
lead to coachees developing strong perceptions of trust in
their coach, deserves further investigation. To address this
knowledge gap, this research investigated how the coachee’s
personality traits, predisposition to trust and the perceived
trustworthiness (TW) of the coach influence a coachee’s trust
behaviour (TB).
The importance of trust in coaching
relaonships
The role that the coach–coachee relationship plays in coaching
efficacy has emerged as an active area of research (Grant,
2014). The coaching relationship, more than any other aspect,
predicts the success of the coaching intervention (De Haan et
al., 2011). Specific aspects of the coaching relationship that
promote coaching success include the working alliance
between the coach and coachee, client self-efficacy and
coaching techniques used by the coach (De Haan, Duckworth,
Birch, & Jones, 2013). Client self-efficacy in this context
suggests that certain coachee characteristics may influence
the coaching relationship, yet little is known about how
coachee characteristics are related to improved coaching
efficacy (Bozer & Jones, 2018). Other aspects that influence
the coaching relationship are closeness and commitment
(Jowett, Kanakoglou, & Passmore, 2012), with closeness
defined as mutual trust and respect. This is in line with
Grant’s (2014) finding that empathy, unconditional positive
regard and trust in a coaching relationship are predictors of
the success of coaching. Gyllensten and Palmer (2007) found
a valuable relationship, trust and transparency to be the three
main aspects of a successful coaching relationship. They also
found that trust allows the coachee to openly share personal
thoughts, which assists in a positive coaching outcome.
Coachees who trust their coaches are more committed to the
coaching process (Bluckert, 2005). Trust allows a coaching
relationship to grow and enhances the potential for coaching
success (Baron & Morin, 2009; O’Broin & Palmer, 2010). One
study did however find that trust and coaching efficacy may
be influenced by cultural factors. In a study of coaching
effectiveness in Malaysia, Gan and Chong (2015) found that
trust is not significantly associated with coaching efficacy.
They attribute this to the generally accepted importance of
trust in Asian cultures and state that coachees will by default
trust their coach because of the nature of the relationship.
This finding highlights the role of cultural factors and context
in trust research.
From the literature reviewed so far, trust in coaching has
been linked to improved listening and rapport (O’Broin &
Palmer, 2006), suggesting that trust may materially influence
the very foundational elements of a coaching intervention.
Trust appears to be an important and active ingredient in a
successful coaching relationship, but what influences trust
between a coach and coachee?
Significantly more research has been conducted on coach (as
opposed to coachee) behaviour and characteristics that
promote trust (Blackman, Moscardo, & Gray, 2016). The
coach must be supportive and sensitive when the coachee
discloses sensitive information (Alvey & Barclay, 2007). Good
rapport is necessary for the coach to build a trusting
relationship, and a coach can increase rapport, TW and trust
by displaying consistent integrity and competence (Blackman
et al., 2016; Bluckert, 2005).
This is echoed by Hodgetts (2002) who stated that the coach
must act in a manner so as to be perceived by the coachee as
being competent and trustworthy. The coach must have the
ability to form strong connections, display professionalism
and be transparent about the coaching methodology
(Wasylyshyn, 2003). To build trust, the coach must also be
predictable and reliable and exhibit empathy and authenticity
(Kilburg, 1997). Furthermore, the coach’s credibility in terms
of their qualifications and experience influence trust (Boyce
et al., 2010). Bozer, Sarros and Santora (2014) found a
particular (positive) link between coaching effectiveness and
a coach’s academic qualification in psychology.
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The studies reviewed so far (Alvey & Barclay, 2007; Blackman
et al., 2016; Bluckert, 2005; Boyce et al., 2010; Bozer et al., 2014;
Hodgetts, 2002; Kilburg, 1997; Wasylyshyn, 2003) looked at
how the characteristics and behaviour of the coach influence
trust in the coaching relationship. Not much however is
known about the role and characteristics of the coachee in the
coaching trust relationship (Bozer & Jones, 2018; O’Broin &
Palmer, 2010). This creates a significant knowledge gap as a
trust relationship is a two-way mechanism (Mayer et al.,
1995), implying that the coachee also has a role to play
(Blackman et al., 2016).
Research on trust outside of the coaching domain has shown
that personality traits are an important consideration when
studying trust (Freitag & Bauer, 2016). In fact, a person’s
disposition towards trust has a significant bearing on how
much they trust given specific contexts (Heyns & Rothmann,
2015; Jeffries, 2002). It therefore seems reasonable to assume
that knowledge about how a coachee’s personality traits
impact trust could provide valuable insights into the trust
dynamics of coaching relationships.
Trust, trustworthiness and
propensity to trust
Trust is multi-faceted and various perspectives exist (Heyns &
Rothmann, 2015). Historically, research into trust has been
hampered by disagreement on the definitions, conceptualisations
and measurement of trust (Mayer et al., 1995; McEvily &
Tortoriello, 2011), and although the field is showing signs of
maturing (Li, 2017), it is necessary to define our interpretation
of trust in this research.
We use Mayer et al.’s (1995) definition of trust:
The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of
another party based on the expectation that the other will
perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective
of the ability to monitor or control that other party. (p. 712)
Furthermore, because trust is multidimensional, we employ
a widely used trust model that integrates various aspects of
trust developed by Mayer et al. (1995) and Schoorman et al.
(2007). The ‘Integrated Model of Interpersonal Trust’ takes
into account the interpersonal and context-specific nature of
trust (Heyns & Rothmann, 2015). The model captures the
notion that trust is influenced by the trait factors of the
trustor and trustee. These include the propensity of the
trustor, in general, to trust, as well as the perceptions of
characteristics of the trustee deemed trustworthy (Mayer et
al., 1995). Three underlying constructs of TW have been
established, namely, the ability, benevolence and integrity of
the trustee as perceived by the trustor (Kenexa, 2012). Ability
refers to a set of competencies and skills a person has within
a certain domain which instils trust (Mayer et al., 1995).
Benevolence refers to the extent to which the trustor perceives
the trustee to act well towards him or her in a non-egocentric
manner (Schoorman et al., 2007). Integrity captures the
extent to which the trustor judges the trustee’s level of
adherence to principles that the trustor finds acceptable
(Mayer et al., 1995).
This model of trust implies that trust is not a constant
characteristic of an individual but rather depends on the
characteristics of both parties, that is, the trustor and the
trustee (Mayer et al., 1995). In the context of this research, this
distinction is important as it implies that the coachee also has
a role to play in the trust relationship. The coachee’s propensity
to trust as well as how trustworthy they perceive their coach
to be may influence the trust relationship and therefore the
coaching efficacy. We therefore state our first two hypotheses:
H1: A coachee’s propensity to trust has a positive and statistically
significant impact on a coachee’s trust behaviour in a coaching
relationship.
H2: The perceived trustworthiness of a coach predicts the
coachee’s trust behaviour.
Propensity to trust is a personality variable or stable
individual difference that affects the likelihood that a person
will trust (Colquitt et al., 2007), while the perception of TW
influences the degree of risk that a trustor will take in a
relationship (Heyns & Rothmann, 2015). Following the
theoretical model of trust proposed by Mayer et al. (1995) we
hypothesise that:
H3: A coachee’s propensity to trust has an indirect effect on a
coachee’s trust behaviour via the perceived trustworthiness of
the coach.
Personality traits and trust
Is it possible that a coachee’s personality traits could also
influence trust? There are two perspectives on the formation of
trust (Freitag & Traunmüller, 2009). The first holds that
individuals draw on past experiences to decide how much they
will trust another person in similar social situations. The second
challenges this notion of experienced-based trust and states that
trust is a product of personality traits (Freitag & Traunmüller,
2009; Glanville & Paxton, 2007). Put differently, a person’s
personality traits predict his or her propensity to trust, their
perception of another’s TW and ultimately his or her level of TB.
In this research, the second perspective is considered with a
focus on the coachee, and we question whether the personality
traits of the coachee influence trust propensity (TP), and
perception of TW and TB.
We use the Big Five traits as a measure of personality traits.
The Big Five has emerged as a reliable and widely used
construct for capturing a person’s innate personality traits,
irrespective of culture and language (Gallego & Oberski,
2012; McCrae & Costa, 2008; Mondak, 2010). The five traits
are extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional
stability and imagination (Mondak, 2010). Extraversion refers
to a person’s inclination to engage in social interaction in
an active and lively manner (McCrae & Costa, 2008).
Agreeableness denotes individuals who are trusting, avoid
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conflict and engage with others in a kind and cooperative
manner (McCrae & Costa, 2008). Conscientiousness
categorises people who are rational, informed and consider
themselves to be competent (McCrae & Costa, 2008).
Emotional stability, also referred to as neuroticism, describes
the level of negative or unpleasant emotions, thoughts and
actions a person experiences (McCrae & Costa, 2008).
Imagination or openness to experience is an indication of how
open a person is to new ideas, approaches and experiences
(McCrae & Costa, 2008).
Numerous studies have found associations between
personality traits and aspects of the workplace including
transformational leadership (Judge & Bono, 2000; Shao &
Webber, 2006), career success (Bozionelos, 2004), leadership
in a military context (McCormack & Mellor, 2002) and
leadership effectiveness (Nelson & Hogan, 2009). It is worth
mentioning that Shao and Weber’s (2006) replication study
(set in a Chinese context) contradicted Judge and Bono’s
(2000) findings (set in a Western context), implying that
findings on trust should be interpreted carefully across
cultural boundaries. Shao and Weber, for example, found
that in China, extroversion was negatively associated with
transformational leadership, whereas in the United States
there was a positive association. Similarly, in the United
States agreeableness was the strongest predictor of
transformational leadership, whereas in China the correlation
was insignificant (Shao & Weber, 2006).
Few studies have explored the role of personality in coaching
and the results are inconclusive. Jones, Woods and Hutchinson
(2014) found a significant positive relationship between
extraversion and perceived coaching effectiveness. Stewart,
Palmer, Wilkin and Kerrin (2008) found that there was a
positive relationship between conscientiousness, openness,
emotional stability and executive coaching transfer.
Scoular and Linley (2006) considered personality similarity
between the coach and the coachee to play a role in the
coaching outcome. However, Duckworth and De Haan (2009)
found no association between personality trait matching of
the coach and coachee, and the perceived effectiveness of
coaching.
Looking more closely at the link between personality and
trust, Freitag and Bauer (2016) summarised a number of
studies on personality traits and social trust, which provide
inconclusive findings. One study showed a relationship
between agreeableness (but no other traits) and trust
(Mondak & Halperin, 2008), whereas another study showed
a link between all personality traits and trust (Dinesen,
Nørgaard, & Klemmensen, 2014). Other studies showed that
trust is associated with extraversion, personal control,
intelligence (Oskarsson, Dawes, Johannesson, & Magnusson,
2012), optimism and a sense of control (Uslaner, 2002). Evans
and Revelle (2008) showed that interpersonal trust was
related to extraversion and negative neuroticism (emotional
stability), and TW was related to agreeableness and
conscientiousness. To our best knowledge, no research has
been conducted on the link between the Big Five traits and
coachee trust.
The conclusion we draw from the cited studies on personality
and workplace aspects, coaching and trust is that although
associations do seem to exist, the contextual and cultural
dimensions play a significant role, making it difficult to
predict which of the Big Five traits may be associated with
trust. In our study, we therefore expect all of the Big Five
traits to have a significant association (directly and indirectly)
with the trust constructs, especially as we use the inverse of
neuroticism (emotional stability), and our sample is culturally
diverse. We therefore hypothesise that:
H4: The Big Five personality traits of a coachee have a statistically
significant impact on a coachee’s trust behaviour in a coaching
relationship.
H5: The Big Five personality trait of a coachee has an indirect
effect on the coachee trust behaviour:
H5a: via the perceived trustworthiness of the coach.
H5b: via the trust propensity of the coachee.
From this overview, we conclude that there appears to be a
link between the propensity of the coachee to trust, their
perception of the TW of their coach and the ultimate level of
trust they exhibit in the coaching relationship. What is more
significant is that the personality traits of a coachee may also
play a role in these three trust constructs.
Research design
This research employed a quantitative, cross-sectional survey
design to collect data by means of a convenience sampling
technique using a questionnaire. As no previous research
exists, which has linked the constructs employed in this
study, we do not yet know what patterns of relationships to
expect and whether there would be any moderators at play.
Consequently, we followed the advice of Spector (2019)
who recommends that a cross-sectional design should be
the method of choice in such cases. We also controlled for
potential moderating effects to strengthen findings derived
from a cross-sectional study as recommended by Spector
(2019), as is discussed in more detail elsewhere in this article.
Research parcipants
Individuals who received coaching (coachees) in an
organisational context were invited directly via LinkedIn
and indirectly via coaches through the International Coach
Federation’s (ICF) global research centre, as well as the
Coaches and Mentors of South Africa’s (COMENSA)
research committee. More than 6000 invitations were sent
and 196 completed responses were received. The total
sample (n = 196) consisted of 59% women and 41% men. The
two largest age distributions were 40–49 years (36%) and
50–59 years (32%).
In terms of the coaching intervention itself, the number
of coaching sessions and interval between sessions were
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captured: 30% of participants received between 1 and 5
coaching sessions; 40% between six and 10 sessions and 23%
more than 10 sessions. For 79% of participants, the interval
between coaching sessions was 1–4 weeks.
Measuring instruments
Four measurement instruments were used: the Mini-IPIP
(Donnellan, Oswald, Baird, & Lucas, 2006) is derived from
the original Big Five inventory of Goldberg (1999)
and measures the Big Five personality factors of
agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, emotional
stability (Neuroticism) and openness to new ideas
(imagination), with four items each making a total of 20 items.
In this study, the items of the emotional stability (neuroticism)
scale were not inversely coded so as to measure emotional
stability rather than neuroticism; therefore, preference will be
given to the alternative term ‘emotional stability’ for this
scale. The Mini-IPIP had internal consistency across five
studies at or well above 0.60 (Donnellan et al., 2006).
The TW questionnaire (TWQ) developed by Mayer and
Davis (1999) consisted of a first section that measures one’s
own general inclination or propensity to trust (eight items).
The second section measures perceptions of another party’s
TW (17 items). More particularly, TW comprises three distinct
sub-components: ability (six items), benevolence (five items)
and integrity (six items). During its initial standardisation, all
subscales obtained excellent reliability coefficients ranging
from 0.93 for ability and 0.95 for benevolence to 0.96 for
integrity (Mayer & Davis, 1999).
The final scale in this study measures actual TB within a
relationship with a focal other person, which was specified in
this case as the coach. The trust disclosure scale as developed
by Gillespie (2003) was used for this purpose and consists of
five items that indicate the extent to which a person is willing
to share his or her own thoughts, ideas and feelings with the
trusted party. Previous studies found the reliability of this
scale to be acceptable (e.g. Cronbach’s alpha > 0.8; Gillespie
[2003, 2012]) and Lam, Loi and Leong [2013] reported a
Cronbach’s alpha value of 0.91 for this scale).
Stascal analysis
We considered both descriptive and inferential statistics. We
made use of Mplus version 8.1 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998–
2017) to perform structural equation modelling (SEM) for the
measurement and structural models, and to test indirect
effects. Composite scale reliabilities (ρ) were computed using
a formula based on the sum of squares of standardised
loadings and the sum of standardised variance of error terms
(Raykov, 2009). This method is preferable to using Cronbach’s
alpha, which does not provide a dependable estimate of scale
reliability when latent variable modelling is used (Raykov,
2009; Wang & Wang, 2012). Although p-values above 0.7
were preferred, a minimum threshold value of 0.6 was
considered acceptable for this study because psychological
constructs were involved and most of the scales used
included fewer than 10 items, in which lower values are
commonly expected (Clark & Watson, 1995; Field, 2014;
Tredoux & Durheim, 2013).
The maximum likelihood with robust standard errors (SE)
estimator (MLR) was employed to assess competing
measurement models, which were then evaluated against
goodness-of-fit indices to pinpoint the best-fitting model.
The selected measurement model was used as a basis to test
associated structural models. Absolute fit indices as well as
incremental fit indices were used as criteria for model fit.
These included the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) and
the Bayesian Information Criterion (BIC), as well as the chi-
square statistic, the root means square error of approximation
(RMSEA), the Tucker–Lewis index (TLI), the comparative fit
index (CFI) and the standardised root mean square residual
(SRMR) (Byrne, 2012). The AIC and BIC values do not have
suggested cut-off points – the model with the lower value
fits the data better. Comparative fit index and TLI with
critical values above 0.90 were accepted as indicators of
good model fit (Wang & Wang, 2012). For the RMSEA, values
of 0.05 or less and not exceeding 0.08 were preferred
indicators of close model fit (Browne & Cudeck, 1993), with
the SRMR’s indicated cut-off value set at lower than 0.05
(Cangur & Ercan, 2015). Where necessary, chi-square
difference testing was done (because of the use of the MLR
estimator) to make a conclusive decision with regard to
competing models.
Ethical consideraon
Ethical clearance for this study was obtained from the
Departmental Ethics Screening Committee of the University
of Stellenbosch Business School (USB DESC): USB-2018-7852.
Results
Tesng measurement models
Three initial competing measurement models were
considered: In the first model: (1), propensity was measured
using seven observed variables; (2) TW was considered as a
second-order factor measured using three latent variables,
namely, ability (measured using six observed variables),
benevolence (measured using five observed variables) and
integrity (measured using five observed variables); and (3)
trust disclosure behaviour was measured using five observed
variables. Finally, the Big Five personality traits (4) were
represented by five first-order latent factors that were
each measured using a number of positively – as well as
negatively – keyed items, namely, extraversion (four items),
agreeableness (four items), conscientiousness (four items),
emotional stability (four items) and imagination (four items).
The second model was similar to the first, except for TW
which was measured using only three latent factors – ability,
benevolence and integrity. The third model was similar to the
first, with the exception that TW was measured as a
unidimensional latent construct represented by 17 directly
observed indicators.
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A measurement model that represented the best fit to the
observed data was identified and compared to two proposed
alternative structures (see Table 1 for the results).
It is evident from Table 1 that the first two models represent a
relatively better fit to the observed data when compared to
the third model, which does not meet minimum standards as
the CFI and TLI values are well below the minimum threshold
of 0.90. When comparing the first two models, model 2 has a
slightly lower χ2 value of 1201.20 when compared to model 1
(χ2 = 1225.70); however, both have significant χ2 values, which
is not ideal (p > 0.05). In contrast, model 1 has the lowest AIC
(19 017.91) and BIC (19 022.94) values, which point towards
model 1 as the best-fitting model, while the CFI, TLI, RMSEA
and SRMR values for the first two models were identical: CFI
= 0.92, TLI = 0.92, RMSEA = 0.04 (90% confidence interval
[CI] 0.03–0.04) and SRMR = 0.06.
Based on these results, model 1, which also offers the closest
resemblance to factor structures as the theory proposes, is
selected as the preferred measurement model. In model 1, all
items also loaded on their respective constructs as expected;
the estimates of factor loadings were all statistically significant
and varied from 0.371 to 0.998.
Tesng the structural model
The means, standard deviations, reliability and correlation
coefficients of the scales as calculated using Mplus rendered
acceptable results (p 0.60 for all scales) and are reported in
Table 2.
Reliabilities of the Big Five personality traits ranged from
0.60 to 0.7. The composite reliability coefficient for the TW
measure was 0.9, with p = 0.9 for the ability subscale, p = 0.88
for the benevolence subscale and p = 0.76 for the integrity
subscale. The TB (disclosure) scale reported a p-value of 0.9.
Considering the minimum threshold stated for this study, all
scales were considered to be acceptable (Clark & Watson,
1995; Field, 2014; Tredoux & Durheim, 2013).
Within this sample group, individuals who tend to be open to
new ideas (imagination) are highly likely to be more extrovert
(r = 0.48, p < 0.01) and to exhibit higher levels of emotional
stability (r = 0.61, p < 0.01). Likewise, a moderate but
statistically significant association between conscientiousness
and agreeableness is observed (r = 0.30, p < 0.05).
Coachees who are emotionally stable exhibit a higher level
of TP (r = 0.31, p < 0.01), implying that they are likely to
have a more positive trusting stance towards coaches in
general. Findings further suggest that coachees who can
be described as generally agreeable are more likely to
perceive their coaches as trustworthy. This relationship is
of medium strength, yet highly statistically significant
(r = 0.30, p < 0.01).
Furthermore, individuals who are open to new ideas
(imagination) are likely to be the ones who are more willing to
demonstrate TBs towards the coach and share their thoughts
and feelings freely with their coaches (r = 0.34, p < 0.05). As a
final observation, there is a very large, significant association
between perceptions of TW and TB (r = 0.47, p < 0.05).
Based on the observed associations between constructs, we
performed SEM to test for underlying effects between
predictor variables – Big Five traits, natural inclination to
trust others in general (propensity) and assumptions
regarding the TW of a significant other person within a
specific relationship – on the coachee’s TB towards the coach.
Three models were tested: model 1 (a full model containing
both direct and indirect pathways) introduced paths from
each of the Big Five traits to TP and TW, from TP to TW, and
from TP and TW to TB. Model 2 (a direct effects model)
TABLE 2: Descripve stascs, reliability coecients and correlaons.
Number Variable MSD ρ1234567
1 B5 Ex 2.91 0.63 0.76 - - - - - - -
2B5 Ag 4.20 0.61 0.73 0.25*- - - - - -
3 B5 Cons 3.92 0.61 0.60 -0.04 0.30†* -----
4 B5 ES 3.46 0.71 0.69 0.01 0.01 0.25 - - - -
5 B5 Im 4.08 0.69 0.68 0.48†** 0.40†* 0.14 0.61‡** ---
6 TP 2.91 0.63 0.72 0.18 0.16 0.10 0.31†** 0.27 - -
7 TW 4.36 0.60 0.91 0.18 0.30†** 0.11 0.07 0.28*0.23*-
8 TB 6.12 1.03 0.93 0.19*0.17 -0.10 0.08 0.34†* 0.19 0.47†**
Note: All constructs were measured on a 5-point scale except for TB, which was measured on a 7-point scale.
TP, trust propensity; TW, trustworthiness; TB, trusng behaviour; M, mean; SD, standard deviaon; B5 Ex, extroversion; B5 Ag, agreeableness; B5 Cons, conscienousness; B5 ES, emoonal stability;
B5 Im, imaginaon.
*, p < 0.05; **, p < 0.01.
, r > 0.30; , r > 0.50.
TABLE 1: Fit stascs of compeng measurement models.
Model χ2df AIC BIC CFI TLI RMSEA SRMR
Model 1 1225.70 953 19 017.91 19 588.31 0.92 0.91 0.04 0.06
Model 2 1201.20 939 19 022.94 19 639.23 0.92 0.92 0.04 0.06
Model 3 1518.29 956 19 319.71 19 880.27 0.84 0.82 0.06 0.07
χ², chi-square; df, degrees of freedom; AIC, Akaike informaon criterion; BIC, Bayesian informaon criterion; TLI, Tucker–Lewis index; CFI, comparave t index; RMSEA, root mean square error of
approximaon; SRMR, standardised root mean square residual.
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specified paths from each of the predictor variables: the
Big Five traits, propensity (TP) and TW to TB, that is, the
inclination to disclose personal thoughts and feelings
towards a coach (TB). Model 3 (a complex indirect pathways
model) specified paths from each of the Big Five traits to
both TP and TW, from TP to TW, and from TP and TW to TB.
Table 3 displays the fit indices of the three competing models
in the first part of the table.
Comparison of the fit indices of the three models indicates
identical results for CFI, TLI and RMSEA. Lower AIC values
of 19 015.05 and 19 017.91, respectively, point towards model
3 and model 1 as the better models. However, a lower BIC
value of 19 564.82 accentuated model 2 as the best-fitting
model. The Satorra–Bentler difference test was performed
in order to reach a conclusive decision. Results highlight
a significant difference between model 1 and model 2
(χ2 = 29.03, df = 11, p < 0.001). In contrast, the difference
between model 1 and competing model 3 is non-significant
(χ2 = 4.98, df = 5, p > 0.05).
Because findings indicate that model 1 and model 3 fit the
data equally well, the larger number of parameters and
the fewer degrees of freedom associated with model 1 can
be eliminated in favour of the smaller model; therefore,
we chose model 3 as the best-fitting structural model. Only
one significant regression was found, namely, for TW on TB.
Therefore: Hypotheses 1 and 4 are not accepted. Hypothesis 2
is accepted.
Indirect eects
As a next step, the model was evaluated for indirect effects.
In order to verify findings related to Hypotheses 3 and 5a and
5b, the procedure explained by Hayes (2013) was followed.
Bootstrapping was used to construct two-sided bias-corrected
95% CI so as to evaluate the significance of indirect effects.
No indirect effects were found, as is evidenced by all p-values
being non-significant (p > 0.05), and upper and lower CIs
included zero in each instance. Therefore, Hypotheses 3, 5a
and 5b are not accepted.
Table 4 summarises the results of indirect effects for the
Big Five traits, and Figure 1 shows the standardised path
coefficients estimated using Mplus.
Summing up, we conclude that perceived TW predicts TB
while the Big Five traits and TP do not have any significant
effect on the decision to demonstrate TB towards a coach.
This implies that coach behaviours that signify competence
(ability), integrity and benevolence to the coachee are likely
to enhance the quality of the coaching relationship and
opportunities for personal growth irrespective of the number
of coaching sessions.
Discussion
This research aimed to investigate the role that a coachee’s
characteristics play in the coach–coachee trust relationship
dynamic. Coachee characteristics were defined as personality
traits (as measured by the Big Five traits), while trust
encompassed the coachee’s propensity to trust, the perceived
TW of the coach and the actual TB of the coachee.
Our findings highlighted a moderate association between
some of the Big Five traits and TP, and perceptions of TW and
TB. Coachees who fall into the ‘emotionally stable’ Big
Five category show a higher level of TP than the other Big
Five traits. Coachees who belong to the ‘agreeableness’ trait
group are more likely to have a higher TW score, while
coachees having the ‘imagination’ (openness) trait are more
likely to actively engage in TB towards their coach. Although
not related to trust, research on coaching conducted by
Stewart et al. (2008) found a positive correlation between the
TABLE 3: Inial framework t indices and standardised path coecients.
Measures Direct and indirect
pathways (Model 1)
Direct pathways
(Model 2)
Indirect pathways
(Model 3)
Fit indices
χ21225.70 1257.41 1230.07
df 953 964 958
AIC 19 017.91 19 030.49 19 015.05
BIC 19 588.31 19 564.82 19 569.05
CFI 0.92 0.92 0.92
TLI 0.91 0.91 0.91
RMSEA 0.04 0.04 0.04
SRMR 0.06 0.08 0.06
Direct pathways to trust disclosure behaviour
Trustworthiness 0.39** 0.44** 0.45**
Trust propensity 0.08 0.08 0.09
Extraversion -0.08 -0.09 -
Agreeableness -0.06 -0.06 -
Conscienousness -0.14 -0.14 -
Emoonal stability -0.17 -0.18 -
Imaginaon 0.40 0.43 -
Direct pathways to trustworthiness
Trust propensity 0.18 - 0.18
Extraversion -0.03 - -0.03
Agreeableness 0.16 - 0.14
Conscienousness 0.05 - 0.04
Emoonal stability -0.18 - -0.20
Imaginaon 0.28 - 0.33
Direct pathways to trust propensity
Extraversion 0.20 - 0.20
Agreeableness 0.17 - 0.17
Conscienousness -0.02 - -0.03
Emoonal stability 0.39 - 0.39
Imaginaon 0.13 - -0.12
df, degrees of freedom; AIC, Akaike informaon criterion; BIC, the Bayesian informaon
criterion; CFI, comparave t index; TLI, Tucker–Lewis index; RMSEA, root means square
error of approximaon; SRMR, standardised root mean square residual.
*, p < 0.05; **, p < 0.01.
TABLE 4: Indirect eects of the Big Five personality traits.
Variable Trust propensity Trustworthiness
Est. SE 95% CI Est. SE 95% CI
B5 – Extraversion 0.02 0.04 [-0.01, 0.18] -0.02 0.16 [-0.78, 0.10]
B5 – Agreeableness 0.02 0.04 [-0.02, 0.17] 0.06 0.17 [-0.77, 0.21]
B5 – Conscienousness -0.00 0.03 [-0.08, 0.04] 0.02 0.12 [-0.13, 0.32]
B5 – Neurocism 0.04 0.06 [-0.03, 0.29] -0.09 0.28 [-1.71, 0.09]
B5 – Intellect or
imaginaon
-0.01 0.08 [-0.44, 0.05] 0.15 0.37 [-0.12, 1.91]
CI, condence intervals; SE, standard errors.
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application of coaching development and ‘conscientiousness’,
‘openness’, ‘emotional stability’ and ‘general self-efficacy’.
The relationship between trust (broadly defined in the
various studies) and the Big Five within other studies are
noted. Mondak and Halperin (2008) found a relationship
between ‘agreeableness’ and engaging in trust, whereas
Hiraishi, Yamagat, Shikishima and Ando (2008) found a
significant link between trust and agreeableness as well as
extraversion. Dinesen et al. (2014) found that all trait groups
influence trust. It is nevertheless impossible to make direct
comparisons between our findings and those reported by the
mentioned researchers, as the trust construct is complex and
has not necessarily been conceptualised in similar ways or in
similar contexts.
Turning to the more robust results of the SEM analysis, it is
observed that neither the Big Five traits of a coachee nor their
TP play a role in TB (H1 and H4). This initially came as a
surprise, as various studies have found links between Big
Five traits and TB (Dinesen et al., 2014; Freitag & Bauer, 2016;
Hiraishi et al., 2008; Mondak & Halperin, 2008; Oskarsson
et al., 2012; Uslaner, 2002). Our findings nevertheless concur
with those of Heyns and Rothmann (2015), who also found
that TP did not have a direct effect on TB, whereas TW beliefs
indeed strongly influenced TB (Heyns & Rothmann, 2015).
A potential explanation for these findings may lie in the fact
that the historical context of a relationship (Burke, Simms,
Lazzara, & Salas, 2007; Jeffries, 2002), such as events and the
frequency of interaction on an individual level, can influence
the way in which trust is strengthened or weakened over
time (Burke et al., 2007). A coaching relationship has a very
specific, intimate nature comprising a close, confidential
bond as opposed to a general type of relationship. Freitag
and Bauer (2016) showed that while personality traits are
important in the study of trust, the impact of personality
traits on trust is weaker in trust between friends than between
strangers. A coaching relationship is much more akin to a
friendly relationship than to a relationship with a stranger
and therefore our findings concur with those of Freitag and
Bauer (2016). Furthermore, Gill et al. (2005) found that an
individual’s disposition to trust correlated with TB when
information about TW was still lacking or ambiguous but no
longer influenced TB once adequate information about TW of
the trustee became clear. In line with this view, Cox (2012)
and Bluckert (2005) point out that trust in coaching
relationships grows over time because of the dynamic nature
of relationships. In our sample, 70% of participants received
six or more coaching sessions, implying a well-established
relationship with a shared history and ample time to assess
TW. This may explain why TP within our study did not have
the expected effect on the recorded coaching relationships.
In terms of TW and TB, this research established a positive
impact of the perceived TW of the coach on the coachee’s TB
(H2). This implies that when a coachee perceives his or her
coach to be trustworthy, he or she will be more inclined to
engage in TB. This is in line with previous research, albeit in
a non-coaching context (Gill et al., 2005; Heyns & Rothmann,
2015; Mayer et al., 1995). In terms of coaching, the result
concurs with several studies on trust and coach characteristics.
Hodgetts (2002, p. 208) found that selecting the right on the
‘competence and TW’ of the coach. Bluckert (2005) pointed
out that a coach’s competence and integrity are important
contributors to trust, and according to Boyce et al. (2010) a
coachee’s perception of a coach’s credentials and experience
influences trust.
B5 Ex TP
TW
TW – I
TW – B
TW – A
TB
B5 Ag
B5 Con
B5 Neu
B5 Int
0.20 (0.21)
0.17 (0.24)
–0.03 (0.15)
0.39 (0.35)
–0.12 (0.51)
–0.03 (0.21)
0.14 (0.23)
0.04 (0.14)
–0.20 (0.38)
0.33 (0.47)
0.09 (0.10)
0.45 (0.07)
0.18 (0.11)
1.00 (0.04)
0.82 (0.05)
0.17 (0.06)
TP, trust propensity; TW, trustworthiness; TB, trusng behaviour; B5 Ex, extroversion; B5 Ag, agreeableness; B5 Cons, conscienousness; B5 ES, emoonal stability; B5 Im, imaginaon.
FIGURE 1: The structural model (standardised soluon with standard errors in parentheses).
Page 9 of 11 Original Research
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This result (H2) implies that coaches who display ability
(competence), integrity and benevolence enhance their TW
in the eyes of their coachees and this in turn leads to TB from
the coachee. Ability refers to the coach’s skills, qualifications
and experience (Boyce et al., 2010) – the ‘can-do’ aspect of
TW (Colquitt et al., 2007), reflected in the fact that in
organisational coaching, many executives prefer coaches
who have management experience (Stern, 2004). Coaches
can strengthen their ability by obtaining formal coaching
qualifications, or by undergoing certification from a reputable
coaching body (Bennett & Bush, 2009). Integrity of coaches
depends on them keeping their promises and sharing valid
information (Markovic et al., 2014). A coachee may judge his
or her coach’s integrity by observing the coach’s consistency
in behaviour, words and action, and enquiring about his or
her reputation (Mayer et al., 1995). Benevolence refers to a
coach’s intention to act in the best interest of the coachee and
corresponds to the ‘will-do’ aspect of TW (Colquitt et al.,
2007). A coach can demonstrate benevolence by providing
support, showing empathy and being non-judgemental
(Markovic et al., 2014).
Hypothesis 5 measured the indirect effect of Big Five traits on
TB via TW (H5a) and TB (H5b).
Both hypotheses were rejected pointing to the fact that the
development of positive TW perceptions is not preceded by
the coachee’s personality traits, but TW perceptions are
rather influenced by alternative considerations relevant to
the coaching relationship. Furthermore, propensity did not
seem to influence the relationship between TW and trust
(H3). This finding is in line with previous research conducted
by Heyns and Rothmann (2015) who also concluded that
once information about the TW of a trusted party becomes
clear, one’s disposition to trust does not seem to play an
influential role any longer. These findings therefore seem to
favour the notion that alternative (contextual) factors rather
than personality traits are decisive in the formation of trust,
also within coaching relationships.
Praccal implicaons
This research showed that coachee personality traits do not
impact the coach–coachee trust relationship. It therefore puts
into question the practice in some organisations where
coach–coachee matching is performed using personality
assessments (Wycherley & Cox, 2008).
The most significant finding of this research is that coaches
can play an active role in the trust relationship by
demonstrating TW behaviour in the form of ability,
benevolence and integrity. Apart from the fact that coaches
should regularly reflect on how they comply with these three
aspects, coaches should also discuss their perception of the
three constructs with their coaching supervisors. Coach
training providers should ensure that these aspects are
included in coaching training programmes. Furthermore,
Human Resource Development (HRD) practitioners
responsible for procuring coaching services should verify
whether the coaches they employ are aware of these
dynamics. In practice, coaches can demonstrate these three
aspects during coaching interventions as further discussed.
Ability can be revealed by the coach sharing with the coachee
his/her training methods, certification and experience at
the onset of the coaching intervention or by ensuring an
up-to-date Curriculum Vitae on social media. To share their
credentials, coaches must of course ensure proper training
at a reputable institution such as a university, as well as
certification through a recognised coaching body. By
participating in research and industry activities, coaches
can also improve their perceived competence. Throughout
the coaching intervention, the coaches should consistently
demonstrate their competence and avoid overstepping the
coaching boundary by venturing into advice-giving or
psychotherapy territory where they may be perceived as
incompetent (Bluckert, 2005).
Benevolence needs to be demonstrated throughout the
coaching intervention through behaviours such as being
non-judgemental, support and empathy for the client’s
situation. This is particularly true in cases where the coach
and coachee are from different cultural backgrounds
(Schoorman et al., 2007).
Integrity can be exhibited by the coach sharing his/her
personal values and beliefs, and then acting in accordance
with these throughout the coaching intervention and beyond.
Coaches often source clients through references, implying
that a breach in integrity could harm future work prospects
(Markovic et al., 2014). Integrity is also demonstrated when
the coach acts in a transparent manner by, for example,
explaining the coaching process and then adhering to it.
Predictable and reliable behaviour of the coaches will also
highlight their integrity (Kilburg, 1997).
The fact that a coach’s ability plays such an important role
in TW and ultimately in the success of coaching adds to the
debate about whether coaches should be registered and
credentialed (Bachkirova & Borrington, 2018). This finding
suggests that coaching as a profession would do itself a
favour by encouraging membership of recognised coaching
bodies.
Limitaons and future research
This research focussed on personality traits and trust constructs
of TP, TW and TP and did not explicitly include demographics
of coachees. Future research could investigate the role of race,
gender, age and culture in TP, perceived TW and TB of both
coach and coachee separately and in relation to each other.
While the sample size of 196 was adequate for this research, a
larger sample may yield more robust statistical results. The
challenge is to recruit large samples of coachees. In this
research, more than 6000 invitations were sent to coaches
requesting them to ask their clients to participate. The response
rate was very low, probably because of the confidential nature
Page 10 of 11 Original Research
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of the coach–coachee relationship and coaches therefore being
reluctant to involve their clients in non-coaching activities
such as research. Future research should devise alternative
strategies to involve a larger number of coachees.
This research restricted participants to those who received
coaching in an organisational context, but did not discriminate
between internal and external coaches. It is quite possible
that trust relationships are affected by the internal or external
nature of a coach and more research into these differences
would be interesting. The detailed nature of the coaching
interventions was also not recorded. Future research should
investigate how the type of coaching approach, mode of
delivery (in-person or remote), coaching aim and level of
sponsor involvement influence trust.
Conclusion
This research contributes to the underexplored field of trust
in coaching relationships and specifically the role that
coachee characteristics play in coach–coachee trust dynamics.
We found that while there are moderate associations between
some of the Big Five traits and TP, and perceptions of TW and
TB, there is no evidence that personality traits either directly
or indirectly impact TP, and perceptions of TW or TB. Only
positive perceptions regarding the TW of a coach have a
decisive influence on the extent to which trust can deepen
within the coach–coachee relationship. The coach can play an
active role in building the perceived TW by demonstrating
ability, benevolence and integrity. These findings help shed
light on factors that influence the coach–coachee relationship
and by implication the coaching success.
Acknowledgements
Compeng interests
The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Authors’ contribuons
All authors contributed equally to this work.
Funding informaon
This research received no specific grant from any funding
agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Data availability statement
Data sharing is not applicable to this article.
Disclaimer
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of
the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or
position of any affiliated agency of the authors.
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