Snake oil can improve confidence

Sadly, this claim is not true. It does, however, sound very like the claims being made by unqualified, ‘expert coaches’ who are touting their services online these.

Recently, I’ve been noticing more and more people claiming to be experts at personal development. Many of them brag about having no qualifications or experience in their areas of expertise. For example:

  • The marketing expert who has no track record or qualifications
  • The self-esteem coach whose website is full of depressing, negative statements about the human condition
  • The birthing coach who claims to be qualified because she’s had a baby herself

Concerning, isn’t it? So, in a world full of creative marketing and long homepages, how do you assess the real expertise of a potential coach, counsellor, trainer or facilitator? I’m sure YOU wouldn’t want to put your confidence and self-esteem into the hands of a snake oil seller. So how can you be sure that you’ve found a robust, ethical trainer or coach? First it helps to look out for some danger signs. Second, its useful to know the positive signs to use when screening providers.

Danger signs

Obviously, you should be highly sceptical of anyone who has no qualifications or experience in their area of ‘expertise’. Beyond this simple rule-of-thumb, there are some additional things to keep in mind. Always be wary, for example, of any practitioner who claims they’ve conquered the same problems as you. These practitioners often claim that their life experience qualifies them to provide training, coaching or counselling. Okay. This person may, indeed, have found solutions that worked well for them. However, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else. Make sure that the techniques used by your coach or trainer are grounded in evidence based models.

Also beware online training delivered by ‘e-learning experts’ with no training experience. You’re likely to end up with a poorly designed, low-quality product. Recently, for example, I purchased in an online course on writing effective blog posts. After my ‘investment’ of $20 had swiftly been processed, I received a fifteen-page PDF. This was full of images, so it only contained five pages of actual content. For the same price as a good book, I had been sold a lot of fluff. Don’t YOU fall into the same trap.

Tread with caution when a practitioner offers a free introductory session. Experienced coaches and trainers don’t ‘need’ to do this, because they are fully booked. Giving away free sessions can be a sign that practitioner isn’t well established (although this doesn’t always mean they’re a poor practitioner).

Finally, remember that extremely long sales pages are a classic warning sign. This is particularly true when a practitioner fails to explain the methodology and models they use. A page full of testimonials may mean the expert has lots of friends. You should be asking questions such as:

  • What techniques do they use?
  • Are those techniques based on robust psychological methods?
  • How well known are the techniques?
  • What qualifications does a practitioner need to use them?

Positive signs

The questions above will help you find a qualified and ethical practitioner. Here are some other things you can watch out for, to spot a snake-oil-free practitioner.

  • Their website lists their qualifications and explains how these are relevant to the service or programs that the practitioner is delivering
  • The practitioner has extensive professional experience in their field
  • They have up-to-date membership of their professional body, as well as adequate insurance (remember that unqualified practitioners won’t be able to get insurance)
  • The content of the practitioner’s LinkedIn profile and Facebook page matches the content on their website

Once you’ve found a practitioner, talk to them before signing up for their program. Have a quick chat. Check that you feel comfortable with them. Ask some good questions and make sure your that this is the RIGHT practitioner for you.

About the author of these tips

Eleanor Shakiba is a specialist in training and coaching women in business. Since 1994, she has been teaching talented people – like you- how to think, communicate and behave in ways that build success. Eleanor is qualified in Social Anthropology, Applied Psychology, Adult Education and Neuro Linguistic Programming.