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Wendy Buckingham / Creator, Life Coaching Professionally
Have you ever found you just don’t want to continue coaching a paying client?
It's a sad fact that no matter how positive and motivated you are, or experienced, sometimes a client is simply not going anywhere with your coaching and you end up demoralised and exhausted.
Despite your initial confidence that they were a good match, these clients turn out to be uncoachable (at least by you at this time). You come to dread session time with them and your confidence suffers.
There can be many reasons for the coaching not working but the problem is you don’t know how to stop working with them cleanly and elegantly.
There are many reasons the coaching may not be working out and I've found these three to be the most common. I've also shared a couple of my case studies on this issue at the bottom of this page.
The client may be really keen to keep on working with you but their issues are getting into deeper waters - therapy issues such as a past trauma, addictions, severe depression. You know you simply are not confident or qualified enough to help them and they need a therapist.
As a coach you have to be really aware of your responsibility in not trying to coach a client who obviously needs therapy support you are not qualified to give.
Although they can admit that the way they are handling an issue is not working, they simply are not able or willing to look at their own stuff and behaviour and try something new.
You question, lead and suggest until you are blue in the face, but they don't or won't look at a different strategy or behaviour that might work to solve the problem. Asking them "what do you think the solution to this?" which often works, also doesn't get you anywhere.
This client seems to expect you to pull a rabbit out of the hat to solve the issue without their having to do much doing anything much themselves.
Another reason you may want to fire someone is that they have been "sent" for coaching by a family member or employer (who may be paying for it) so it's not their own idea and they are not enrolled or committed. Rather than being self-motivated, they are "other" motivated and that rarely works.
They may even be resentful and combative and determined to give you a hard time. If you can't enrol them in the benefit of the coaching, a conversation with the person who instigated the client working with you, or who is paying for it may be necessary.
Here are three possible approaches for what you can say to fire a client. Each depends on the reason you want to end the coaching relationship. And it may be that they are not uncoachable, but you feel you are not the right person to work with them.
1. “I would really love to go on with our coaching but I’ve decided I wouldn’t be doing you justice. I find the issues you are facing are more of a therapy/consultancy issue than I am qualified to handle.”
And then you recommend them to a suitable person you have established a connection with such as a psychologist, relationship counsellor or even a business consultant.
2. “I’ve realised I’m not the best coach for you on these issues. What I’d like to do is recommend you to a colleague of mine."
You could then do this but play nice and, if the client has been particularly trying, let your colleague know what your experience has been.
3. “I really don’t think I can help you further so let’s have a break from coaching whilst you put into action some of the things we have discussed.”
You can almost guarantee they won't come back.
In my coaching, if the client appeared to be put out or resentful and even several sessions has been had, I offered either a full or partial refund. I’ believe it's much better to lose a few dollars than the goodwill of a client who may talk negatively to others about you.
Fortunately, there haven't been many times I've needed to fire a client but they made a lasting impression and were big lessons to go forward from.
When I was ending up almost in tears at the end of a phone session and dreading the next one, I knew something had to be done. The client had told me at the beginning that he had had several coaches who couldn't help him. That alone should have been a warning flag but my ego told me I could be the successful one.
He was not willing to do anything but put down what I offered in the way of coaching but weirdly wanted to continue working with me. Definitely uncoachable and pretty toxic too.
At the start of his next session I told him that before we talked any more that I would like him to do some of the processes I had recommended to see if they could work despite his doubts and then get back to me.
He never did!
This was in my early coaching days, before I developed my initial questions for prospective clients about what they wanted to get from coaching.
The client was a phycologist and presented really well (and I was flattered that another professional would want to work with me). But when it came to coaching her, there was just something not right. She was asking lots of questions but just wasn't engaged or doing anything between sessions and really vague about setting any goals or outcomes.
When I confronted her about this at our third session, she admitted she didn't actually want coaching. She had heard about it and wanted to find out how it worked to see if she could do it for her clients.
Needless to say I suggested (nicely) she enrol in a coach training program rather than hire a coach unless she was be willing to actually be coached!
As I said at the start of this article trying to coach an uncoachable client can be a draining experience. A good book I recommend to dip into those occasions or, in fact after any session that has been a bit challenging, is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
One of the 366 inspirational quotes to meditate on always seems to hit the spot and get me back into balance.
After the session you could also light some candles, go out for a coffee or a walk. Whatever it takes to bring you back into balance and restore you.