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How do you coach a client who's frustrating you?

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February 4
, 2002                                          

Dear Readers:

Welcome to February 2002, International Coaching Week and a feature article from the How to Coach Anyone eCourse.  Today's lesson talks about 10 instances where coaches get frustrated with their clients, what you should know about each instance, to handle them.  

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Lesson #20
How do you coach the client who is frustrating you?

Okay, so coaches are human.  Sometimes we get frustrated by/with our clients.  We probably shouldn't be, but it happens.  Here are some ideas as to why it happens, and what you can do about it.

 Instances that get coaches frustrated with their clients, what you should know about each one, and how to handle them.

1. The client is making very slow, if any, progress.
Many clients won't be as quick to learn and implement what they are learning from you, so they'll seem slow, relative to you.  Remember, it took YOU time to absorb and learn key principles and strategies; give them this time.  If in doubt, ask them how they feel about their progress/pace.  Don't assume they think they are going too slow.  It might just be your stuff.  Love and enjoy your clients, challenge them and do your best for them.  That's ALL you can do; the rest is up to them.  (Important note:  Your clients may be making slow progress because you haven't yet mastered the skills of coaching, or your misunderstand the client's situations/problem/dynamic.  Ongoing and advanced coach training is key to offering top notch coaching to clients.  In my view, all things being equal, the better the coaching, the faster the client progresses.  And the better the coach training, the better the coaching. Okay, I'm now off my soapbox.)

2. The client isn't hearing a lot of what you're saying.
Well, what else is new!  Clients are busy people with their own to do lists, problems, goals and needs; you can't expect them to always be all there during a coaching session.  Be patient.  In my early days of coaching, I assumed that the client 'needed' to know what I had to say.  Not.  What I learned to do was to first find out what the client wants to know or wants to know from me at any given time.  You can ask directly, or you can introduce YOUR observation, idea, strategy, solution or whatever and see how interested the client is. Also, remember, that clients sometimes need so hear the same thing said 3 different ways (and 3 times) before they can hear it.  Remember, some of the stuff you're sharing with them or introducing them to are radical 180 degree shifts for them.  Be patient.  And give the client what they need from you at any given moment during the coaching.  If the client is ignoring or only hearing part of what you are sharing, either back off or find out why they aren't hearing the whole enchilada.

  3. The client keeps diverting and distracting.
Your more intelligent or free spirit/creative clients are masters at this.  They'' keep you enthralled or engaged by their stories, ideas, problems or whatever.  Meanwhile, what they specifically hired you help them achieve gets missed and then you wonder why they let you go 3 months later (when they seemed so happy with your service!).  The fact is, you got snookered.  The trick is to keep your eye on the goals they hired you to accomplish.    And remember, many clients are actually afraid of reaching their goals, so they'll find ways to not reach them.  Don't buy into this.  Keep your focus, even if the client tries to divert you.

  4. The client doesn't do what they said they'd do.
Well, that's why they are clients!  Seriously, this happens a lot.  It can be frustrating to the coach because you believed your client.  First step for you is to stop believing your clients until they've proven that they are the type of person to keep their word.  (Coaches tend to blindly believe the promises that clients make to them.  What I have learned to do is first do an internal check before accepting their promise.  If you take a moment, you can usually tell how serious they are.  And, if the client doesn't keep their word with me, I generally don't let them promise anything again to me.  Not worth the parental push and pull if you know what I mean.  And hey, there are many other ways to add value as a coach other than 'holding clients accountable" which is pretty remedial coaching anyway and not something that most advanced coaches are willing to devolve about in order to provide for clients.

  5. The client misses calls, is flakey about being on time.
Sorry, but if you're getting upset by this, that's your doing, not the client's.  Why?  Because it all comes down to having policies about this sort of thing and making sure that your clients are fully aware of any consequences if they are late or miss a call.  And, do make exceptions, but don't make a habit of it.  A certain segment of the client population is flakey about time and a another segment is incredibly busy with competing priorities.  And another segment, the largest segment, just needs to be aware of the consequences to them if they miss a call or are late. 

  6. The client does the opposite of what they said they'd do.
This happens a lot.  I don't worry about it.  At least they did something!  Remember, once clients get off the phone with you, they are back in their own environment and that environment is pulling them in the 'old' direction.  If you feel the client needs some extra structure to keep them focused in their new direction, install that structure.  Or get the client so inspired that they drive themselves in the new direction, overcoming the old environments/tendencies.

  7. The client complains a lot.
Some people are just complainers by nature.  I ask them if they know they are complaining a lot about things, life, relationships, situations, themselves, me, the coaching, etc.  Most have NO idea how negative they are.  Funny, but fitting.  They are usually grateful to you for pointing this out.  This one shift can change their life.  And it sure makes your life a lot easier.

  8. The client is demanding too much of your energy/time.
Some clients need/want your personal energy, not just your intelligence, wisdom or expertise.  The moment you pick up the phone when this type of client calls in you can feel whoooosh of energy flow from you to them.  I used to think this was a bad thing, but then I realized that it wasn't a problem for me because what was depleting me wasn't the fact that they were 'taking' my energy, but that I was feeling responsible for their success.  (Needy clients seem to have a way of making your feeling that way.)  I found when I put the responsibility on them for their own success, that I could enjoy the coaching sessions with them.  I was happy for them to have my energy.  I hope this doesn't sound too weird to you, but it's the best way I can describe the dynamic.

  9. The client points the finger at your when results aren't happening.
Sometimes, this is the client's doing (because they aren't doing the work required to get the success they want).  Sometimes it's the coach's doing because you either haven't educated your client on this point and your fairly narrow professional role.  And sometimes, it's the coach's doing because the client isn't getting the expertise they had been expecting.  Which is why I spend a little time before accepting a client to make REASONABLY SURE that I truly help them.  In fact, I usually share my approach/strategy relative to their goal, problem or opportunity.  That way, they can audition me before hiring me.  Not just a sample session, but rather a preview.  Really helpful to ensure a match and this also educates the client on their role/responsibility.

  10. The client pays late or skips out.
The source of the problem here is the coach, not the client.  IF you're not willing to put 100% of your clients on an automated, recurring credit card or checking account debit, you're going to have a hassle with collection.    Sure, clients should pay on time, but 20% won't, and 5% won't pay at all. Thus, automated credit card billing.  Simple, elegant solution that also increase client retention by at least 25%.

 Final comment
As most coaches come to realize at some point in their development, any reaction/frustration you're having relative to client is 100% about you and virtually never about the client. The problem/frustration is occurring because you didn't set up the client properly, your policies aren't clear/enforced, you haven' automated the management of your practice, you've taken on the wrong client, you are getting setup/snookered due to your ignorance, or the coaching you are providing isn't at the level or the flavor that your clients most wants and needs.

The very good news is that it's all solvable!

I hope this was helpful.


copyright 2002 by  written by thomas j. leonard.  all rights reserved. 

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