A Toxic Life Coach can Transform a Great Client into a Difficult Client
Working with Difficult Life Coaching Clients can suck out the joy of our coaching; BUT difficult client behavior is not always brought to the coaching relationship by the client. At times it is us, the coach, who triggers negative behaviors and transform a wonderful person into someone who we might perceive as a toxic or difficult client.
Hopefully you don’t recognize yourself in any of points listed below; but if you do, make sure to make it a priority to eliminate that toxic behavior.
In the next 3 posts we'll explore 30 signs of a toxic or ineffective life coaching practices that might trigger difficult client behaviors. In this post we'll cover the first 10 signs:
- Winging your way through each session.
Many coaches promote themselves in niches where they can charge higher fees, without being trained to coach such clients (Executive Coaching, Business-Development, Marketing, Public Speaking, etc.). When coaching clients on topics that you can’t relate to, the client will sense the “Blind Leading the Blind” effect and will become a “difficult client”; unfortunately, however, it was you who ignited that behavior.
- Not listening deeply and constantly interrupting* client well before you truly understand the real issue. Effective coaches listen deeply and are comfortable with silence, letting the client fully express themselves. Each question builds on what you heard from client; perhaps even make sure you understand correctly what you heard – “Let me see if I understand clearly what you are saying…” than repeat back the gist of what you heard. Then build on that conversation from there.
* - Interrupting – or Intruding – has its place in the coaching relationship, but has to be used scarcely, and with client permission. When you catch the client rambling – getting lost in a barrage of words – and you can clearly see that the client is derailed or distracted, ask for permission to interrupt and bring the coaching conversation back to the topic of coaching.
- Doing most of the talking during the coaching session.
It is usually a newbie mistake – and a mistake of untrained coaches – talking excessively, trying to show that you are a competent pro. The more you talk, however, the less competent you’ll seem. Your job is to ask insight-provoking questions, listen deeply, and based on what you hear ask more insight-provoking questions that’ll help the client move towards their desired outcome. Listen more, talk less!
- Asking ineffective questions.
The power of coaching comes from asking “empowering questions”; questions that provoke the client to think deeply – deeper than they could on their own.
- Trying to coach each client the same way.
Some coaches have developed a step-by-step process and try to “force” it on each client, leading them through the same exact steps. Remember, each client is different, and it is the client who decides the direction of the coaching sessions, not your “system.”* An exception to this would be in case of marketing, business, public speaking, and other mentor-type “coaches.” While many call themselves “business coach,” marketing coach, “public speaking coach,” etc.; most of these coaches are actually mentoring their clients and do very little coaching. This is where the coaching profession gets a little murky; BUT, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this type of “coaching,” as long as the clients get exactly what they want to accomplish (or more).
- You are jumping in with solutions well before the client is ready and force that solution on the client. Our number one goal is to ask Empowering Questions to help client come up with their own solution; when they fail to come up with their own answers, you can ask for permission to suggest some solutions, but it’s up to the client if they want to explore any of your suggestions or not. (Explore possible reasons why the client might feel stuck; perhaps not yet ready to move to the “solutions” stage.)
- Pushing the client into taking action way too early; and way before the client is ready for action. It is crucial that both you and the client first fully understand the client’s goal(s) and WHY she wants that goal; or understand the client’s frustration and HOW she wants to make changes to eliminate that frustration. Just like seasons in nature, where you can’t force spring in winter, the same applies in coaching – do NOT push the client to take action before she fully “thaws out” and is ready for action.
- Accepting a client’s unrealistic goal(s).
I need your help to become a professional singer and make $1Million in the next 6 months.Some clients will approach us with goals that will seem “way out there,” and while we shouldn’t discount those goals instantly, be careful not to accept a client whose goal is obviously 100% unrealistic. “I want to climb Mt. Everest in 90-days and I need a coach to hold me accountable.” If this is a fit 30 year old person with experience of climbing other peaks, go for it! But if this is a 65 year-old person who’s never climbed a mountain in their life, and are out of shape… you are not only setting both of you up for failure, but your client might even lose their life.
* While the above example is extreme (client could die), some clients will have less dramatic unrealistic goal, and you have to be careful Not to accept that client – or at least do not accept the client with their original grand goal – as this WILL lead to the client becoming hostile when in a few months into the coaching relationship it becomes clear that she will not achieve that grand goal.
Examples of unrealistic goals: become a paid speaker and make $250,000 in the 1st year (from a client who’s never spoken in public, has not platform, no book published, etc.); become a best-selling author (from someone who’s not published anything in the past and has no marketing or publicity background); Run a marathon in the next 90 days (someone who is out of shape and has not exercised in years). You could still accept these clients, IF they are willing to first work on an intermediate goal, such as “Let’s help you prepare your first speech and give it to a group of at least 25 people; then we can work towards getting your first paid gig; then we can talk about where you want to go from there. Sometimes we have to help our (potential) clients “get down to earth” and start with more realistic goals…!
- Holding the client back, based on your levels of comfort.
We are all different, and some of your clients will want to go paragliding off the top of the Grand Canyon or will want to do bare-knuckle cage fights; whatever that may be, you have to realize that your job is to help them become the best version of themselves they can be, based on theirvalues, goals, and comfort level. Yes, ask them about risks, but keep the tone of your voice non-judgmental. *
* The examples above are a bit extreme, and if you don’t feel comfortable coaching such a client, end the coaching relationship – let them know that you are not the right coach for them. Most clients, however, will not have such extreme goals, but might have goals that are outside of your comfort zone. Remember to Not judge and support the client based on their beliefs, values, and comfort zone.
- You assume you understand the client’s issue way too early and jump in with follow-up questions – or even worse, with solutions – before you really understand the whole issue at hand. An effective life coach will listen deeply till she fully understands the full picture the client is trying express. Paraphrase what you heard and what you understand and “feed it back” to the client to see if you have a good understanding of what the was shared so far. Do the same when they commit to an action or series of actions – “Let’s review! Based on what I hear, you commit to do xyz and abc – is that what you’ll commit to?”