Do you have coaching clients who are wobbling? How to think about this and what to say or do

Here’s something for all the coaches in the world who are adjusting their work with existing clients.

Actually, that’s misleading, so let me be more specific. All of us with active clients would be well-advised to put in place added communication and adjustments at the moment. The question is how.

But let me back up a moment. After this long (20 years), you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that I’ve worked with a roster of private clients through a wide range of external circumstances. This includes the client’s own – hospitalization, mental health diagnosis, brain injury of significant other, incarceration, divorce, as well as stepping into a large inheritance, going off-grid, coming out, and more. But it also includes changes like we’re going through now, writ large on the global canvas — 9/11, the real estate bubble, Tiananmen Square, and the comings and goings of various industry opportunities. I know you have some to add to both these lists.

Right now, during the Coronavirus health crisis, are your client engagements showing signs of wobbling?

Based on the inquiries I’m getting, I’m guessing yes. There’s no one right or perfect way to go about this, but let’s explore. Are you experiencing any of the following:

  • more last-minute cancellations than the norm i.e. several in a row, very last minute
  • no shows – dropping of calls with no advance communication
  • non-response to your emails
  • a flurry of scattered emails pre-session, trying to cover half a dozen topics at once
  • more than usual amount of exposition, also known as ‘dumping an update’ or ‘vomiting on you’ (actual client’s words ;-)) taking up time at the beginning of your calls
  • insert your specific scenario here?

The way I’d like to address this to start is with a little visual. See here below a classic two-circle Venn diagram, that visual aid beloved by us as coaches. This one represents the happy union of a coach and client, where what the client wants, and what the coach offers overlap. Coaching chemistry, client goals, your shared history, your future, all sit in the overlap.

Next let’s look at this from a more individuated standpoint:

In this, we see what could be described as (a) how the client sees themselves in relationship to the client and (b) how the coach seems their client relative to themselves. This sets the stage for the next diagram:

Here we see what happens when (a) the client’s life changes significantly, in a way that modifies their world view, their priorities, their ability to be the person they were when they showed up to coach with you, the coach. While (b) the coach’s vantage point vis a vis the client, at least, has stayed the same.

What is being shown by the change in the smaller circle in (a)? Here’s a mock scenario:

The Coronavirus arrives in the life of the client. It brings with it whatever life ‘shocks,’ you’re familiar with these. A massive change at work – job loss, demotion, loss of revenue, a close family member with a bad prognosis from COVID-19, etc. In this scenario, all the relationships in the client’s life get shaken too. The coach’s value, based on the original reason for being hired, gets displaced. The perceived value of the coach is bumped out of the center of the client’s life.

Side note: this can happen under any circumstance, it doesn’t have to be a crisis, and, by the way, this can also happen in any relationship, not just a coach-client one. Read with the lenses that serve you.

The job here is to initiate a reassessment of your role in the client’s life, and revisit the point of your coaching engagement.

First, do it yourself, on behalf of your client. (This is what you do for them, after all – see ahead and help make sense of their world.)

Next, do this reassessment yourself, for yourself. (You are also living in a moment of displacement. You may be the client in another scenario, but for now, assess whether you feel you can serve the client differently, given the change in circumstances. Are you up for continuing the engagement, from your perspective?)

Finally, here’s what the majority of you are waiting for — lead the way in an active reassessment with your client. (Each client will need a different amount, and a unique approach and timing for this, so apply with care.)

  1. Proactively communicate.

    “I’m writing to be in touch given world…circumstances. As your coach, I know this must put a lot of things into question, or on hold. I wouldn’t presume that our coaching would go on as usual, although of course it can. Would it be helpful if we take a moment to consider how our coaching calls can serve you best going forward?”

    This can be in a supplementary touch base call you do outside your existing engagement, as your gift to the client (and to you, let’s face it, you need this reset if the coaching is to go well from here.) Or, if you have this habit already, text, email, WhatsApp, messenger, Voxer, any tools that you already coach on can be used here. It doesn’t have to be by voice.

  2. Offer insight into the changed circumstances and what it means for your coaching.

    “You signed up for coaching with me to achieve a set of goals. In particular you really wanted to (insert recap of client desires here.) Given all that’s happening in the world, I want to make sure we take time to relook at these goals and see how we can shift them so they make sense to you now.”

    “What you came to coaching to do seems even smarter now than it did originally — where are you now with those ideas?”

    “Your business goals for the rest of 2020 — are they still a fit, or would it be helpful to look again?”

    “The career changes, and family health issues are big factors in your life. From my view, there are two things that might support you to meet those: (1) rapid/just-in-time but thorough processing of change (this includes the emotional work of anger release and ongoing grief) and (2) increasing your capacity to respond and take right action.” These are somewhat different from the coaching we’ve done until now, but this work should allow you to be more effective today, while building muscles for longer term when we can consider your original goals again.”

    “The work of serving the world in your legacy years – how does the health crisis shift what your heart wants most? The coaching we do together, how can we make an updated plan for ensuring we’re moving the way you want?”

    “I see your creativity taking on more meaning based on your recent activity on social media – would you like to talk about opportunities, grabbing hold of the new revenue openings, and plan for them?”

  3. Restate your commitment and refresh your promise to the client.

    You might do this before #2, or, you may naturally cover this in the same step. This just lays it out so it’s very distinct and doesn’t get missed.

    A question that’s on the minds of lots of coaching clients right now is: “What can I count on from my coach now?”

    Coaching clients are such really wonderful beings, with some exceptions of course! However they for the most part are empathetic, feeling and considerate humans and know that the health crisis impacts you, the coach, as well.

    Is my coach okay? Are they healthy? Stressed? Do they have more family or other obligations now?

    If I lean on them more heavily will something break? Are they up for coaching the mess/chaos/stress I’m going through now or is that beyond what I invested in?

    I guess I hired them to do xyz, and I still want to do that with them, but what about all this ‘life stuff?’ Can I change what I want to work on with them? How do I do that?

    In light of this look into what’s going on in the client’s head, how you reassure them sets the tone, stabilizes your value in their life, and opens the door to the adjusted work you’ll do. And of course you’re role modelling a way of being.

    Here’s how I’ve been putting it in the last couple of weeks:

    ”I want you to know I’m doing well. Healthy in mind, body and spirit. My heart is strong, my eyes are bright and I’ve made the decision to put off my Master’s thesis for a year so I have the capacity to serve you and all of us in this crisis.

    Definitely, the changes in the world are a lot to handle, and what I can promise is that we can support you in handling those in our coaching, so you have more ease and capacity for this season in your life. As for your original goals, shall we take some time to reassess, and adjust or pick new ones? I have some thoughts I’d be happy to partner with you on.”

    Obviously, my style will not be right for others, but the spirit and principles are the same: how are you faring (reassurance) and what do you commit to achieving with the client in the new environment of today (re-promise.)

A caveat

In some scenarios, the client won’t have the capacity for any of the above thinking, and they are simply firefighting in their life. In cases like this, your re-promise may be to pause your coaching with the invitation to pick up at a later date of your choice. This would be akin to a leave of absence from coaching that you negotiate.

Though it may not seem like it, even this clarity from you the coach is a way you add value to your client.

The upshot

Be ahead of your client in thinking about what will be effective and valuable.

Candidly assess if your value is now pretty much garbage (some coaches are in this camp and need a radical new path forward for their businesses.)

Look for ways to restate your value.

Questions welcome.

#doonething #doingtheimpossible #thedeltamodel