Are You Coachable?

Difficult clients – how does a coach coach them?

I am sure that every coach has come across some “difficult” clients. Coaching these types is challenging and requires each coach to adapt their coaching style to the client’s personality type.

Regardless of the personality type, the coach should still follow the basic steps

  1. Establish a relationship of trust and confidentiality

  2. Get to know the client

  3. Set clear goals that the client agrees to and buys into.

  4. Meet with the client’s line manager, to get a picture of the client and their effectiveness.

In following these steps, there will be differences in “how” this is done, dependent on the client, their position in the company, their personality and the background to the decision to embark on coaching. These latter two factors need to be assessed early on by the coach, as they could have an influence on the approach the coach adopts.

The more frequent types that coaches could encounter, are:

  1. The know- it -all. “I do not really need coaching.  I am doing a great job and have many successful results to prove this. I am only doing this to keep my boss happy as this is the person who suggested/ told me that I need a coach

  2. I know very little about coaching, other than that it is for people who are not meeting the expectations and standards of the company.  So how will you “fix” me?

  3. I am so excited by the prospect of being coached. This is exactly what I need, and I will listen to all you say and consult with you on difficult matters I must deal will. How often will we meet? I am sure you will “teach” me lots. Dependency could be a risk here.

  4. I am keen to be coached, but I am not sure whether this will be confidential. Can I trust that you will not report back to my boss or to HR about me and what we talk about?

  5.  “I am doing a great job; the results prove this and nobody in my team disagrees with this.”  Has this person crossed the line between high self- confidence and arrogance?

Let’s consider these differences in the context of coaching approach.

  1. The know-it-all. This person will tell you this coaching is really a waste of time and only being done to keep the line-manager and HR happy. “I don’t think there is much you can do for me. How much do you know about my business and what do you think you can teach or tell me that will make me even better than I am”?

In coaching this personality type, it is important to not try and tell them that maybe they are not quite as good as they think and that you, their coach has lots of knowledge and experience and will be able to make them better. The risk is that this approach, will turn off the client and they will thereafter become a reluctant and disinterested client.

The better approach is to move slowly, build the relationship and if possible find some “ah-ha” issues to talk about.  Try and set up the line-manager interview as soon as possible. It is probable that such personalities will have a weak relationship with their line manage, so a three-way conversation maybe tough. The coach will need be ready to act as an arbiter. Another approach maybe to meet without the client being present. The risk is that the client will not accept information given to the coach at the meeting.

If the line-manager gives a more realistic story on the client’s performance, the coach will need to get the client to understand that if this is how the boss sees them, to discard and deny this, is a very risky approach and that if the client is unwilling to acknowledge this view, they put their career in the organisation at risk.

Avoid taking sides, always try to remain neutral and persuade the client that even if they think the boss has got it wrong, it might be best to at least consider these opinions and address and deal with changing these views.

Suggest that the client agree to tackle the changes needed and that after a few months of working on the changes, a follow-up review meeting with the boss be set up.

  1. I have little knowledge of coaching; but have been told people are coached because they are not performing.

Faced with such a view, the coach should explain the philosophy and reason why coaching is so extensively used. If possible find a successful person who can be named as having had a coach, despite their known high performance. (role model)

Another approach maybe to mention the cost of coaching and then suggest that if the company felt the client was a poor performer and that there was limited likelihood of this changing, why would they invest money in having them coached. Surely moving the client to another and possibly lower level position or even finding a reason to dismiss them, would be the less costly approach.

Following this conversation, hopefully the client will at least be willing to take out of the coaching as much as they can, with the objective of improving performance.

The issue of the reason for suggesting coaching, is one that the client should ensure is discussed in the line-manager meeting.

  1.  The prospect of having a coach is very exciting and I want to meet very regularly.

It is great to have an enthusiastic client, but the coach must guard against becoming a “crutch” to the client. Keep you distance and don’t dampen the enthusiasm but ensure that there are clear coaching goals and that the coaching does not slip into a dependency relationship and most importantly don’t allow the client to dump their problems in your lap.

Regular meetings are always desirable in any coaching programme, but there is a risk if, these start taking place too regularly, whether they be actual meetings or emails or phone calls.

  1. I think the prospect of being coached is great, but in my company, nothing is confidential, so how can I be sure that you, my coach will not go and share with either my boss or HR what we talk about?

The question of confidentiality in coaching is one of most frequent concerns experienced by coaches. Organisations whether in the private or public sector are notorious for rumours spreading or information being leaked. In the environment of coaching, the likelihood of the boss or an HR person wanting to know what is going on, is very real. HR may have a need to report upwards on the benefit the organisation is getting from the coaching. They are therefore going to put pressure on the coach to tell them how the client is getting on, or even give an opinion on the client’s performance.

It is thus not an unreasonable concern that the client may have. The coach must ensure that all parties, the client, the boss and HR know that confidentiality is fundamental to openness in the coaching relationship, and to, without causing offence decline to break the pact of confidentiality.

As the client may always have a nagging concern, the coach may have to regularly reassure the client, of the confidentiality pact they have made.

  1. I am pleased to have a coach, but as you will have seen from the company’s/department’s results, I am doing a fantastic job. If you talk to anybody in my team, they will tell you how good I am. So why do you think you can help me. What can I gain from being coached. My business is very complex, do you know anything about my business?

This person is probably very competent, but there is a probability that they have moved from high self-confidence into arrogance. The team may be too scared to make any negative or contradictory comment. This means that the coach maybe be the carrier of the bad news. The message that the client needs to receive and acknowledge and that they will not enjoy receiving and will not get from anybody else in the organisation.

Coaching these types is quite daunting. The client will probably get angry and reject any suggestion that what they are doing although yielding good results, is damaging relationship and has possibly resulted in a dysfunctional team.

Give the client the message- “I, as your coach need, as part of the coaching to give you these the messages so accept I am just being a coach. Take note of the messages even though you may not like all of them. Consider whether they may be correct, and that with some behaviour changes, you could become even more effective”

All coaches will encounter tough assignments and difficult clients. Don’t be daunted by the challenges of coaching very different people with very different aims and ideas, it is this that makes coaching so interesting and exciting.

Author

Les Weiss
Executive Coach
​082 610 0122

For the past 20 years I have specialised in organisational and leadership development, with a focus on coaching at Board and Executive level. My consulting and coaching strengths are based on a depth of industry experience, complemented by an empathetic yet challenging coaching style.

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