Coaching relationships can end normally or abruptly, but in all cases the coach should attempt to review the relationship with the client, discuss the reasons for ending the relationship, and help the client perceive the ending as a positive result.
While much has been written about the coaching relationship in terms of client interaction, coaching tools and developing the relationship, there is little discussion in the literature of terminating the relationship, particularly when the termination is other than that which one might expect in the normal course of events. This paper attempts to bring together that disparate information.
Perhaps it would be best to define what we mean by “termination”. Ryan Howes, in his article
Terminating Therapy, Part 1: What, Why, How?
Termination is clinical jargon for the last phase of therapy. …In fact, for some it’s the most profoundly healing, meaningful and transformative phase of therapy. (Howes, 2008)
The same is true for the coaching relationship. It is not the abrupt cessation of all contact, but rather the thoughtful, carefully planned summarization of goals achieved, actions remaining to be taken and, finally, a positive parting.
Causes for Ending the Coaching Relationship
Coaches are aware that although there is always an ebb and flow within the coaching relationship. Inevitably the relationship will have run its course. Ideally, the coaching relationship ends when the client has achieved his goals and both the coach and the client recognize that they are ready for the relationship to end.
Sometimes the coaching relationship ends early, or even abruptly. Amongst the variety of reasons could be:
- The client simply terminates the relationship
- Either party feels that the relationship is incompatible
- The coach recognizes that the issues under discussion are beyond the coach’s capabilities and a referral to another coach or to a trained professional such as a therapist or marriage counselor is in order
It is important in each of these cases for the coach to handle ending the relationship with skill so that the relationship ends positively, the client feels supported and is able to move on to the next step, and the coach’s reputation remains intact.
Handling the Termination
In the ideal situation the coach and the client have established goals, defined action steps and executed them, moving forward until the goals are achieved. At that point, both will realize that the reason for the relationship is coming to an end.
The end of a coaching assignment is an important event. The more effective the coaching relationship has been the more important the ending is likely to be. (Transition Partnerships, 2005)
Ending a relationship can be a difficult transition for many people. It can bring up memories of separation, loss and death but skillfully handled it can be a celebration of goals accomplished. The coach can prepare for ending the coaching relationship by allowing several sessions for discussion of both the coach’s and the client’s readiness to end the relationship. For some clients, time will need to be spent talking about feelings of loss and separation and fears of moving forward without the coach’s support. Time will also be spent reviewing the goals that were set, how the client accomplished them, the progress that was made and the readiness of the client to go forward on his own. During these preliminary ending sessions a date should be set for the last session. The last session is a celebration of all that has been accomplished, a discussion about the clients moving forward in the future and finally saying goodbye. Also at this time the coach may ask or invite the client to check back at some future point. A good coaching relationship with a successful outcome and a skillfully handled ending will hopefully result in future referrals.
Unfortunately, some coaching relationships will need to end sooner than expected. Some of the reasons for ending the coaching relationship are; failure to establish a bond of mutual trust, failure on the part of the client to pay fees, or a lack of progress on the agreed upon goals. Sometimes the presented issue requires professional help beyond the skills a coach has to offer.
In spite of a coach’s training, skills and experience there are times when a coach will be unable to establish any kind of rapport with the client. If rapport cannot be established a client will not open up and respond to the coaches suggestions. “
Personal chemistry is vital. It is a significant factor in building trust. (Transition Partnerships, 2005)
A coach will spend time talking with the client about the client’s issue and relating it to the coach’s own experience to establish a sense of shared context. If the coach is unable to establish a bond of trust because of differences in values, attitudes or biases it is best to end the sessions early in the relationship.
In other cases a bond of trust has been created and the coaching relationship starts out positively but then the client stops making progress or continually skips sessions or stops paying fees. In these cases the coach can explore the client’s reasons and try to address them. If the coach and the client are unable to come to an agreement on how to move forward it is best to end the relationship.
The coach may determine that the client is simply not ready to work on their issue at this time. The client has failed to take agreed upon actions, skipped or continually rescheduled sessions, or declines to talk about what may be blocking her. All these are symptoms of the client’s reluctance to address the issue and this lack of progress can serve as the lead-in to the termination process.