By Razan Kilani, ICF PCC, ICA Mentor Coach
1. First of all, ask yourself, why are you asking this question? Does it really matter to you if your client is telling the truth or not?
Maybe you just wish to gain a better understanding of the information your client is sharing with you. Maybe you feel your client is not taking your coaching seriously, because they are sounding untruthful. When you answer this question, you will figure out an appropriate way to coach your client from vagueness towards clarity.
It may not be important for a coach to verify whether the client is telling the truth or not. As coaches, our goal is to support clients to enhance their emotional self-awareness, and not hold them accountable for saying the truth or not. Simply, the client may lack the sufficient understanding of what really goes on in their minds and hearts. In turn, this may lead them to express their ideas inaccurately or ambivalently. Perhaps they are rejecting a particular thought out of fear, and they are reacting towards it with denial, that causes them to seem like they are hiding something from you. In other occasions, your client may continuously repeat phrases, like “I don’t know!”
It does not matter, whether your client is saying the truth or ‘masking’ it a little. Generally speaking, it could just be a self-defence mechanism your client is using to avoid feeling a failure or an embarrassment, particularly in the beginning of your coaching relationship. Therefore, it is not your responsibility to direct your client in any way to tell the truth. Yet, this should be the result of the comfort, trust and intimacy your client may experience upon being in your presence. Therefore, your responsibility as a coach is to create a safe space for your client to share whatever they wish with you without feeling the need to protect themselves from your judgment or criticism. Additionally, you are responsible as a coach to be present, flexible, humorous, tactful and professional at all times. Your target as a coach is to support your client to clarify the issue they bring to the sessions, find solutions for them and build a strategy that sustains their desired change.
2. Consider whether your client is coachable or not.
Obviously, some clients are more difficult than others. However, we are not there to judge them or what they say. Similarly, we are not recommended to assume a kind of advantage over them, just because we are coaching them. Nor should we consider ourselves obliged to continue coaching consistently uncoachable clients, if they fail to commit to the coaching process and outcomes.
As a coach, you need to acknowledge and accept your clients for who they are, and work with the information they share with you. If you meet clients who seem dismissive, neglectful, unfocused, fearful, unconfident, apprehensive, depressive, emotionally immature, or resistant in any way, then maybe they are not coachable in the first place, and they are better off being referred to and assessed by a therapist.
However, if they seem to be improving session after session, and their willpower is increasing gradually, then following ICF core competencies in coaching (like active listening, asking creative and powerful questions, supporting your client to create structure of the issue they wish to find solutions for, and committing to their action steps) can go a long way with them. By accepting your clients the way they are, you are not risking a chance of reacting nervously around them every time you see them. In your mind, describe, as opposed to judging or labeling, the information coming at you from your client, and you will better figure out what to do with it; whether to recommend them to another professional, or keep them as your clients. Both ways, you will gain more clarity as you move along.
3. Set limits to what you are willing to accept in your coaching sessions, and what you do not.
If your client says things that do not add up, or there is vast contradiction among them, then you may want to address that curiously and sensibly, after seeking your client’s approval to share your observation. As a coach, you do not have to accommodate your client’s convenience level, while you neglect yours. Set limits for what you are willing to accept in your coaching practice, and mention that in your contract from the beginning.
Similarly, if your clients continuously seem to fail to commit to the action steps they set for themselves, then you should address this with them also. You do not have to go out of your way just to get them to cooperate with you further. If talking to them and asking them about what is holding them back from committing to coaching work, then maybe you should try reminding them politely and gently that they are accountable for the outcomes of their coaching journey with you, and that you will never step into their shoes, and do things for them.
As coaches, we believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole, hence, they carry their own responsibility when it comes to committing to the change they wish to bring about in their lives. Therefore, include in your contract from the beginning that if you feel coaching is going nowhere, or if you feel uncomfortable coaching your client that you should tactfully apologize for not accepting them any longer, and that the coach would be happy to recommend a good coach for them. This may draw your client’s attention to some of their negative habits, and entice them to commit to their coaching goals. Therefore, continue working with them if you notice session after session, your client is responding to your calm and trustworthy presence. This way they can begin to open up, and progress organically through your coaching relationship.
4. Do not take things personally!
If your client has been consistently failing to commit to the set of goals they assign for themselves, or if they have been finding justifications to not commit to them, then try not to attribute that to you not being a good coaching or lacking good coaching skills. This may get you to doubt yourself and your abilities, and lose the focus you have for your client during the sessions or throughout the coaching process. Drowning gradually in your own pool of self-doubts will not do you any benefit as a coach. At the end of the day, you client is hiring you to coach them on their desired goals that they set for themselves, and if they continuously resist committing to them, then remember that it is not your call. Rather, it is your client’s. He or she may not be coachable, or may qualify for therapy rather than coaching. So this does not mean you should not coach them in the best and most creative way you can. I am referring to your client’s repetitive pattern of not committing to their desired expectations. Therefore, remember to detach your own self from your client’s performance and outcomes. You are there to coach them, and not to live their lives for them. Be present, listen, ask, reflect and support them, but if this is still not getting them to commit to their goals, then do not take things personally.
All in all, be patient and abide by the ICF core competencies and ethics, describe what you are learning from your clients, and remember to set limits for inappropriate or immature attitudes that can end your coaching relationship with them. We are here to support and not to listen to someone who wishes to vent yet do nothing about their challenges. Coaching is all about your client’s cooperation with your coaching, and not vice versa.