Thorny Situation: The Recalcitrant Client

Though most of our clients come to us willingly, sometimes we’re asked to work with a client who didn’t volunteer for the program.

When this happens, it’s important to establish a few ground rules early in the relationship. Here are four simple steps you can take to help build a strong alliance:

  1. Protect confidentiality. Let the sponsor know that any information they receive about the coaching process will come from the client – not you.
  2. Educate the client. Make sure your new client understands the purpose of a coaching alliance, as well as the benefits that await them. This may not be obvious to them – especially if they didn’t directly pursue working with you.
  3. Ask the client to tell you what they’re interested in addressing and what they sense is the purpose of this relationship.
  4. Conduct a “sample” exchange to confirm that you and the client are a good fit.

This initial exchange is key, since it allows the client to learn about coaching first-hand. He or she also gets an opportunity to become more comfortable with you and envision a partnership full of possibility, rather than “another requirement” – or worse, a punitive assignment.

For example, this exchange might start with questions like:

  • Hello, ____! I’m curious: what’s your interest in coaching?
  • Are you willing to try a little coaching exchange with me?
  • What do you imagine we might accomplish together?

Or if they aren’t interested:

  • Well, since we’re here, what if we make use of our time together?
  • Would you be willing to explore a Wheel of Life with me?*

If all else fails, you could establish a connection by weaving in powerful questions while you:

  • play cards,
  • trade jokes, or
  • chat up their favorite sports team or hobby.

Bottom line: you can’t treat these individuals as paying clients, since they aren’t actually bearing the cost of your services. Because of this, you’ll need to gain their buy-in before the alliance can do its best work. In many cases, the sample exchange is enough to persuade a client to give it a try. In other cases, the client might still be tentative about the relationship – in which case you might need to negotiate a short “arc” of sessions on a trial basis, with the promise that you’ll check for feedback at the end of each.

Either way, helping an “assigned” client see the true potential of coaching can pay huge dividends. Once they begin to understand this level of personalized support, even the most reluctant client will likely see previously unimagined possibilities as “within reach.” And who better than a coach to show them a path to their full potential?

*Sample exchange, courtesy of coach Vicky Jo Varner

Posted in: branching out