My client is uncoachable! What do I do?

There’s not a single tenured coach out there who hasn’t come across a coachee, who, despite having signed up for coaching services, seems unwilling to take action and move toward healthy change.

These are challenging individuals, and are often dismissed as “uncoachable.” Some coaches dismiss them as being the following: lazy, lack desire for accountability, are overly sensitive, refuse to take direction, or are outright failures.

But what if they’re not uncoachable? What if you saw this a different way – what if this “nightmare client” is actually giving you the opportunity to reflect on your own process, and ultimately improve your coaching practices?

Here are some ways to coach the seemingly uncoachable client.

Dig deep for the reason for resistance. When a client seems to be working from behind a wall, it’s tempting to consider them as difficult, or worse, irrational. However, when a person is resisting assistance or guidance, there’s usually a reason for that. And usually, that reason is logical.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as trust. It may be that your relationship with this client is new, and they just don’t trust you yet. It could be that they’ve tried coaching before, and that experience was less than positive. It could be that your client feels as though you’re judging them for not being open yet, which contributes to being even more closed.

Find, and understand, the resistance – and let the relationship develop from there.

Show appreciation for the client, and emphasize trust. If being a coach isn’t easy, neither is being a coachee! To be coached is to be vulnerable, so it’s a good idea to make sure your client knows that you are sitting in a space of trust.

Individuals who have never been coached before are sometimes struck by how coaching feels – after all, this is a relationship where the coachee is expected to be honest, raw and open about things they may never have opened up about to another person before. A great coach will recognize this vulnerability and will not only stress confidentiality, but will also praise their commitment and hard work. Appreciation builds trust.

Be transparent. What are you trying to do for and with the client? Why? This is especially important in coach/client relationships that were introduced by a company (i.e. upper level management has sought out coaching for a difficult employee or one with the potential of rising up the ranks.)

When you’re explicit about your process, any unnecessary anxiety on the part of the coachee will be much more likely to dissipate.

Accept that sometimes coaching doesn’t work. Remember that a coach is not a therapist or a mentor. Coaching is about asking questions, reflecting back on what’s shared, and challenging any assumptions the individual may have about themselves or the world around them.

However, if despite your best efforts, your client isn’t buying in – meaning they just can’t seem to trust you or are completely unwilling to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors – coaching may not be the right fit for them at this time. If a client seems inherently unstable, or may have serious mental health issues (like suicidal ideation, for example), it’s best that they seek medical assistance instead of the advice of a coach.

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