We’ve been discussing a few common client challenges we face as coaches. Today, we’ll address what to do with the client who makes big promises but doesn’t follow through.
Our coaching clients want to please us, so they may say what they think we want to hear. Or they may overcommit because they’re unclear themselves about how much they’ll be willing or able to accomplish.
A number of leaders have a tendency to overcommit, and not just in our coaching. So in some ways, it’s learning the person and looking at which of these two things is going on: Is this people-pleasing, or is this overcommitting?
Either of those things could also be happening elsewhere in their lives, so this is where a coach can practice what we call contextual listening. Listening for something and calling it out when we see it showing up.
As they recount things that have happened since your last session, you’re listening to those stories and noticing, oh, there it is, they’re taking on more than they can handle. Or they said yes to impress or please this other person.
Sometimes I’ll use language like, “So, this is the third time I’ve observed you overcommit and not follow through. Is this usual for you?” Or I’ll vary that follow-up question, for example, ”I’m wondering how this affects your leadership role.”
Your client may not have the awareness to recall where else these behaviors show up in their life. By calling attention to it, you’re teaching them to watch for it as well.
It’s vital to stay non-judgmental, instead of confronting the client about how they said they’d do something and didn’t. Don’t let your own frustration pop out. Return to the perspective that you are there to serve your client and make their goals and dreams come true.
What about when you see them become frustrated, disappointed, apologetic, or embarrassed? It can actually be healthy and helpful for the client to feel some remorse. It gives them insight into the effects of their actions (or inaction, as the case may be). But if it keeps happening, it can be harmful to the client and their well-being.
Years ago, I was overcommitting a lot with my own coach, but I would press through and get everything done. He asked me to practice saying no at least once every day. I did okay the first couple of days, but I like to say yes! I needed to feel the painful effects of overcommitting.
Before my calendar was on my cell phone, I would never carry it with me. That gave me a natural built-in excuse: “I don’t have my calendar with me, I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Today, I’m able to routinely respond to requests by saying, “That sounds really interesting. Let me get back to you,” and more often than not, returning with, “Now is not the time, but thank you.”
You can encourage your clients to practice saying no, to practice the pause. And that carries over into the coaching session and saying no to us. It’s unfair to ask our clients to make immediate decisions or commitments.
So how do you balance between wanting the client to push beyond their comfort zone and challenge themselves, but not overcommit? That’s where we need to learn our clients. In the newly updated ICF core competencies, #8, focused on facilitating client growth, recognizes that our clients’ work in between sessions is not always about action. We also partner with our clients “to summarize learning and insight within or between sessions.” Time for reflection and thinking IS a legitimate next step.