I thought Susan would be the perfect client. I was wrong. I needed to put an end to this relationship and fast.
Initially, Susan had contacted me about leadership coaching. I also worked with her husband, a pastor, on other unrelated projects. Despite her initial request for leadership coaching, the sessions quickly shifted in focus to her relationship with her husband. She expressed grave disappointment in their relationship, citing several perceived ways in which he had “failed” her.
I found myself judging both of them and dreading our calls. I found under the circumstances, I could no longer remain objective. I realized the relationship needed to end.
Maybe you can relate.
We all sometimes misread situations or make poor judgment calls. We may take on a client who presents a conflict of interest we didn’t recognize at the start , one who doesn’t follow through on assignments, or one who fails to honor the boundaries of the coaching relationship.
How do we handle situations like these?
After blowing it before with another client, I was determined to learn from my earlier mistakes and seek input from colleagues so that I would handle this situation better.
Here’s what I learned in the process.

Honesty Honors God and Your Client

First, be honest with yourself.

If the relationship didn’t work, you shoulder the responsibility for addressing the problem and bringing the relationship to a healthy end.
It’s hard to admit when we make a mistake, but when we reframe our failings and see them for what they really are—opportunities for growth and professional development, it turns failure into a transformational experience that will serve you well in the months and years to come.
You can turn this experience into a catalyst for growth by asking yourself these simple questions:

  • How has my lack of leadership contributed to the failure of this relationship?
  • What signs did I miss during the introductory call that I should have noticed that could have averted this situation?
  • How can other, more experienced coaches help me understand what went wrong?
  • What will I do next time to keep this from happening?
  • How can I handle this necessary ending in a God-honoring way?

Then, solidify your learning by answering these questions in writing or coaching around them with your mentor coach.

Second, be honest with the client.

In the situation I mentioned above, because of my involvement in both of their lives, albeit at different levels, I had lost my objectivity, and with it, my ability to serve the client well as a coach.
I had to put an end to the relationship. But how?
Start with the truth. For example, “I’m concerned that I’m no longer able to serve you well as a coach because I am too close to this situation to remain objective. Because of my love and respect for both you and your husband, I would like to recommend my friend Heather Williams. She is a gifted coach who specializes not only in leadership coaching but in relationship coaching as well.”
However, in some cases, the client may wish to continue the relationship. If this is the case, you can help her by clarifying the boundaries. For example, “You initially contacted me for leadership coaching, and I’d love to keep working with you on that, but we will need to limit our coaching to leadership. How does that work for you? How will you handle marital issues that may bleed into our discussions?”
Situations like these are hard for both the coach and the client. But when we draw on the experience of our colleagues and handle difficult situations with honesty and grace, challenging situations can become powerful catalysts for growth.

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