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Coaching Conundrums: What to do when there a conflict of interest?


What to do if you appear to have a conflict of interest between a coaching client and the organisation that hires you. Paul Z Jackson and Janine Waldman advise.

As coaches working in organisations we are often hired by one person to coach another. As we work within the bounds of confidentiality, this may lead to conflicts of interest.  In this conundrum, you have been hired by an organisation to coach one of their managers, who tells you early in one session that they would like to leave the company soon, as they don’t like the way the company conducts its business. Do you continue to work with this client?  Do you tell the client company about the problem?  And how do you continue the conversation with your coachee?


Option 1 - Stop coaching

Dominic: Having worked here for 6 months I've decided that this isn't the right company for me. It's not the work; I enjoy that.  It's the company culture - I just don't fit in here.
Coach: Well, this is a difficult situation.  As it’s the company that’s hired me, I'm afraid I can't work with you any more as this is an inappropriate topic for us to discuss.
Dominic: Oh, I though I could talk about what I wanted to in these sessions.
Here the coach has acted quickly and decisively - and it is possible that a coach would have to do this if they had agreed explicitly to refuse to discuss this topic. However, it is more usual for a contract with the client organisation to allow open discussion and confidentiality, enabling the coach to take other options. Let’s pick up the conversation from where the client has said, "I just don't fit in here..."

Option 2 - Encourage the client to raise the topic with his manager

Coach: Sounds like it's pretty tough for you at the moment.
Dominic: Yes, it is.
Coach: We can talk about this in our conversation today. I'm also wondering if there's anybody you might be able to discuss this with at work.
Dominic: I do have my 6-monthly review coming up next week, so perhaps I could mention it then. Could we use this session to help me prepare for this?
The client now receives useful coaching to prepare for a meeting that will advance or resolve his difficult situation.

Option 3 - Find out what's wanted

Coach: That's interesting, so you like the work?
Dominic: Yes, its challenging and yesterday I got involved in some high-level financial reporting that was completely new to me. If only people were more open with each other and shared information more freely… but everything seems like a competition and it's just too stressful for me.
Coach: So you'd like people to share information with you and this would make it a better place to work?
Dominic: Yes, I would be much happier here.
Coach: I'm wondering, is there a time - even briefly - where somebody did share information with you in a way that was helpful?
Dominic: Now I come to think of it, Elaine the HR manager did spend some time with me when I first got here going through all the employment statistics - that was really helpful and I felt good about that meeting.
Coach: That sounds useful - what do you suppose enabled that conversation to take place?
Just because the client mentions a desire to leave the organisation does not mean that he will actually leave. By discussing what he wants, what he has and how he might get more of what he wants in his current role, the coach provides an opportunity for exploration of any decision, and increases the likelihood that his next steps will be well-chosen and appropriate for him and the company.
What would you do when a client keeps coming back? Would you choose one of the options above? Or perhaps you have another tack you'd take. We'd be interested to hear your thoughts, so please let us know.
Paul Z Jackson and Janine Waldman of The Solutions Focus  share with us those moments when a coach has a tough choice of what to say or do during a session - and they offer some ideas for resolving the situation.
If you'd like a live Coaching Conundrums event to develop the coaching skills in your organisation or team - including dramatised coaching sessions - please call Janine on 01727 840 340 or email

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