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Coaching conundrums: What to do when you think your client is not telling you the truth?


COGSMost external coaches don't get the opportunity to see how their clients perform in their job or interact with their colleagues. You may get a third-party opinion by way of a briefing from a sponsor or manager but, other than that, your only information is what the client chooses to tell you. So, what do you do when you think your client is failing to tell you the truth or perhaps even lying to you?

Andrea, a coach, has been asked to work with Martin. She has been told that Martin is not performing well and has trouble with his staff. Two members of his team have lodged grievances against him in the past month, accusing him of bullying behaviour and there have been other, informal complaints.

Andrea: So Martin, how are things going for you at work at the moment?

Martin: Generally everything is OK. I guess I have the same stresses and strains as anybody else doing my job.

Andrea: And how are you getting on with your colleagues at work - and your staff?

Martin: Fine. I like the people I work with, I'm very lucky.

One temptation here for the coach is to challenge Martin, perhaps telling him that this isn't what you've heard:

Andrea: I'm surprised you said that, as I was told you have people in your team taking grievances out against you.

Martin: So, you've been talking to people behind my back - well if you'd checked your facts properly, you'd know that they are just trying to get back at me as I put a bit of pressure on them to do their jobs properly. Anyway, everybody else is OK.

The challenge appears to have made the conversation more difficult, as Martin is now annoyed with the coach. It's unlikely he's now going to trust her with confidential information.

A more solutions-focused approach is to accept what the client says and to continue trusting him and his own sense of the issues:

Andrea: And how are you getting on with your colleagues at work - and your staff?

Martin: Fine; I like the people I work with, I'm very lucky.

Andrea: That's good to hear. What are your priorities at the moment?

Martin: I'm trying to get them to do their jobs properly. Apply a bit of pressure.

Andrea: How's that going?

Martin: Pretty well. I've got some good responses - and one or two are a bit upset by it.

Andrea: On a scale of 1-10, where 10 means it's going exactly as you wish with their responses and 0 is it's not working at all, where are you on the scale?

Martin: About 7.

Andrea: What's going well, to get it as high as a 7?

Martin: Well, most of the team have really applied themselves and I can see their results improving day-by-day.

Andrea: And what would make it an 8 on the scale?

Martin: Well, a couple have not responded so well. They don't like the pressure and are trying to get back at me - mainly by taking out a grievance against me. It would be an 8 if I could get that sorted out.

Now Martin has raised the grievance issue and has indicated that it's something he'd like to sort out. By reaching it without feeling pressurised or accused by his coach, he is more likely to retain ownership of the issue and remain resourceful in his efforts to deal with it.

What do you do when facing a client who you think is not telling you the truth? Would you take this approach? Or perhaps you have another tack you'd take. We'd love to hear your thoughts, so please let us know.

Photo of Paul Z JacksonPhoto of Janine WaldmanIn this column, a 'coaching conundrum' – a situation which has left a coach puzzled – will be examined by Paul Jackson and Janine Waldman of The Solutions Focus. The idea of coaching conundrums grew from their coaching practice, in which they noticed certain situations recurring from client to client. Other coaches also raised similar issues.

Now, they'll be sharing these moments - when a coach has a tough choice of what to say or do next during a session – and offer some ideas for resolving the situation.

"Our view of what's useful will reflect our own approach, which is to take a 'solutions focus'. This is a pragmatic and minimal approach which unearths what a client wants, what resources they have available and then encourages them to take small steps in the desired direction," say Paul and Janine.

"Of course, we can't say for sure which approach or particular choice would be best for any given conundrum but we hope the advice offered will help coaches think about how they would respond in a similar situation. We also hope that this will stimulate debate amongst the coaching community, so if you want to suggest a different way of handling the given challenge, please add your comments."

While each Coaching Conundrum will be based on a real case, we will preserve the anonymity of all clients and their organisations.

To read the last coaching conundrums click on these titles:

Coaching conundrums: What to do when a client proposes action that you think won't help?

Coaching Conundrums: What to do with a client who is unhappy at being sent for coaching?


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