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Coaching conundrums: What to do when your client is feeling defeated by the recession


During the current financial crisis, we're hearing more worries from clients concerned about staying afloat. This particular conundrum features a business owner - but the coaching points raised could apply equally to someone concerned about losing their job within an organisation.

Coach: So Lesley, what would you like to talk about today?

Lesley: Well, I'm feeling really down about the dire financial situation and how it's affecting me. My business is suffering: I've lost a number of key accounts, I'm struggling to pay the bills, I couldn't afford for my son to go on a school trip last week. If it keeps going like this we'll default on the mortgage and lose the house. It's hopeless and it's all the banks' fault. I feel like giving up.

What does the coach do here? One temping option is to try and get Lesley to look on the bright side.

Coach: It does sound terrible, though at least you've still got your health and I'm sure there are people worse off than you.

Lesley: That might be true, but it's no comfort to me. If things keep going like this I'm going to get ill from all the stress. My relationship is already under pressure as we've been arguing over money.

This has resulted in Lesley now disagreeing with the coach and sinking further into her despair. Now let's explore some more solutions-focused approaches - first, looking for resources, then taking other people's perspectives.

Coach: It sounds like a tough situation. Yet here we are having this meeting. I'm wondering what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning?

Lesley: I've got to keep going: I've got the children's breakfast to make and things to do. People rely on me. I've been tempted to just not get up but somehow I manage and get on with the day.

Coach: And how do you do that?

Lesley: Well I remind myself that other people need me and that if I just keep going then maybe we'll get through this.

Coach: So I'm getting a sense of your determination and that you care about these other people. What other resources are helping you get through the day?

Lesley: It doesn't feel like I've got a lot of resources at the moment but I do feel I have dealt very fairly and honestly with my staff and they respond well to that. Like the other day when I announced that they would have to take a 10% pay cut - I expected them to go mad but instead they were very supportive and asked what else they could do to help. That was very reassuring.

Coach: They seem to have some faith in you. Which of your other resources are helping you get through the days?

Another fruitful tack - either as well as the search for resources, or instead - might be to seek the perspectives of other people.

Coach: That does sound tough and one could take various views of the situation. What do you think your more optimistic friends would be saying about the situation and about you?

Lesley: My friend Rob would be saying that it's a good time to take stock, decide what's important and focus on that. He's always there when I need somebody to talk to.

Coach: That's helpful. What would he be saying about you?

Lesley: He tells me that I'm very good at what I do and that I'm determined and don't give up. We've known each other for years and the other day he reminded me of the time we were climbing a mountain that just seemed to go on forever. Everybody else just wanted to give up and go home but I convinced them to keep going. The view at the top was spectacular.

Finally, another route out of the conundrum - based on the solutions-focused idea of 'going slower' than the client - might be simple agreement.

Coach: You're right, this is a terrible situation. Maybe you should just give up and close your business.

Lesley: Hold on, it's not that bad. I've still got clients who are saying there'll be work in a couple of months. I've worked really hard to build this business and I'm not just going to throw it away.

And the conversation will continue with the client describing what gives her hope and what steps might be useful for surviving and eventually flourishing.

What has worked for you as a coach with pessimistic clients?

Photo of Paul Z JacksonPhoto of Janine WaldmanAs a coach, how often have you faced a difficult situation with a client when there appeared to be no way forward - or a choice of ways without it being clear which would be best?

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.

"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 in 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 is based on a real case, the anonymity of all clients and their organisations is preserved

To read the last coaching conundrums click on these titles:

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

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?

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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