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


coachingAlison, a production manager for a large manufacturing company, has been sent to a coach by her boss. Her manager has had a brief discussion with her, telling her that he is worried about the quality standards in the production area. He has also said that he would like to see her delegate more effectively to her team. He believes that coaching might be useful and strongly suggests she gives it a go. Alison is very busy and has grudgingly turned up to the first meeting. She has some knowledge about the nature of coaching, but is far from convinced that it's for her.

Coach: Hello Alison. Tell me, what brings you here today? What are you hoping will be different or better as a result of this coaching?

Alison: Well, my boss sent me here because he thinks I'm not doing a very good job. It's not surprising that I'm getting behind with things when he sends me to meetings like this when I should be out on the factory floor.

    Option 1: This is a crucial moment for the coach, who has the choice to find out more about Alison 'not doing a very good job' or to do something different. Let’s see what happens when the coach explores the first option.

Coach: So Alison, your boss thinks you're not doing a very good job – tell me more about this.

Alison: It's easy for him to criticise me, just because our quality has been a bit patchy recently and we've missed a few targets – I'm not perfect, but I work very hard. It's not my fault my team aren't pulling their weight.

Coach: Oh, what's wrong with your team?

Alison: They don't do what I tell them. Jonathan - one of my supervisors – hardly listens to a word I say...

Note here how the coach pays attention to Alison's poor performance and deficits, leading to her becoming defensive and blaming others. This is not so useful if the aim of the conversation is to make progress towards improved performance.

Let's now pick up the conversation from where Alison says "I should be out on the factory floor" exploring a couple of options which are taking a more solutions-focused approach:

    Option 2: Identify qualities from others' perspectives

Coach: Alison, it sounds like you're a busy person with an important job.

Alison: Yes, I am – my job's really important. If it wasn't for me our products wouldn’t get out of the door.

Coach: What do you suppose your boss values about you that means he is prepared to invest the time and money for you to have this coaching?

Alison: Well, he has told me in the past that I have the potential to go on to be a director one day – he said that I have the drive, ambition and discipline to do this - I just need to work a little better with my team.

This repositions the coaching context as one in which Alison is valued by her boss, and Alison herself reveals what resources her boss may have identified in her. One worthwhile option at this point would be to explore those resources further.

    Option 3: Find out what the client really wants and work with it

Coach: So Alison, given that we do have this time together, what would be most useful for you to discuss here?

Alison: I don’t really know, I’d just like my boss to leave me alone and stop sending me to training courses and to things like this.

Coach: So what do you think your boss would need to see so that you wouldn't need to go to training courses or have any further coaching?

Alison: I suppose he'd like it if I improved our performance on the quality targets.

Coach: What else do you suppose he would need to see?

Alison: He would probably want to see my team coming straight to me with their problems instead of going over my head to him – then he might leave me alone.

Coach: So, if we explore some ways that you could improve your targets and how you work with your team, would you be prepared to try some of these ideas out over the next weeks?

Alison: I guess so.

The coach now has a client who has identified what she wants and has given her best guess as to how she can get that (by getting closer to targets and by team members going straight to her with their problems). And she is willing to explore ways to do that.

What do you do when facing a client who is unhappy at being sent for coaching? Would you choose one of the options above? 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 Waldman

As 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?

In a new feature, 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 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 will be based on a real case, we will preserve the anonymity of all clients and their organisations.


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