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What to do when your client is late for telephone-coaching sessions


This month's coaching conundrum is about dealing with the client who is consistently late for the sessions. Paul Z Jackson and Janine Waldman advise.

Our telephone coaching works with the client calling the coach at a pre-arranged time. We place the responsibility with clients, who also find it convenient to make their calls from a place of their choice and at the precise moment in the hurry of the day that suits them. The trouble is that sometimes they don't call and sometimes they call late.

One traditional, problem-focused way is to confront them - as the following dialogue illustrates:

Alicia: I'm sorry I'm late again. My last meeting was so important that I couldn't just get up and leave, I'm sure you understand.

Coach: Alicia, this is the third time you've turned up late for the session without giving me any notice. I'm beginning to think you don't value our time together and I'm requesting that you make sure you're on time next week or at least give me some notice.

Alicia: Well OK, though every time it's been for a good reason and I can't always give you notice. I'm slightly offended that you don't think I value our time together.

The matter has been brought to Alicia's attention, but perhaps too abruptly for her taste, and we appear to be on the verge of an argument.

Another option is to take the solutions-focused tack of overlooking the problems - the lateness and the causes of the lateness, and simply make use of what resources we have - in this instance, the remaining time.

Alicia: I'm sorry I'm late again. My last meeting was so important that I couldn't just get up and leave, I'm sure you understand.

Coach: OK, well we've got 30 minutes left; what would you like to focus on today?

Alicia: I've just come out of this in-depth meeting about re-organising our department and I'd like some ideas for how to implement these changes with my team.

The time issue now passes without further remark, and Alicia is keen to make progress with her topical challenge, a perfectly suitable subject for the coaching. Another possible tactic is to make the solution-focused assumption that people have good reason for the things they do, and incorporate that into the conversation.

Alicia: I'm sorry I'm late again. My last meeting was so important that I couldn't just get up and leave, I'm sure you understand.

Coach: I do - I appreciate you are making quick decisions about priorities, and you'll have had a good reason for staying with that meeting.

Alicia: That's right. It was all about re-organising the department, which is something I'll be putting a lot of time into over the next few weeks.

Coach: So is that the topic that would make the best use of our time now?

Again, Alicia is on the track of a topic that will be useful for her, and she'll select with the awareness that she is choosing her topic in the light of her affirmed skill of prioritising.

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?

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, we will preserve the anonymity of all clients and their organisations.

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 [email protected]

To read the last coaching conundrums click on these titles:

Coaching conundrums: What to do when your client is not willing to make progress?

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

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?

Develop your solutions-focused coaching skills further by attending our open coaching course on 14-15 September. You can find out more on our website, by emailing us at [email protected], or calling us on 01727 840 340.

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