Lessons Learned from ‘Difficult’ Clients
by Lisa G. Kramer MSW, PCC
The cover story from a past issue of Choice: The Magazine for Professional Coaching focused on working with difficult clients. The article challenged coaches to consider the following: what the coach perceives as difficult about the client is an opportunity for the coach to stretch and to ultimately learn something invaluable about him/herself.
Not long after I read the article, one of my mentor-coaching clients came to a coaching call with a difficult client situation. Actually she was experiencing many of her clients as difficult. My client, who I’ll refer to as Diane, was at the last leg of her journey to become a certified coach. Her inner critic was telling her that she wasn’t cut out to be a coach after all.
“How effective am I if I experience the majority of my clients as difficult?” Diane wondered that day on our call.
An enlightening coaching conversation ensued.
In processing out loud what was transpiring in her ‘difficult’ coaching relationships, three critical themes emerged for Diane:
1) She was not setting clear boundaries with her clients. For example, one client repeatedly called in a few minutes late for coaching. Diane did not mention the lateness, and she sometimes extended the coaching call if it didn’t feel quite complete. Another client consistently paid late, and Diane did not raise her concern about the late payment with her client.
2) She was not ‘calling her clients forth’. A couple of these clients had a tendency to fall into ‘victim mode’ when discussing their life circumstances. Diane found herself colluding with them instead of coaching them to consider other, more empowering perspectives.
3) She was attached to holding on to her clients. With only a couple of months remaining to complete certification, Diane was worried that one or more of her clients would end the coaching, and she would not have the hours required to successfully complete the program. She recognized that the more she held on, the less present and authentic she was being with her clients.
There was a huge shift that occurred for Diane as she realized what was occurring for her in these relationships. Having greater awareness of the situation opened her to make some necessary changes. Diane created a plan to create tighter boundaries around time and payment. She also gained clarity about how she wanted to proceed with her ‘victim’ clients. We met two weeks later for another coaching call, and her energy was completely different. She reported feeling more confident in her coaching and no longer seeing her clients as quite so difficult.
“What’s different now?” I asked with great curiosity.
“I let go,” she responded.
For Diane, letting go meant being unafraid to lose a client. She trusted that as one client ended, a new one would show up for coaching. Letting go also meant ‘speaking her truth’ when she observed her clients in victim-mode and not taking responsibility for their lives. She felt much freer to offer her perspective from a loving place, knowing that she had her clients’ best interest at heart. And perhaps most important, letting go meant trusting that she had everything she needed to be a great coach!
Consider the clients you refer to as difficult. What might the lessons these clients have to teach you?
Lisa Kramer, MSW, PCC has been a professional coach since 1998. Her business, LIVING WITH INTENTION LLC, specializes in life and leadership coaching, coach training, and mentor-coaching. Lisa is a graduate of the Coaches Training Institute. At UT Dallas, Lisa teaches Coaching Practices and Techniques, provides individual supervision, and she is an assessor. She is passionate about supporting coaches in their professional development. She is the author of Loving with Intention: A Guide for Relationship Coaching. For more information, visit Lisa on the web at www.livingwithintention.com.