Blog Post: Be Kind to Your Clients 



A phrase I keep hearing over and over lately was made prominent by author Brené Brown: clear is kind; unclear is unkind.  The context for the phrase is leadership and the tendency to avoid tough conversation, “including giving honest, productive feedback.”  Brown pinpoints that a culture of being “nice and polite” provides cover for a lack of courage.  Instead of doing the hard and right thing, it’s tempting to do nothing and call it “being nice.” 

The principle that clear is kind is true well beyond the context of leadership.  As coaches, we can exercise such kindness with our clients in four ways. 

First, we need to be kind when establishing the agreement for the relationship and the expectations for the client.  The contracting phase of coaching is ripe for unkindness and lack of clarity.  It takes some degree of courage and confidence to communicate clearly on matters such as: 

  • Your rate.  Just say it and let the client receive it.  Hemming and hawing about what exactly you charge for coaching (or even the fact that you charge) does not ease the client’s mind or soften the reality of payment.  Instead, being unclear raises doubts, generates uncertainty, and risks confusing the client. 
  • How coaching works.  Clients are not trained in how to be coached – until you train them.  Coaching works only when the client takes ownership of the relationship, is willing to put forth effort, and wants to move forward.  It’s unkind to be unclear about what the client will have to bring to the coaching relationship. 
  • Expected benefits.  If the client expects a miracle, a magic bullet, or an easy button for their issue, it is unkind to leave them under such a misguided impression.   

Second, we need to be kind when reflecting what we hear the client say.  A valuable aspect of active listening is the art of hearing a client and then handing back to them a shorter, crisper, clearer version of what they just said.  As I sometimes put it, you want to hear a paragraph and hand back a sentence, preferably a short one.  Such reflecting is a gift that allows the client to hear himself, consider his thinking, and process the extent to which he resonates with what he just shared.   

Third, we need to be kind when offering an observation.  In our CAM training, we teach a skill called “delivering concise messages.”  Other coaching resources refer to this as making an observation or even giving feedback.  The idea is that sometimes the coach shares something with the client (usually about the client or how the client is experiencing the issue) in order to evoke awareness.  Instead of drawing the awareness out of the client, the coach gives it to the client directly.

When we do this, we need to do it with clarity.  Sometimes this requires taking a moment to collect your thoughts, order your ideas, and shrink your observation to its essence.  For example, instead of rambling for a minute about how the client is playing the victim, you might say it plainly and poignantly: “It sounds to me like you might be playing the victim.”  If you are even 5% nicer than me, you might think such a statement is too blunt and runs the risk of being heard as harsh.  Maybe.  But maybe the directness is actually kind.  After all, your client is a creative, resourceful person who can handle your observation.  No need to soften the message as if the client were a fragile, easily bruised being.  Instead, take the risk of being clear, and know that doing so is also the way to be kind.  

Finally, we need to be kind when supporting the client in designing actions.  The typical client is not all that great at boiling down their action plan into, well, an actual action plan.  I know when I am being coached, I can get vague and imprecise when it comes to what exactly I plan to do, when I plan to do it, and what I need to make it happen.  As a client, I am a thousand percent more likely to implement a well-designed action than a poorly designed action.  Fuzzy plans give the illusion of a plan but without the true power. 

It’s tempting to let the client remain vague out of a sense of not wanting to be too pushy.  But giving in to such a temptation is unkind.  It’s not being pushy to push for clarity.  Even when a client resists, it’s our job to bring their plan into focus.  Of course, we do this from a place of service, compassion, and genuine care, never from a place of judgment, criticism, or authority.  

These are just four of the many ways we want to exercise kindness through clarity.  Take a moment and think of two or three additional ways you can exemplify the principle “clear is kind” in your coaching.   

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *