Blog Post: Fixing Problems with Your Client-Coach Relationship



For several years, CAM has offered The Coaching Exchange. It is a great way to get paid coaching hours, and by joining our exchange, we will connect you with one coach and one client. This is a bartering system, and it counts as paid coaching. It has worked well for hundreds of coaches.

You may be surprised by my transparency, but there are a few problems with it. Truthfully, these problems can happen in any client/coach relationship.

  1. Your coach may not be very good. She may just be giving you advice, which you don’t want. You want to be coached, and you know the difference.
  2. Your client may not be a very good client. People sign up to get coaching hours not clienting hours. They may not be prepared with a good topic.

When either of these happen, and honestly it doesn’t happen often, we get an email of complaint. Our first question is “Have you talked with your coach/client about the issue?” The answer is almost always, “No.” Then we send this response: “You should bring it up first thing with your coach/client at your next appointment.”

Coaching only works if there are clear agreements. You can’t coach agreements, you set them.

Here are some circumstances that require stronger agreements:

  • The coach immediately starts brainstorming solutions.
  • The coach shares stories about their own experience with the issue.
  • The coach doesn’t start on time.
  • The coach doesn’t help the client design an action.
  • The coach doesn’t create a safe environment.
  • The client doesn’t have a topic.
  • The client isn’t passionate about the topic.
  • The client doesn’t arrive on time.
  • The client isn’t taking any action.
  • The client isn’t comfortable sharing beyond a surface level.

As coaches (and sometimes as clients), we must get comfortable sharing our observations about the coaching environment. We are not angry when we share. We do not make ultimatums. We are also not vague or overly concerned about offending. Sometimes the truth is offensive. In coaching, the discomfort should rest in the agreements.

Let me give you some example conversations:

The Client Doesn’t Have a Topic

Coach: Hey, before we get started, I want to address something that has been happening.

Client: What is it?

Coach: Every week when I ask you, “What do you want to work on today,” you answer, “I’m not sure.” Why is that?

Client: Well, in The Coaching Exchange, we coach every week, and it’s kind of hard to have a good topic that often.

Coach: That’s true. It’s hard for all of us in the Exchange, but it’s important that we do it anyway because that’s the agreement we made when we signed up.

Client: I hear you, but I’m still not sure I can do it.

Coach: There are several options. We could coach about good topics, you could read through Brian’s great article on finding a topic, or you could email Elizabeth and ask for some help.

Client: I could probably do that.

Coach: Thanks for working through this with me. This is going to be essential to making this a good experience for both of us.

The Coach Shares Stories About Their Own Experience

Coach: What do you want to work on today?

Client: Hey before we get started, I want to bring up an issue I’ve been having with the coaching.

Coach: Sure thing. What is it?

Client: Sometimes after I share my topic, you start telling me stories about your experience with the issue.

Coach: I know I’m not supposed to do that, but when the issue is so close to home, I can’t help telling you what I know about it. I figure it will save you a lot of time.

Client: While I appreciate the sentiment, the problem is that it isn’t coaching, and I want to be coached. I don’t want a consultant, and I learn more about coaching by watching you coach.

Coach: Alright, I can do that, though sometimes I know I do it without even thinking about it.

Client: Can we set up an agreement where I can tell you if you stop coaching and start telling?

Coach: That would be great. That will also help me to become more aware and stop doing it on my own.


Coaching does not work well without strong agreements. We cannot always make all the necessary agreements at the beginning of the relationship. Every so often during the coaching relationship, we must revisit the agreements. Sometimes the coach brings it up, but it is also fine if the client brings it up.

The next time a coaching relationship isn’t going as well as you’d like, bring the issue up with your coach or your client. Renegotiate your agreements. Then enjoy a fruitful coaching conversation.

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