How to Navigate a Difficult Coaching Session

October 21, 2020 by Brittany Salsman

As a trainer, witnessing the transformative, fulfilling, and challenging journey of becoming a coach is such a privilege. Coaches in training will experience some amazing coaching sessions that’ll leave you feeling inspired and some that are challenging where you’ll leave frustrated. When people are involved, it’s inevitable that you’ll have coaching sessions that are not as strong as they could be, either because the client is not invested or because you’re in a funk as a coach. This is totally normal and it’s important to have a few coaching strategies when this happens.

The three foundational aspects of coaching are:

  • (1) level 2 listening, listening from the perspective of the client,
  • (2) coach the client, not the problem, and
  • (3) trusting that your client is the expert on themselves.

How to Navigate a Difficult Coaching Session

If the Challenge Is Coming From Within You

When a coaching session becomes challenging, the first thing you want to do is ask yourself “where is the difficulty coming from?” If you find that you’re discouraged that a client is not getting to a specific outcome or is not moving quickly enough, this is an indication that you’ve slipped out of your role as a coach. You’re missing one, two, or all three of the foundational aspects mentioned above. In this case, a gentle reminder to yourself of these coaching concepts will allow you to release your attachment to or control over the outcome or results and allow you to step more fully into trusting the process.

If the Challenge Is Coming From Your Client

On the other hand, if you find that the challenge is coming from how the client is showing up to the session, this is where you should communicate directly. You want to point out what you’re noticing in your client and follow it with a powerful question. For example, “I’m noticing that you’re saying ‘I don’t know’ a lot more today. What’s it like not to know?” or “You’re much quieter today than usual. What’s present for you at this moment?”

Leveraging direct communication in the moment, offers two opportunities: (1) it calls attention to something the client may not be recognizing in themselves, which could lead to a powerful new insight, and (2) it lays the foundation for revisiting the alliance in the future if needed.

When you have clients who consistently challenge the coaching process, this is when it becomes important to have a larger conversation about how you’ll work together. Leverage direct communication with the aim of redesigning the alliance. For example, “I’ve noticed that each time we begin to discuss emotions, you shift the conversation elsewhere. How should we handle emotions when they come up?” This shines a light on the challenge directly and also opens an opportunity to reshape how you work together to the benefit of the client. This strategy is helpful when a client is consistently challenging rather than a one-off session that presents difficulty.

Addressing a challenging coaching session head on may be uncomfortable; however, the client will benefit if you call attention to it sooner rather than later, so they can experience maximum growth. Challenges that are brushed off or avoided altogether tend to develop into bigger issues that could have a lasting impact on the coach-client relationship. By leveraging direct communication and revisiting the alliance when needed, you’re building a strong relationship with your client while also increasing their self-awareness.

If you’re interested in advancing your life coaching skills, register for a free, live workshop held by trainers and CTEDU Graduates.

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