the Most Frustrating Moments in Coaching
In this week’s Real Talk column, I spoke about the power of an apology. After visibly getting frustrated with a client, part of me wanted to beat myself up about it. Instead, I chose to remember that I am human and I can be triggered, just like everyone else. Though my ego may have wanted otherwise, I realized that the strongest way forward was to apologize, right the wrong and work to become a more masterful coach.
Society creates certain expectations for its leaders, whether they’re coaches, mentors, professors, pastors or politicians. Because we are still human at the end of the day, we may not always meet them. We have the amazing opportunity however, to learn from our mistakes and heal our wounds. We can become aware of our triggers, pause before reacting, and learn to deliver the difficult messages our clients need with compassion and empathy.
We may not always get it right, but with practice we can bring our best selves consistently to the table. We can become softer, wiser and stronger. Below, my advice for responding to triggering situations like the masterful coach that you are.
We all have different subjects that always bring the claws out. Knowing that sharpness is rarely ever necessary, we can become aware of what those triggers are and stop ourselves from instantly reacting in a negative way. Take a look at what’s made you irritated, angry, or flustered in the past. What were you truly reacting to? Where is this coming from? Chances are there’s something unresolved in your subconscious that needs to be worked through.
Know that it’s okay if you don’t know how to respond to something upsetting in the moment. It takes a certain level of mastery to be able to always speak what you’re thinking in a loving way. You’ll get better with practice, though that doesn’t mean you should withhold yourself or be invisible—it’s just that hitting send on that angry email right now is probably a bad idea. Give yourself time. Meditate, journal on it, process it and bring it up when you have clarity around what to say and how to say it with love.
Just like you’re human and deserve forgiveness, so do your clients. You probably know your client pretty well at this point, so you should be able to analyze with clarity what their dysfunctional behavior is. If they’re playing the victim game, if they’re crossing a boundary again, ask yourself, what are they reacting to? What is this about for them? (Because it’s probably not about you.) With a deeper understanding comes empathy, and with empathy you’ll be able to offer a much more patient, loving response to their words and actions.
Often times the coaching moments that have triggered my own frustration the most have had to do with time pressure. The classic example is when everything is going great in a session, and then during
the last five minutes, the client drops an emotional bomb. Or, you’re in a group coaching dynamic and someone is demanding all of everyone’s attention for more than their fair share of time. It can even happen at a live event, when someone brings something up in a Q&A that clearly requires more intensive one-on-one work.
My frustration with these scenarios, and perhaps you’ve experienced it as well, is that I would love to help all of these people, but if I were to say yes to every one of them in that moment I would have to neglect and ignore my other clients as well as myself. My default mode for much of my life has been to put others first, take care of others and be responsible for their happiness. So if I feel frustrated that I don’t have the time to help someone adequately, I don’t always catch what’s really going on.
When this happens, it’s important for us as coaches to become comfortable setting a healthy boundary and saying, “I’d love to help you with this, and yet it seems like this issue is going to need more time than we have today. Let’s schedule another session to process this in the time and space needed.” Rather than get caught up in the drama, forgive your client for not knowing how to appropriately ask for what they need, and offer them the opportunity to work together in a way that will benefit everyone. Simple as that!