Handling a Client Not Ready to Be Coached: Strategies and Insights

May 21, 2021

This article is part of the No Holds Barred weekly column by Ram Ramanathan. It’s based on questions we receive during our weekly webinars.

Amit Bhatt: What if the client keeps coming back with the same topic/ discussion point in each session?
Pat Dickson: “I don’t need coaching, there’s nothing wrong with me.Coaching is a want, not a need”
Farha Marathe: What is a person asks,” What should I expect from this session? How would I benefit?”(edited)

Dear Amit, Pat, Farha

A situation of the client not wanting to be coached, or not seeing a value in being coached, can happen in corporate/executive coaching cases, where the sponsor unilaterally decides to have a person coached without any mutual agreement. This happens especially when a boss or HR wants a behavioural issue to be fixed and does not have the courage to discuss it with the employee. Sometimes, it’s manipulation using to fire a gun from the coach’s shoulder if coaching does not help. Most coaches face this with increasing experience.

This issue is very fundamental and needs to be firmly handled at the contracting or agreement stage. There must be a joint meeting with the client, as well as at least one sponsor stakeholder representative. In this ‘chemistry’ meeting coach must explain what the boundaries of coaching are, and what the responsibilities of each of them, coach, client, stakeholder(s) are. What needs to be the coaching objectives, schedule, logistics, etc need to be spelled out. Without such a meeting to have all minds meet, the coaching journey can be a mess.

I do not take up an assignment unless there is a multi-party chemistry meeting with a client and a responsible stakeholder, such as a line or skip-level manager and/or HR person, who also will meet again with the client and I once or twice during the journey. In the chemistry meeting, there is an agreement on what the organization wants and what the client wants from the coach. The client may likely add some more issues, and that’s absolutely fine, so long as nothing important that the stakeholder wants is drooped. During later stakeholder meetings, I would request the client to mention what has changed and why.

In the chemistry meeting, the process of coaching needs to be explained, especially that it’s not a solution-based exercise and that requires the client to create the solutions. What happens in each session and the journey of multiple sessions needs to be explained if the client is new to coaching, which is likely. Issues of confidentiality and what can be shared by the coach without violating coaching ethics need to be clarified and understood. What needs to happen if the client turns up late or cancels at the last minute needs to be predetermined. Coaching is very personal and private. Do not let misunderstandings happen based on assumptions.

Why would the client repeat what has been discussed if there has been clarity and awareness? This can only happen if the session does not have a closure, which the client, not the coach summarises as the learning from the session. Quite often, I see coaches summarising client outcomes, insights, and actions. This is unacceptable. If you ensure that the client states these, however long it may take, then the client won’t return to the same watering hole.

A lot of other questions were answered during the webinar. Watch the full video below, or on our YouTube Channel.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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