Not all coaching sessions are going to go well. Some will feel full of life and inspiration like you’re sitting in the midst of endless possibilities and inspiration. Some coaching sessions will feel boring and challenging like you’re fighting through quicksand with every step.
I wouldn’t recommend you try to make every coaching session great, you won’t succeed and you won’t really be serving your clients. Still finding yourself in the middle of a bad session can be tough so here’s what I do when I feel like I’m in a session that feels like I’m dying a slow and painful death.
1) Admit the session isn’t going very well –
If you’re brave share this with your client. Say hey I notice this session isn’t going the way I thought it might. How is it feeling for you?
They might agree or disagree with you. But by bringing it out into the open you will offer some relief if you’re both struggling a bit.
If that feels too edgy for you then simply admit it to yourself.
2) Remind yourself that everyone has ‘bad’ sessions –
Every performer, artist, master, teacher, and coach has bad days and bad sessions. It’s ok, you’ll survive. So long as you’re not being a total asshole, verbally abusing your client, or sexually harassing them, you’ll survive this session.
If you are doing one of those things please stop immediately and get some support so you won’t do that stuff again. But if you’re reading this article you probably aren’t doing that stuff so don’t worry too much.
3) Take a breath –
When I watch coaching sessions go bad 90% of what’s happening is momentum. The coach gets on the wrong foot, but they just keep going. They keep asking awkward questions. They keep interrupting their client.
So pause. Take a breath. Tell your client you need a minute to review some notes. This small break can give both of you a chance to reset and recenter.
4) Figure out (or remember) what the client wants –
The #1 piece of feedback I give coaches is that your session would have gone better if you had taken the time to find out what your client wanted.
It seems so simple. So basic. But most coaches miss this. They get to coaching and they don’t really discover and confirm what the client really wants. And even then sometimes they lose track of that in the middle of the client’s session.
So if you realize you don’t know what your client wants, pause and ask them. If you think you know, pause and confirm it again.
Just connecting with this simple anchor of desire can make all the difference in the world.
5) Let go of your agenda (or whatever else you’re holding onto) –
I once had a client that I felt was totally uncoachable. Every reflection I offered was met with a correction. Every question I asked was answered in the most disconcerting way. It felt so hard to figure out what to do next.
Then one session I simply let go of how I thought our sessions were supposed to go. I relaxed. I made each of their answers brilliant. I expressed gratitude for each of their corrections.
It was the best session we’d ever had.
Challenging your client as a coach is important. And sometimes you’re going to feel in conflict with them and the sessions may feel crunchy as a result. But it’s incredibly easy for your commitment to your client’s growth to become a grasping attachment to them being different.
If your session is going to crap start looking for what you’re holding onto. It might be an idea about how the session is supposed to be or it might be that you’re trying to hide how lost you feel. Find it and let it go.
6) Don’t decide the session is a failure –
I have literally had sessions I thought were total dumpster fires and my client said to me “Wow that session was so powerful!”
The truth is we don’t know the impact of our work. We’re not even in that much control of it. Our clients do a LOT of the work of coaching. So even if you think the session sucked don’t be too attached to that opinion.
YOUR JOB AS A COACH
Your job as a coach is to stand up for your client’s dreams, to be there with them as they make those dreams a reality, not to grade every session you have with them.
YES you should try your best to be a good coach and learn from your mistakes but in the moment the most important thing to do is stay with your client.
In some ways being willing to show up when the work is hard, your client is resistant, and the conversation is challenging is what being a coach is all about.
So be brave, take a breath, and do your best to land the plane anyway you can.