Every so often, a client will show up to a coaching conversation saying: “I don’t know what to talk about.”
When this happens it can be tricky to know how to respond especially because it can trigger fears many coaches including myself have. Fears that we aren’t actually good at what we do, fears that we’ll run out of things to coach around, and fears that we can’t possibly justify the high fees we charge just to ‘talk to us.’
However, this is actually an amazing opportunity, if you understand why it’s happening and learn how to serve your clients powerfully from this place.
In this guide, I offer some of the most common problems I’ve encountered with clients who claim they have nothing to talk about, and offer some ideas for how you might address this as a coach. Of course, I don’t want to give the impression that this list is comprehensive or that these solutions are perfect.
This problem is still something I encounter and it’s one I’m constantly working to understand and improve my skills around. Instead, my hope is that this guide will give you some new ideas on what might being going on for your clients as well as some ideas on how you might create a powerful context if this arises in your coaching.
Problems and Solutions
Problem #1 – The Coaching Has Been Too Immediate
Sometimes when a client says to me – “I don’t know what to talk about” I translate this into: “Coaching for me has become about the immediate, not the inspirational. It’s become about playing whack a mole with my troubles instead of creating a powerful vision of what could be.”
I usually see this with clients who are practically focused and want to get practical gains out of coaching.
Sometimes people come to us with immediate problems they want to solve or short-term goals they want to achieve. This makes coaching in the short term very easy, because I know exactly what to give them. The problem is as soon as they’ve solved their immediate problems or achieved their short-term goals they think, “Now what?”
Solution #1 – Set a Powerful Context
Whenever this happens, I see this as a failure to continuously frame the coaching experience in a powerful way.
It’s not enough to simply ask my clients leading questions and set a few goals. Deep and powerful coaching has to come from a powerful context.
This means I have to set a powerful context for our coaching from the very beginning of our relationship. If I don’t, I’m limiting the depth of where we can go.
But setting a powerful context at the beginning is not enough. Even though I start many of my creation conversations by creating a powerful context for coaching, over time it’s easy for this context to get lost.
This is why it’s important to keep setting this context throughout the coaching process. I’ve found I have to remind my clients and myself why we are here. We aren’t just here to solve some problems. We are here to create miracles, to do deep work. That’s what coaching is all about.
Problem #2 – Your Opening Question Has Become Stale
Most coaches know there is power in starting every conversation with an impactful question. One of my favorites is: “What would make this an extraordinary conversation?”
Another is: “What would make this a full belly laughing, whole body weeping kind of conversation?”
But just like a great song you hear one too many times sometimes my opening questions can become stale.
Solution #2 – Mix Things Up
I used to start all of my sessions with the question: “What would make this an extraordinary conversation?” Until one of my client’s started giving me the same answer over and over again: “I want an insight that will help my business.”
I knew right away that this was a sort of non-answer. So I challenged him to answer this question more powerfully. We had several conversations about how to do this, none of which yielded an inspiring answer.
Until one day, I simply accepted his answer and asked a follow up question: “If you could gain an insight into any area of your business, what area would that be?”
Now, this isn’t the kind of powerful question I usually start with, but it served its purpose. It focused my client on a topic and created a context for coaching.
Eventually, I started adding another question about what he could create if he was able to get an insight into that area of his business, which led us to discover what it meant to him to gain insight into where his business was going.
What I learned is that while having a few powerful questions is good, I need to be flexible and creative with the questions I ask. For some clients the consistent power of a certain question can become like an incantation that sets the container for deep work, but for other clients a certain question can become the barrier to showing up and diving deep.
Problem #3 – Your Client Has Stopped Taking Responsibility For Their Coaching
Even though I clearly create agreements around who is responsible for coaching, I’ve found that clients often slip into a view that it’s my job as a coach to bring the power to the coaching relationship.
They figure, well I’ll just show up and he’ll find something for us to talk about.
After this happened a few times I realized that I was training my clients to do this. I saw that if a client showed up with nothing to talk about I would probe them, I would discover something they were hiding, or I would reveal something they didn’t know was holding them back.
Sure, this made me feel like a really good coach, but it was also teaching my clients that I was responsible for finding something important to talk about. All they had to do was show up and I would bring all the magic.
Solution #3 – Allow Your Client To Be Responsible
If you think a client isn’t taking their coaching seriously, stop saving them when they show up with nothing to talk about.
Instead, challenge them to create a powerful context for their own coaching. There are a bunch of ways to do this from the high flame approach of ending the conversation immediately to the more gentle approach of giving them the practice to take thirty minutes before each call to reflect on what they want to bring into the coaching.
What matters here is that both you and the client are playing full out. If your client is in the mindset that they can just show up and you’ll do all the work, they won’t get as much as they could out of the coaching. In addition, they won’t think you’re a very good coach.
To prevent this, don’t fall for their trick of letting you feel like a good coach by doing all the work. Ask them to step up and create an agreement what will help them take the coaching seriously, doing so will serve them more powerfully than letting you do all the work ever will.
Problem #4 – Your Client Has Limiting Beliefs About Coaching
Most coaches know our clients limiting beliefs are one of the most substantial barriers to their ability to reach their goals, but these limiting beliefs don’t just affect their lives outside of coaching they also affect the coaching process as well.
Even if you’ve done all the work of creating a powerful context for coaching and helping them dream really BIG, it’s not uncommon for a client to secretly doubt that any of what they’ve visioned is truly possible.
Sometimes this doubt is just below the surface and sometimes it’s deep inside of them, but if a client shows up with nothing to talk about, one possibility is that you’ve run into one of their limiting beliefs about what they can achieve through coaching.
Solution #4 – Look At Their Limiting Beliefs
Every coach has a different way of looking at limiting beliefs and what matters isn’t how you look at this belief or help them see a way through it. What matters is that you spend time looking directly at how this belief affects the coaching itself.
If the container of coaching is limited then your client’s insights will be limited as well.
If your clients think they are jumping on a trampoline in a 7 foot room, they will never jump higher than 6 feet no matter how brilliantly you coach them to jump. If you remove the ceiling you can whisper the word jump and your clients will be able to throw their whole selves into each bounce.
This is why it’s essential to address these beliefs directly as soon as you notice them arise. Because if you don’t, you’re preventing your clients from playing as full out as they are capable of.
Problem #5- You’re Bored
Sometimes the reasons your clients stop showing up with power is because you’ve stopped showing up with power. As much as we do our best as coaches to serve powerfully sometimes the coaching process can become stale.
When this happens it’s important that as a coach you take ownership over this and do what you can to fulfill your role in the coaching relationship.
Solution #5 – Fire Your Clients, Take A Break, Find Your People, Hire A Coach, or Try Anything
Getting bored of our clients is a problem most coaches hate to admit, but it happens. And when it does there’s usually a few clear reasons.
Sometimes you just need to fire your client. Maybe the coaching has run its course, you signed them up at too low of a fee, they aren’t a good fit for you, or something else has gone wrong. If you notice yourself not enjoying coaching a certain client it might be time to let them go. Every client deserves a coach who loves coaching them. If you don’t love it and can’t fix it. Letting them go is often the right thing to do.
Sometimes you need to take a break. It may not be that you hate your clients it might be that you’re just worn down. Overwork can make even the most inspiring client seem tiresome. So if you find yourself nodding off while you’re coaching it might be time to take a break for a few days and see if you can relight your passion for your work.
Sometimes you need to find your people. Perhaps someone told you to find a niche so you did. And now you hate that niche. It takes time to find the people who are right for you, so if the people you are talking to don’t inspire you, ask yourself who do I love to coach? If I could coach anyone who would that be and why? Then take the time to make a shift to working with those people. Coaching the wrong people is never fun and finding the right people can take time. Be patient with yourself, but don’t settle for your niche if it doesn’t light you up.
You cannot pour tea from an empty pot or so the euphemism goes. If you aren’t getting coached it’s easy to lose your passion for coaching. But if you’re experiencing powerful transformation it’s much easier to believe your clients can as well. Having a coach isn’t just a good idea because it keeps you focused as a coach it also keeps you excited about what you can achieve through coaching.
Finally, if all else fails try anything. Take a dance class, coach people on the street, take a break from coaching, get a piercing. If you find yourself bored by client after client there’s something out of whack in your life that you need to address. Sometimes the most unusual imbalances can lead to a lack of passion in our work. So just try anything you can think of. Our minds have a way of coming up with solutions we don’t really understand but are effective nonetheless. After all great coaching is an intuitive art so it may be that the solution you need is intuitive as well.
While I wish I could say this covers every reason a client might show up with nothing to talk about, of course that’s not the case. So even though I hope that this guide helps you examine why this might happen for a client, what matters most is that you show up with your curiosity and wisdom when this happens.
The #1 mistake I’ve made and that I’ve seen other coaches make when this happens is that they make it about them. They get flustered and they turn this into a verdict on who they are as a coach. Either that or they simply try to move past it without really looking at what’s going on.
Doing deep work isn’t a simple process and it’s one in which power can be easily lost if we aren’t careful. The container that’s needed to do truly deep work is delicate and can easily leak if we aren’t careful.
My hope is that this guide will encourage you to be diligent stewards of this powerful container and take it seriously when a client shows up with this attitude. While it could just be that your client is having a bad day, it could also indicate that there is a small and growing crack in the container you’re creating together.
In my experience, the power of coaching is closely linked to the power of the container you’re able to create with your clients. So pay attention and lovingly honor this container whenever you can. If you do, your clients will amaze you and you will learn so much more about what it means to be a masterful coach who understands the art of sculpting a container for deep transformation.