It’s morning. You wake up, pour your coffee, and sit down at your desk. Waiting for you in your inbox is an email from one of your clients telling you that they think your work together has come to an end.
You feel a sense of shock and surprise. Maybe some part of you knew this was coming. But even though you knew the work had been challenging, the reality of this situation sinks in.
As your mind starts to reel you feel a desire to shoot back a quick reply.
You think about offering a discount, more time with you, or something else.
You wonder if they’ll want a refund for the work you’ve already done.
You feel groundless, uncertain, and maybe you even doubt if you should be in business at all.
The truth is that clients quit.
They do it all the time.
As a transformational coach, my client’s wanting to quit is often a sign that the work we’re doing is powerful. That the client is on their edge and on the cusp of creating a lasting change in their lives.
When this kind of change shows up the desire to turn back can be strong.
Most of the time I’m able to work with a client to keep them engaged and focused on what they want and what’s in the way.
But sometimes client’s just quit. And when that happens there’s usually nothing I can do about it. They’ve made a choice and they aren’t interested in getting supported to find a way through.
When that happens I follow four simple steps.
These four simple steps have helped me navigate the most challenging situations I’ve ever encountered as a coach. And I hope might help you navigate them as well.
Step 1 – Pause
The #1 mistake I’ve made in responding to someone who wants to quit is responding too quickly. In the moments after getting an email or hearing on a call a client wants to complete early, I’m usually emotional. I could be upset, disappointed, frustrated, sad, or even angry.
This isn’t the time to respond. Two emotional people talking to each other are much more likely to misunderstand one another, so the first thing I do is pause. I let myself feel what I’m feeling. I reach out to my coach or someone that I know can support me and talk the situation through. I let myself be heard and get some outside perspective.
This makes sure that when I do respond it’s from the most grounded place possible.
Step 2 – Take responsibility
Even if the reason the client is unhappy is 99.9% on them there is always a place you can find to be responsible. Maybe you said one thing and the client heard another, you can choose to be responsible for what they heard. Maybe you tried your best to make the client happy but no matter what you did they didn’t like your work, you can be responsible for their dissatisfaction.
Our natural tendency is to defend ourselves and our work when we feel attacked, but defensiveness only invites more attacks or defense. If a client is being rude or unkind, set a boundary, but if not look for where you can be responsible. Don’t blame yourself (blame never makes anything better) but instead try to regain your sense of power and center. If you can find where you can be responsible you can find the place where you have some choice.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you say to someone else. They are going to find fault and make you the villain regardless. And sometimes there may be legal reasons why you may need to keep quiet. But if you can share where you can be responsible it can have an amazing effect on both you and the other person.
Step 3 – Acknowledge and forgive them and yourself
There’s an incredible process called completion that a coach once taught me. Essentially when you get complete you express all of your hurt feelings, you find where you can be responsible, and finally, you find a way to be grateful for whatever came into your life as a result of the situation.
No matter what this person thinks of you, their opinion is essentially about them. If you did something wrong either out of fear or by mistake you can learn from that mistake. Even if the person isn’t open to a response or a conversation, you can still acknowledge and forgive them and yourself for what happened.
I’ve come to believe that people are always acting in alignment with their own well-being in the way they understand that well-being. You’re a human being, even if you screwed up, you are worthy of love and forgiveness. The other person is a human being, even if they’ve been unreasonable they are worthy of love and forgiveness.
If you can find a way to forgive them and acknowledge them for whatever goodness or generosity they have demonstrated, do it. If you can’t, then pray for the willingness and try to come back to it later.
No matter what you absolutely need to forgive and acknowledge yourself—not as a way to get you off the hook (your honest reflection is vital when this happens) but as a way to move forward and get back to what you’re committed to creating in life—life goes on after clients quit. In fact, losing clients and jobs have been some of the most powerful life catalysts I’ve ever experienced. It can feel like a tragedy but I assure you that it’s often the opportunity you never knew you needed.
Step 4 – Live your life
There’s a popular quote that goes, “Live in such a way that if someone spoke badly of you, no one would believe it.” But I actually like the way my friend Adam says it even better. “Live in such a way that even if someone lies about you, you’ll be perfectly fine.”
Your goal in life and in business should never be to make everyone happy. I often tell new coaches that until you get sued or someone threatens to sue you, you’re not really a professional coach. That doesn’t mean you should seek out the experience of having an angry or disappointed client.
You ought to work hard to deliver on what you’ve promised, live up to your word, and clean up when you make a mistake. But your life isn’t about what other people think about you.
At some point you have to stand up for your work and what you believe in. You need to be open to feedback and honest reflection, but that doesn’t mean sacrificing your values in order to appease what other people want. This is why the final step is to get back to this commitment and live your life.
Keep creating amazing designs, focus on improving your writing, and work hard with your next client to create the breakthrough they truly want. Get back to living your life and doing your best work. That’s really what the world wants most from you anyway.