You can’t assume a client must be ready for coaching just because they turned up. Some people think the coach’s job is to get rid of their problems and make them successful. Others are more realistic, but still not ready for coaching. Here are three things to look out for when assessing a client’s readiness.
Is the client willing to trust you?
Some people find it easy to trust, and others have been burnt in the past and believe you can’t trust anyone. The client isn’t likely to make much progress if they don’t trust their coach.
If the client trusts you, they will be open with you. You will see it in their body language and in the stories they tell. They will be honest about their past, they will let their guard down, they will become vulnerable – they will let you into the story of their life (or at least a version of it).
You should be mindful of how the client is positioning you as they tell their story. There is always an agenda. It could be to draw you in and give you enough understanding so you can help them. But sometimes the agenda could be to elicit your sympathy (with a hard-done-by story), or to demonise someone who has let them down. So, don’t mistake manipulation for vulnerability.
For those clients who have been burnt in the past and find it hard to trust anybody, you will need to work hard to build their trust. You must show them you are there for them, but you expect them to be there for them too.
Is the client searching for understanding?
Clients who search to understand why things aren’t working for them and who look for solutions show positive signs of readiness. They are showing a deep internal motivation for change, and also a desire to tell a more coherent story. Sometimes people have been thinking or performing in certain ways for years, but over time the results have been getting worse. Something is wrong, and it doesn’t make sense to them. They want things to be right again.
It is easy to tell when people are truly searching for understanding and for answers. They have lots of questions about the bits of their story that don’t make sense to them. They’re looking for reasons why things went wrong, seeking to understand. They engage in discussion, ask probing questions, and respond to probing questions.
Clients who aren’t really searching for understanding have few answers, and even fewer questions. They are often closed, or their talk never really gets to any deep issues. They avoid connection. They want things to change, but they don’t want to change.
How much responsibility does the client accept?
Clients who are ready for coaching accept they are at least partially responsible for their current circumstances, and it’s up to them to sort out their life. They don’t see themselves as powerless victims of circumstance, and they don’t expect the coach to do all the hard lifting for them. The coach is there to help them, but they are the only ones who can really change their life.
It takes courage to accept responsibility and you can hear it in people’s stories. It is evident in how they position people in their narratives. Do they blame others for their situation and feel trapped by the decisions others have made? Are all their problems due to other people? Or do they see that they need to grow so they can develop new strategies to overcome problems?
These are just some of the ways you can determine how ready a client is for coaching. Finally, it’s important to recognise the limits of your influence as a coach. The world’s best coach can’t work miracles for people who aren’t ready to change. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. In other words, if the client isn’t thirsty enough for change, they’re not likely to sap wisdom from the coach.
Written by Dr Steve Barlow