Key Mindset Shifts when Encountering Challenging Clients

Elix Cintron's picture Submitted by Elix Cintron June 2, 2020 - 4:07pm
Key Mindset Shifts when Encountering Challenging Clients

Recently, I had the great privilege of presenting a real-life coaching case to over 50 of my colleagues at the Institute of Coaching’s Tricky Coaching Case Forum. Held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the forum participants came together in the spirit of sharing ideas and experience with one another to help navigate complex professional challenges.

A “tricky” case refers to an experience with a client that has challenged us as coaches and stuck with us long after the session ended. While I was excited for the opportunity to share my case and gain feedback from such an experienced group, the prospect of being vulnerable was unsettling. I immediately felt a rush of insecurities and self-doubt creep in. My internal saboteurs were having a field day! “Will they judge me?” and “will I sound stupid?” were among the thoughts my amygdala rapidly fired off. As uncomfortable as it was to share my work, setback, and struggles, I trusted the process and remained committed to living “on the court,” not on the sidelines.      

Specific details related to the case must not be divulged here, as upholding the coaching confidentiality agreement is crucial to the integrity of the field and client trust. However, I can reveal that this particular client has been one of the most challenging I have experienced in my 20+ year coaching career. Some of the key indicators that this was a “tricky” case for me were:

  • Feeling drained, exhausted, and upset after each coaching conversation
  • Questioning my effectiveness and abilities as a coach
  • Perceiving a deficit in my ability to accurately assess whether or not the client was satisfied with the progress being made

After summarizing my case to the group, my fellow coaches eagerly responded with provocative questions, supportive ideas, thoughtful feedback, and priceless insight. Their thought partnership provided so much value—including one of the biggest ‘aha’ moments of my coaching career (more on that later)! My willingness to be vulnerable had opened the door for connection, innovation, and growth. At the end of the forum, I felt lifted—elevated and inspired by the collaborative peer experience.

Breakdowns create the openings for breakthroughs

I had been determined and completely convinced that I could help my client change from having narcissistic tendencies to becoming a connected and caring leader. In the process, I would become a hero! (That’s how it would play out in the telenovela I created in my head, anyway.) In reality, I was struggling, suffering, and emotionally exhausted after every coaching conversation with my client. This breakdown was a clear indication that something needed to shift. But what?
 
My breakthrough ‘aha’ moment during the forum discussion was this: the realization that my commitment to making a difference with my client had morphed into personal attachment to achieving a specific result.

My colleagues enabled me to break down my mental constructs and expectations that were no longer serving me in regards to this client. When those were taken away, the space to process what was actually happening revealed itself and I understood where I needed to go from there.

As coaches, we work from an incredibly powerful place: committed to inspiring others to be the best version of themselves, but remaining detached from whatever outcome the client achieves. This level of detachment allows us to remain unbiased and free from expectations. What started as an emotional issue completely attached deep down with my client now started to shift.      

L.I.F.T. yourself first so you can then lift others

As coaches, we are deeply committed to connection, holding the space, and caring for our clients—clients first, always! However, through this experience I learned that we can’t possibly fulfill our commitments to our clients unless and until we do it for ourselves first. In other words, we have to L.I.F.T. ourselves before we can L.I.F.T. others:

LEARN — Be open to discovering something new. Be open and coachable. We all have blind spots. What “we don’t know we don’t know” gets in the way of what we do, how we feel, who we are, and ultimately the results we get both in business and life.
 
I discovered that I was operating from a place of attachment. I wanted to look good by getting a certain result. This led me to do all the heavy lifting. I was working way too hard, which left me exhausted yet unfulfilled. I came to this process with an open mind willing to listen and learn even when it was uncomfortable.
 
INTEND — Be clear about what the intended outcome is.

I needed to go back and confirm from both the hiring manager and the client what it was that they wanted as the intended outcome/goal from our engagement. This allowed me to get clarity for myself so that I could let go of the personal attachment I had about what I thought success had to look like.
 
FOUNDATION — Once the client is clear about his/her intention, commitment, or vision, I see it as their own personal structure. The most important part of any structure is its foundation, if the integrity of foundation is compromised, it will not withstand. In this context, integrity has nothing to do with morality. This is not about judging or evaluating morals. This is about making sure that our foundation—what it is that matters most to us—is whole and there are no cracks. That allows for us to build a vision on a solid foundation.

Being committed to my client’s success is something that matters greatly to me. It is an important part of the fiber of who I am. Being attached to a result and doing the work for my client, however, was a huge foundational integrity issue for me. The coaching conversation with the IOC fellows provided me with the opening to see this crack in my foundation and I was able to restore my foundation by taking ownership of my actions.
 
TRANSFORM — We all have the ability and the power to transform our conversations, our relationships, and our results.

My biggest takeaway was that I must do the work first. This type of personal ownership and accountability will create a gateway for transforming the conversation, relationship, and results with my client.

Imagine what would be possible for ourselves, the clients, communities, and organizations we serve if we were to lift our spirits, our power, our commitment, our word to a higher level? I hope that this personal reflection is able to L.I.F.T. you into the next level of greatness!