Ending coaching relationships is something not written about very much in coaching publications. There are models that help us to structure the coaching process. Think of GROW and OSCAR. However, they don’t really address ending the relationship between the coach and the client.
As coaches, we need to ask ourselves:
- How do we make sure that we don’t hold on to the relationship for reasons not to do with the client’s best interests?
- How do we say goodbye in a developmental way that helps the client to keep using their new resources.?
- How do we give the client a good enough experience of ending to be a positive model for the future?
Endings need to be part of beginnings!
It’s important to recognise that:
- The coaching will be a source of strokes for you.
- You may have your own issues around endings, which might affect the way you end with clients.
- There may be a temptation to hold on to clients because of money or other issues of scarcity.
Being mindful means you can act to avoid problems. You might have supervision for yourself or focus on contracting at the start of the coaching
Making endings appropriate and developmental.
Transactional analysis gives us some useful ideas for ending the coaching relationship in ways that are appropriate and developmental.
Eric Berne identified 3 reasons for endings, Keith Tudor added a fourth. Although they were talking about therapy, these reasons are transferable to ending the relationship in coaching. Eric Berne specified:
Accidental – In workplace coaching, this might happen when someone moves companies or jobs. When there is Illness or other changes in circumstances that mean that the coaching can no longer continue.
Resistant – This is when the client withdraws without formally ending. As a coach, this might raise difficult questions such as: ‘Have I done a good enough job’? or ‘What could I have done differently to keep the person engaged’?
Therapeutic – When the coach and client agree that the goals of the contract have been achieved
In addition to these reasons, Tudor added…
Enforced termination – (from the client’s point of view). When the organisation withdraws funds or doesn’t recommission after an agreed number of sessions have been completed, without fully achieving the goals.
If you have to deal with enforced or accidental termination you can:
- Give enough notice and reinforce the timings involved if you are the one that needs to end.
- Carry out regular progress reviews and re-contract for any changes that the client has to make.
- Involve the client in deciding how to complete the coaching. This would be particularly important if the ending is sudden, for example because of illness.
For a client who falls in the resistant category and stops attending the coaching, your response will need to be based what you have learned from the client and the contract you have in place.
Knowing when to finish open-ended contracts.
Sometimes you will end coaching relationships with clients where you have not specified the number of sessions. This is an open-ended contract. For these situations, Valerie Lankford has some useful insights. She proposed a 3 stage approach. ( Again these steps were originally applied to therapy but can be applied to coaching).
- Identification of signs of readiness. Questions to ask here are; has the client:
- Made sufficient progress against the planned goals?
- The tools and resources to better manage the issues that brought them to coaching.
- Enough accounting available to acknowledge and implement their learning and process their feelings about ending?
- Resolution of the unfinished. – Setting clear goals at the start will help to see how effectively the client has achieved their goals. In planned endings, the coach and client can work create an action plan for any issues that might arise after the coaching. For example, a discussion about how the client can ‘self-coach’ or the resources they have to call on for support and advice.
- Enrichment of the finale. – This involves planning enough time in advance so the client can review their achievements and decide how they want to end. Think about how to celebrate the progress made. Think about what would be an appropriate ritual; what would represent for the ‘new you’ for the client?
Good endings in coaching are so important because they enable healthy new beginnings, both for the coach and the client. That’s why I believe a coach always needs to pay attention to endings.
- What Do You Say About Saying Good-Bye?: Ending Psychotherapy Keith Tudor TAJ. Vol. 25, No.3. July 1995
- The Principles of Group Treatment. Eric Berne. 1966
- Termination: How to Enrich the Process. Valerie Lankford. TAJ. Vol. 10. No.2, April 1980
Recently I had a situation that made me think about how “Shoulds and Oughts” can be a clue to our script.
My sister and I were talking about our plans for the day. “I should go swimming.” I said. I had recently joined a health club and had set a goal of swimming 100 lengths, three times a week. I was torn between sticking to this goal or having a day out.
This time, I ignored my inner voice telling me what “I should” do and decided on the day out. My reasoning was (a) it was a lovely day and it would be good to get some fresh air; (b) I could catch up with my sister; and (c) I could still do a healthy level of exercise during the week.
Sometimes we do things because we think we should do them, rather than because we have chosen to. ‘Should’ and ‘ought’ are usually a sign of not accounting in the moment. Instead we interpret situations through the lens of our script. A script is the story that we apply to our life. It is made up of how we see ourselves, others and the world around us and the beliefs we have about how our life will play out. When in our script, we discount aspects of current reality to fit the script. Because of this we limit our choices and may replay feelings and behaviours that don’t serve us very well.
What happened when I was faced with the choice of doing something I wanted to do rather than something I felt I should do was that I went into script. I momentarily replayed a familiar belief that I could only have fun when I had finished all the work. The payoff for this is that whatever I did I would end up feeling bad. To not go out would mean disappointment but to go out would mean feelings of guilt.
The alternative to this was to acknowledge my scripty thinking. I took a deep breath, grounded myself and considered rationally what choices I had. I also thought about the consequences for each choice. As a result I made the choice to have the day out without experiencing the guilty feelings.
It can be hard to recognise when we are in our script. Looking out for situations where we beat ourselves up, run negative inner dialogue or focus on what we ‘should do’ rather than on what we choose are good indications. Once we are aware of these things, we can start to make more empowering choices. We can replace ‘I should’ and ‘I ought to’ with ‘I choose to or ‘I have decided’.
As part of my coaching practice, I find the concept of Drivers and Working styles really useful. Learning about the 5 behaviour types can help people; manage time better, find ways to deal with stress and work well with others. The 5 Drivers are: Be Perfect, Please Others, Try Hard, Be Strong and Hurry Up.
What are Drivers?
We develop our Drivers early in life. At the time they seem like the best course of action to counter unhelpful “don’t” messages. In reality as adults, if we are under stress, we might use our driver behaviour unthinkingly. When this happens we reinforce our negative beliefs. We can never do enough of the Driver behaviour to get the results we want.
On the other hand, when not under stress and thinking clearly we can use the behaviours in positive ways. This is what other people may see as our Working Style.
In this article, I am going to focus on the first of the 5 Drivers / Working Styles; Be Perfect.
I am sitting here writing this blog article. I have the title, the theory and even the picture I want to use. Suddenly I am gripped by the thought that I need more information before I can go any further. I make myself another cup of coffee and start to surf the web to find more information, ideas and references. This procrastination tells me I have slipped into a Be Perfect driver. In an effort to ensure I don’t get things wrong I stop taking useful action. Paradoxically, I still end up feeling bad as this has not helped me write a ‘perfect’ article.
When I am not under stress and thinking straight I will still focus on doing a good job. I will will pay attention to detail and writing something that is clear and readable. The difference is that I will do this in a mindful way. I will be in control of my behaviours, rather than driven by them.
I have set out below some of the characteristics of the Be Perfect as both the Working Style and Driver.
Working Styles versus Drivers
|value accuracy and attention to detail||spend too long attending to the detail and getting it right.|
|getting things right first time||miss deadlines or frustrate others by making or asking for minor changes|
|be well organised and plan ahead||see minor issues as problems. Let them get bigger in your mind until they seem insurmountable.|
|prepare well||misjudge the level of detail required|
|a real determination to do things well.||over-critical of self and others|
How to develop the Be Perfect Working Style.
Once aware of our Drivers and the triggers for them, we can develop ways to use our Working Styles well. Here are some of the suggestions:
- Focus on the corresponding ‘allowers’ – It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to be yourself.
- Set goals such as only producing one draft or checking work only once.
- Work to deadlines and reward yourself when you meet them.
- Get involved in activities when ‘just doing it’ is more important than the outcomes you achieve.
- Think about the relative importance of your standards in different areas of your life. Work out the different standards needed for each one.
- Be honest with others about your need for high standards. Work with them to find agreement about what is realistic.
- Reward yourself when you do things ‘well enough’ or when you let a lack of perfection go.
Acknowledgements: Drivers: Taibi Kahler. Working Styles: Julie Hay
In coaching, helping coaching clients to gain insight is a key part of the process. Insight can be defined as: “The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something”.
For me as a coach, insight involves accounting for internal and external experience. This can be done through personal reflection, exploring different perspectives and seeking and responding to feedback. Through this insight, clients can learn new ways to respond to others and avoid unhelpful patterns of behaviour.
Barbara Traynor offers this simple model from Petruska Clarkson to identify stages of awareness experienced by psychotherapy clients. Although the coaching contract is different, the stages can also be helpful for coaches working with their clients.
Out of Awareness
The client is aware there is something causing a problem but does not think their own behaviours are contributing to the outcomes. Here, the coach can invite the client to reflect on their behaviour. This will need to be challenging yet safe and supportive. The focus will be on actions and behaviours that are working as well as what the client might do differently.
The coach can also invite the client to look at things from different perspectives. For example how others involved might see things. They can also encourage the client to study what makes others successful.
The client looks back and sees repetitive patterns of behaviour that have led to unfavourable outcomes. The coach can offer encouragement and positive strokes for noticing what is happening and for acknowledging their part in it.
Emphasising positive outcomes is important so the client doesn’t become self-critical or stuck in negative feelings about the past outcomes. The focus will move to behaviours the client wants to practice as well as what might stop them making changes.
The client can see they are repeating a behaviour pattern but can’t prevent it ending in the usual way. The coach can help the client to reflect on the pattern so they become more aware of the process. They can also review any changes they did make (or attempt to make). The coach may also encourage the client to identify and “rehearse” options for dealing with the situation the next time.
The client has good awareness of his / her own process, including how they may be triggered into unhelpful behaviours. They know they have a choice of response. At this stage, the coach’s role is to help the client consolidate the changes. They can give the client feedback on their ability to work through a difficult situation effectively. A review of the coaching process will provide another opportunity to reinforce the learning and highlight the options the client has.
In thinking about these stages, a coach can help the client to identify what is not working so well for them help them to develop options in a way that is safe and supportive. Recognising the different stages also provides permission for the client to work at their own pace.
 Stages of Awareness During the Change Process: Barbara Traynor. ITA News No.41 Spring 1995
Research has shown that many change processes fail to meet their initial objectives. Whilst some of this may be attributable to unrealistic goals or a lack of planning, often a failure to deal with the people issues is a big contributing factor.
Organisations implementing change must ensure they help navigate their employees through the process as painlessly as possible. I use the word painlessly deliberately because emotions play a key part in how people react to change.
Each emotion has a purpose. They prepare people to deal with situations and take action and so fundamentally they are about our survival.
Emotions don’t however ensure that people take that action. That is something that they may need help with. In organisations, if the change leaders understand and pay attention to the purpose of each of the key emotions, then they can help people to deal with the difficulties that change may throw up. By key emotions I mean sadness, anger and fear.
When we lose something important we experience sadness. The purpose of sadness is to slow us down so that we can process the loss and solve the problems associated with this. It also helps to signal to others that we are vulnerable and may need support. We might ask ourselves questions such as;
- What does this loss mean for me?
- Why did this happen (what can I learn from this)?
- What support do I need to help me deal with this situation?
- How will I manage now things are different?
Loss is an important part of dealing with change – Change leaders need to support people and be patient to allow them time to take in the information they are being given. Outlining what will remain the same as well as giving clear and concise information about the objectives and key elements of the change will be important. Providing ways in which people can support each other and helping people managers to support their teams will also help.
When we are under threat we need the energy to get ourselves out of the situation. The fight – flight response is part of this as our bodies gear up to face the real or perceived threat. Change is a threat therefore it is natural for people to feel anger.
Anger is the emotion that gives people the energy to problem-solve and the motivation to take action. As we are social animals part of dealing with a threat is to try and influence the other people we believe are part of that threat. We may challenge them but not always in a constructive way. However, if we can express this anger and be listened to our anger is more likely to dissipate quickly. If we don’t feel our anger is acknowledged, then it is more likely to linger.
Allowing people to vent and to challenge in a managed way and making sure lines of communication are kept open are important aspects of helping people to move through their anger.
Fear is the emotion associated with the future. Fear enables us to look ahead to see how we can maintain our security. Fear prepares us to take action. This may involve taking time to stop and think or it may mean that we act immediately. If we think for too long, then we may get stuck in the fear and not move forward. Whilst fear is a natural emotion, it can also be a conditioned response. Some people develop fears which become magnified until they interfere disproportionately in people’s lives. If people have had a bad experience of something in the past, they may fear it more in the future.
Providing information and support early on and helping people to plan for the future, whatever that might look like are key ways in which change leaders can minimise the effects of fear.
Understanding the role of emotions and supporting people in working through these, rather than ignoring them will help to bring people through a change process and beyond and maybe will mean that fewer change processes will fail.