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