Is Your Client Uncoachable? 6 Ways To Tell


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There comes a time in every coach’s life when they come across a client that is completely uncoachable.

Unfortunately, in the beginning, coaches may not know how to identify uncoachable clients. In fact, it’s very likely that they’ll learn the hard way that someone is uncoachable.

The good is that with more experience coaches can determine ahead of time if a prospective client is uncoachable. They may also be able to more quickly find out before the coaching relationship goes on for too long.

At the end of the day, uncoachable clients don’t serve anyone. You can’t do your job as a coach if a person is uncoachable.

Additionally, there’s no need to waste your time trying to convert someone into being coachable. Coaches will end up exerting a lot of time and energy if they take this route, and it would not be uncommon for them to become resentful of their client as a result.

It’s also important to identify uncoachable clients for your business. Uncoachable clients can drain your time. This means you aren’t giving as much time or energy to people who you can help.

So rather than spinning your wheels trying to change someone, you’re better off learning how to determine if the client is uncoachable.

(Note: This does not mean that a client will not be coachable later. It could just mean that they are uncoachable right now. Either way, it would not be a mutually beneficial coaching relationship.)

Here are some of the ways to answer “Is your client uncoachable?”

Not Willing to Look At Themselves 

Not Willing to Look At Themselves

Coachable coaching clients must have a willingness to look at themselves if they are to get any benefit from coaching.

This may mean that a client must look at their own faults and for many people, this is a difficult thing to do.

However, as a coach, you know that the biggest transformations occur when someone is truly willing to look at themselves, their thoughts, their beliefs and their actions.

Uncoachable clients aren’t willing to do any of this. Or, at least they aren’t willing to own it.

Now, it’s important to note that coaches should not confuse a client’s discomfort with unwillingness.

Anyone would feel discomfort when they have to take an honest look at themselves, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to do it.

Unwillingness looks a lot more like refusing to do it or not taking ownership of their actions.

They Don’t Own Up To Their Stuff

Their Stuff

If you’re wondering if your client is coachable simply take notice as to whether or not they are willing to own up to their stuff.

Are they willing to take responsibility for themselves or their actions?

Are they willing to admit when they’re wrong?

Are they willing to admit when they have a challenge?

Are they willing to accept their fears and challenges?

Are they willing to begin to accept themselves as they are?

If your client is willing to do any of the above they are probably coachable. It may not look perfect and your client may be uncomfortable. A client may also simply to be ready to own up to one thing but can own up to others. That’s okay because everyone is on their own time.

When your client is uncoachable it looks a little different. In this case you have to look at the following.

Are they blaming other people for their actions?

And, when you call them out for blaming other people, do they refuse to accept it?

Are they guarded about their challenges?

Do they refuse to accept the current situation they are in?

Do they refuse to accept their own faults?

Are they so stubborn that they can’t move forward?

As a coach, you know these are all red flags. There’s a certain amount of vulnerability that coaching clients must be comfortable with if they are to be coached successfully.

The idea of vulnerability is a good segway into the next sign that your client may be uncoachable.

They Aren’t Willing to Be Vulnerable

Coaching Skill

We mentioned the importance of vulnerability in determining whether or not your client is coachable. In the last section, it was explained in accordance to their vulnerability of owning up to their challenges, faults and less than positive patterns.

The reality is that vulnerability is the cornerstone of a solid coaching relationship. It’s so paramount that it literally affects everything

For example, your client may need to be vulnerable enough to look at past patterns.

Your client may need to be vulnerable enough to open up to you about their hopes, fears, desires and challenges.

Your client may need to be vulnerable enough to open up about their current situation.

Your client may need to be vulnerable enough to talk about their childhood.

Your client may need to be vulnerable enough to let you in as someone who is trying to help them.

As Brene Brown’s work so eloquently states, vulnerability is a major component of personal growth. So when answering “Is Your Client Coachable?” it’s important to take a look at how vulnerable they are willing to be.

Again, it’s important to point out that your client experiencing discomfort is not the same as unwilling to be vulnerable.

The very nature of vulnerability makes people uncomfortable and there may be some resistance. The key is to note whether or not your client is willing to move past the resistance – even if it’s just a little bit.

If your client is willing to move past the discomfort just a little bit then they are still coachable.

They Don’t Take Action

Don’t Take Action

If you’re noticing a pattern that your client is not taking any action, then they are definitely uncoachable clients.

You cannot force someone to take action, and you also don’t want to be in a position where you have to hold someone’s hand. That is not the point of a coaching relationship.

Unfortunately, there may be some people out there who do want someone to hold their hands or fix their problems for them. This is another instance of a client not being willing to take responsibility for themselves.

Some coaches, particularly those who may have some issues setting boundaries, end up taking the role of hand holder when they encounter clients like this.

The problem is if you continue to hold their hands your clients will never become coachable. And once again, you may find yourself in a situation where you become resentful of your client.

Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t a way to know whether or not a coaching client is willing to take action until the coaching relationship is already underway.

The important part here is to notice if there is a pattern of dependency and unwillingness to take action. If after you bring this up with your client they either refuse to accept it (unwilling to take a look at themselves and own their stuff) or continue with the same pattern, then there’s a good chance that they are uncoachable clients for the time being.

A coaching client must be willing to take action on their own if they are to get any benefit out of being coached, otherwise, there is no point.

They Don’t Respect Your Boundaries

Don’t Respect Your Boundaries

Another instance in which a coaching client may be uncoachable is when they don’t respect the boundaries of the coach.

This may look like sending constant emails for every little thing, calling outside of their session times, not respecting you when you call them out and generally relying on you a little too much.

Now, this issue is a tricky one because it may have nothing to do with the client at all.

This could just be a lesson for the coach as they learn to set boundaries. As we previously mentioned, it’s not entirely uncommon for coaches – especially beginning coaches – to have loose boundaries as they learn to build their businesses.

First, take a look to see if this may be the case. If it is then you need to start setting some boundaries.

If the client still doesn’t respect your boundaries even after you set them, then they may be uncoachable. Again, because this is an instance of using coaches as a crutch.

They Need Therapy Instead of Coaching

Therapy Instead of Coaching

Many people confuse coaching with therapy. Any good coach (or therapist) knows that this is not the case and that the two modalities are actually very different.

It’s oftentimes said that therapy gets people from Point A to Point B. This helps people notice what their patterns are and how they got to where they are. Much of the focus on this aspect of the client’s life.

Coaching, on the other hand, is said to move clients from Point B to Point C. Coaches may need to know some background as a matter of context, but the relationship is really focused on moving forward from the blocks, not psychoanalyzing them.

Because of this, some of the best coaching clients have already undergone some form of therapy. However, some individuals seek coaching when in actuality they need therapy.

Granted, the difference between coaches and therapists is somewhat minor. The reality is that they both look at pasts (if only briefly in coaching), they both use a lot of the same modalities and they both use a lot of the same theories (though perhaps traditional therapy relies more on theory).

However, the reality is that coaches are not truly trained to deal with mental disorders, eating disorders and other serious conditions. They can help these conditions, but perhaps only after the client has undergone more formal therapy.

The reality is that the best coaching clients need to have some sort of awareness of how they ended up where they are – and sometimes the best way to do that is to go to traditional therapy.

It’s important to note that not every ideal coaching client needs to undergo therapy. Some people are already incredibly self-aware and have done some major work on their own. Furthermore, not everyone has a serious condition that should be treated with the appropriate means.

All we’re saying is to pay attention to the signs. If your gut is telling you your client may benefit from traditional therapy, don’t hesitate to suggest it.

Final Thoughts

Contrary to what some people may tell you, not everyone is coachable. That’s why it’s paramount to do your due diligence as a coach and pay attention to the signs in front of you.

The more experience you gain as a coach, the faster you’ll be able to determine whether or not your client is coachable.

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About The Author

Ajit Nawalkha

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Ajit Nawalkha is the Co-founder of Evercoach. He is passionate about disrupting industries and creating positive change. Ajit is a business coach himself.

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