How to End or Change a Coaching Relationship?
May 13, 2014 7:17 AM   Subscribe

For the last few years, I've been seeing a life coach. She's been great in helping me to gain perspective, address certain problems in my life and in my own habits. Overall, it's been great and I think I could still benefit from the coaching. The problem is that, recently, I've lost a ton of respect for her. Details within!

I started working with my coach to redo her website back last fall and it has been nothing but a nightmare. I suggested it thinking we'd be done everything in three, maybe four weeks, but it's dragged on and on and on AND ON. I'm not blameless, but the majority of the issues are related to my coach changing her mind CONSTANTLY, even once I've double and even triple-checked to make sure "this is what you want, right?". As such, I've become frustrated. I've always remained very professional with her when discussing her site and I've even hiked up my quoted price, which she's paid without issue or complaint.

However, throughout this trying process, I've found that I've lost a ton of respect for her because she has been such a, for lack of a better word, flake about things. Not only that, but she seems completely incapable of understanding the most basic things I'm talking about with regards to her website. We're having some serious issues understanding each other despite my attempts and great efforts to be clear about things. (She's in her 50s, so she's not as technologically savvy, which I knew going into things.) The problem is that I can't understand how she's not understanding things!

I have some issues in general, but one of them is that I have very little patience for people who I perceive to not be "smart". Until this whole website fiasco, I thought my coach was smart, funny, insightful and really "together". Now, I can't stop thinking of her as "my nightmare client", even though she's been nothing but a wonderful coach to me.

I typically see her every couple of weeks, but after the latest set of changes for her website, I don't want to see her for a while -- perhaps forever. Obviously, I'd still handle finishing up the site (it's live now, there are just "a few changes" she'd like to make), but I can't see how I can make myself go see her and take her seriously after the last couple of weeks leading up to the site going live. I'm actually due to see her tomorrow, but I can't bear the thought of it.

Clearly, I need to be telling HER this and, in fact, I recognize how strange it is to be asking strangers on the Internet about it, so I do intend to do so. My question is how to phrase things? How to convey to her that I need (at least) a break from the coaching relationship?

Ideally, I'd rather not let her know that my lack of desire to see her as a coach has anything to do with her being a terrible client for me. I realize that may not be possible, especially with the timing of things. She may not be so smart about website things, but she's not a total moron.

Any thoughts you have would be greatly appreciated.
posted by sockermas to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Save this woman the embarrassment you're about to inflict on her. If she saw the question you wrote here, she would resign from her relationship with you. Likely, immediately.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:21 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Coaching is based on goals you work toward. If you don't want assistance with particular goals or don't want her type of assistance, you end the relationship. It's a working relationship, just let her know that you are ending this coaching phase, and thank her for her service. No need to get into any particulars.
posted by xingcat at 7:24 AM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

"Thanks for all the coaching support you've given me over the years. I feel ready to move on, and put these skills into practice."

That's ALL you need to say.
posted by gsh at 7:24 AM on May 13, 2014 [40 favorites]

I would not be surprised if she's feeling similarly about the relationship.
Just tell her you'd like to take a break from the coaching, and tell her you'd like to keep open the option of coming back to see her if/when that changes, and ask if she would be open to that.
posted by mrs. taters at 7:28 AM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I suppose in retrospect you should have only been a client and not a provider but what's done is done. "You should never meet your idols" so they say and this is why. And "those that can't do, teach" is another saying that applies here. No one is perfect and some very insightful people are also the flaky creative types. (Indecision is not a sign of a lack of intelligence btw.)

You can tell her very simply that you've accomplished what you want out of coaching, and thank her so much for her support. You can tell her that you're a little tired of digging around in your own head and want to work it on your own from here, to practice internalizing the skills you've learned. Anything that thanks her for her support is fine. You're paying here and you don't owe her any more than payment for your session. Coaching is a service like any other.

And next time, you could try a therapist since the barrier to entry is low for coaching. BUT there are shitty therapists out there too I imagine, and no one is perfect and always together. Your judgment against "non-smart" is something you could unpack with a therapist if that's something that holds you back.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:30 AM on May 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

First, I think you have a wrong expectation about Life Coaches. People who can give good advice are sometimes the worst people to be able to take it. But they do have the ability to see the need for change in others and can work with them to fix it. If she was and is helping, you may want to reconsider your decision to leave.

But absolutely you should not have entered into a business relationship with you life coach. It was really something that mixed things up and it destroyed your coaching relationship with her as a result.

If you still want to break off the coaching relationship, just say that you've decided to go another way. You don't owe her any more explanation than that.
posted by inturnaround at 7:38 AM on May 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

I don't think the kind of relationship you have with a coach or that a client has with a web developer they also have a personal relationship with can't really be comfortably brushed off with a "Thanks, bye!" exit. Personally, I'd go to the coaching meeting saying that you are ready to leave the nest and that you'd like to formalise your exit with a list or plan of some kind to allow you to move forward managing your own goals.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:43 AM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

What she is good at: She's been great in helping me to gain perspective, address certain problems in my life and in my own habits.

What she is not good at: technology

What you are good at: technology

What you are not good at (until you had the help of the life coach): gaining perspective, addressing certain problems in your life and in your own habits.

I have some issues in general, but one of them is that I have very little patience for people who I perceive to not be "smart".

She is smart . . . just not tech savvy.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:45 AM on May 13, 2014 [28 favorites]

My experience with people who are really insightful about other people's lives and truly skilled at giving great advice and perspective, is that they often have aspects of their lives that they just don't run well. Like, I have a friend who is incredibly empathetic and can help you see something about yourself from a different angle, but she is quite a flake about following-through on commitments, making decisions about her own life, or managing her romantic relationships. When I first knew these things about her, it made me discount her advice and feel like her empathy and insight were damaged somehow by this new knowledge about the blindspots she had in her own life and her flaky behavior. I still feel this way sometimes, but I feel it is more fair to view all this with compassion and to accept that she can be two things at once, both insightful AND flawed. So, if you do want to step back from the coaching relationship, do so in a way that is about you and your goals and not about the fact that you have discovered she is less than perfect. This new information you have about her doesn't mean she still isn't an excellent coach, but it may make it difficult for you right now to trust her.
posted by megancita at 8:25 AM on May 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

I feel like computer-oriented people get into this little echo chamber where most of the people they know and work with are also techie and it affects their world-view and judgement.

Not computer savvy <> not smart. Your coach is demonstrably intelligent as she is competent in her area of expertise. If she judged you by the same metric you are judging her she would have written you off as a flake who can't get perspective on his own life or get his habits under control. She is paying you to help her with her web site as she is not capable of doing it on her own, just as you paid her to help you with certain aspects of your life as you were not capable of addressing those issues on your own.

If the coaching relationship is still working for you and you feel like you are still getting value for money, then you should continue it. If you feel that you have reached a point of diminishing returns, then end the relationship. Don't let her technical incompetence or indecisiveness wrt to her web presence cloud your judgement.
posted by sid at 8:31 AM on May 13, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have very little patience for people who I perceive to not be "smart".

There's this phenomenon I like to think of as "Barista Syndrome," though there is probably a better or more common name for it somewhere. Barista Syndrome happens when you work at, say, an upscale coffee shop with a menu that you're intimately familiar with, but doesn't make intuitive sense to every customer. And when customers come in and ask seemingly basic questions, or give you an order that makes no sense, or say "I just want a regular coffee," you get exasperated and assume they're idiots. But in most cases, they're not idiots; they just don't have enough understanding of this specific menu to tell you what they want.

Of course, even with infinite patience, you'll come across extra-boneheaded clients, and I wouldn't be surprised if your life coach is among them. But if it's spilling over into how you view her as a coach, and if you've lost respect for her, especially when you valued her insight before, that's a sign that you're starting to let her incompetence in one specific area overshadow your judgment of all of her.

She's already taught you so much as a good coach; in a way, she's now teaching you as a bad client. If you're feeling generous, you could see it as a lesson in patience, or in being able to see both talents and shortcomings in one person and reconciling them, or in maintaining a professional relationship under duress. Or the lesson could simply be "don't shit where you eat."

Anyway. The graceful way to do this is to say "well, we've been working together so much on this website, I think I need a break! Can we take a few months off from coaching?" There's no need to make it about your frustrations with her as a client; the fact that you've been working together so much and are getting overloaded is reason enough. And it's completely true.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:42 AM on May 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

To be honest, I think this is less about your life coach / client, and more about the way you manage your web project.

You need to set clear and firm boundaries in the way that you work. If you accept every single change, then your client will understand that every single single aspect can change. Ultimately, you're responsible for the frustration in the process, since you hold all of the technical/design power. Your client isn't really at fault, even if she's not knowledgable about technology; it's your role to serve as that conduit. How is she supposed to know what's an easy change and what's not? If she did, she'd be making the site herself. (I say this as someone who is designing/developing a website with a close friend and undergoing a similar process.)

Don't make changes 'live' directly onto the website; work with mockups if possible. Collate changes together on a weekly basis so that you're not being jerked around by an "oh, I had an idea last night for a really small change" type-of request. Let her know that additional changes cost, either in terms of time, or money.

You just happen to be working with someone you respect on a personal basis, and you haven't managed the project well so far, leading her to believe that everything is possible, and leading you to be frustrated. (I bet she's always very grateful and happy to work with you.)

I say this in a gentle way. This isn't a failing on your part- more that she's still probably the wonderful life coach she's always been, but that a mismanaged project with unclear expectations can always lead to the emotions you're feeling.
posted by suedehead at 8:45 AM on May 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but if we could possibly veer away from how I have handled/will handle in the future this side gig of website stuff, that would be great. I've already learned valuable lessons about how to deal with clients from her, should this be something I focus on in the future.

I get that it's related, but my question is really about ending/stepping back from coaching and how to do so in a way that is professional, preferably kind and not hurtful. As I said in my initial question, she's done a lot for me in the past and I recognize she's been a bad client *for me* and I know she's quite intelligent (or I wouldn't have stayed in the coaching relationship for several years). It's the phrasing that's holding me back because I don't trust myself not to let some of my frustration out. I'd like to avoid that if possible.

Thanks. :)
posted by sockermas at 9:12 AM on May 13, 2014

If you really want to make her happy, call or email her and say that you feel ready to end the coaching relationship, and that you'd like to have one last session. Bring her a present (a plant or something) to your last session, and say that you'd like to review the main things you need to work on going forward to sum up the coaching that's gone on. End of session, "Thank you so much! I really appreciate everything you've done for me, and I"ll definitely recommend you to friends."
posted by tk at 9:26 AM on May 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

>It's the phrasing that's holding me back because I don't trust myself not to let some of my frustration out.

In that case, gsh gave you everything you need.
posted by BurntHombre at 9:39 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It is absolutely unconscionable that your coach even let you enter into an avoidable dual relationship with her, precisely because these issues are almost always the outcome of such a thing. (And all of that applies even if you, for some reason, begged and pleaded to do her website. She was the helping-professional with a responsibility in this relationship, and she shouldn't have ok'ed it.)

In my mind, she has been acting unethically, and your concern about protecting her feelings right now is proof of that. I realize life coaches are not therapists, but it still should not be the client's job to protect the mental health professional's feelings. (And this is why I think life coaches are, in general, a bad idea -- they tend to be people who didn't want to finish their training (which includes ethics) or supervised experience in licensed mental health fields, plus they are almost never licensed and so there is no licensing board overseeing them to make sure they are acting ethically and legally).

All this to say: She screwed up, you did not, your feelings are entirely valid, and "I need a break from coaching" is all you have to say. Any inferences she makes are ones she should be making so that she thinks twice about putting any other clients in such a shitty situation in the future.

I'm sorry you lost a coaching relationship that had been working for you. Your coach, however, is the one who screwed it up, not because she is in idiot about technology (which is not her field) but because she's been an idiot about relationships between clients and helping-professionals (which most emphatically is her field). I would never return to a coach who screwed up the coaching relationship this profoundly ever again, and I would actively warn people away from her. This is a big deal, and it's ok to step out of it.
posted by jaguar at 10:14 AM on May 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

It was unethical for her to have you work on her website.
posted by Benjy at 10:29 AM on May 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I understand that it's not all about the website, but as your question indicates: your frustration with her as a client is bleeding into your previously great relationship with her as a provider/life coach.

If you're looking for the phrasing, seconding that gsh's answer is great.

If you're looking to continue to have a harmonious relationship with her in her life-coach-capacity, you should stop being frustrated with her as a client.

If you're looking to stop being frustrated with her as a client, you should either drop her as a client, or change the way you're working so that you're no longer frustrated with her as a client.

Again. I myself am currently working on a pretty comprehensive identity + web design + development project for a very close friend, who is very much not technical. It was immensely frustrating at first, and our close friendship actually made it more frustrating. Imagine: last-minute changes, indecision, "oh I know we've been working on this for a while but what about this other thing" ideas, concepts that aren't viable / easy to implement. I got really frustrated, enough to make me feel resentful and angry towards my friend, while my friend was happy / grateful / friendly to work on the project. But I started to recognized that when you work with/for someone you know and trust, they feel freer to ask you questions. And because it is harder to say 'no, that's not possible' (since everything is possible really; it's just a matter of time and effort) , they have a skewed view of what is possible / timely for you. When I restructured the way we worked, and explained some aspects of my process (not the technology, but the process of how we should work) to her, then things changed and worked out, and my feeling towards our friendship has been revived since.

So that's where I'm coming from. Is there not a way where you could alter the client relationship before you throw the coaching relationship out entirely? Can you hand the project off to someone else?
posted by suedehead at 11:00 AM on May 13, 2014

I agree with the comment about the dual relationship. What she's done is unethical, and its unethical because it leads to situations like this. It's not your job to protect her feelings, its your job to take care of yourself. You could just tell her that you no longer want to work together with her in the coaching relationship but you appreciate the help she's given you. If she asks why, you can say you'd rather not talk about it, or you could say that you think it wasn't a good idea for you to work together. I'm sorry this happened to you.
posted by orsonet at 11:56 AM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of the skills of a life coach (or therapist) is being non-defensive. Clients are going through emotionally intense topics with the coach, and the coach is supposed to not get defensive. Coaches actually go through training where the teacher "triggers" them on every potential sensitive topic, and the coach practices not getting upset.

So, if she's a very good life coach, you should be able to calmly tell her how you feel. There's some probability that she'll respond with extremely high EQ, and say things that impress you so much that you continue the coaching with renewed awe. I've experienced this. I've told coaches that I'm mad at them, and they responded in a way that was amazing. I then continued the coaching because I wanted to learn how to respond like that!

But half the time, the coach / therapist gets defensive and shows you a side of themselves that makes you lose even more respect. Those times, I then tell them that I wish them well but that I don't think it makes sense to continue. Of course, now they're somewhat mad at me.

For me, it's totally worthwhile to potentially piss off half the coaches, in order to strengthen my relationship with the other half, and to live my life with "speaking my truth" (in coach-speak). If it's not worthwhile for you, then just say any of the polite things that were suggested. She'll probably wonder, but she'll never be sure, and you both have plausible deniability.
posted by cheesecake at 3:18 PM on May 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

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