How to get out of a coaching agreement?
June 11, 2016 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Almost halfway through a six-month coaching agreement, I've made my relationship with my coach somewhat uncomfortable, and I just want out. What should I do?

I've been working with a coach for the past 3 months (almost). Our agreement was for 6 months. I've been careless with the contract, and it has no agreed clauses about fees for early termination. It is also a rather informal one, though. I'm supposed to pay in three equal instalments, and I still haven't paid the last one.

So the issue is this. I've asked my coach for a small personal favor, related to my job (nothing illegal, no money, no resources, no requests for introductions involved - basically, it just required half an hour of his time, at his convenience). I'd felt uncomfortable asking, but it was a small thing, and I was pressed for time. Also, he'd asked me to do a somewhat similar favor before, and I'd done it for him. So, at worst, I expected a "sorry, don't have time/don't want to", but I got a rather formal and cool reply along the lines of "as your coach, I would prefer not to do this". The content of the request can in no way compromise our coaching relationship, so this is clearly not the real issue.

Well, fair enough, even though I'd helped him when asked. Obviously, we're not friends, and I'm not entitled to any of his help, but the contrast between the "you're-just-my-best-friend-I'm-always-there-for-you" attitude he has maintained until now and the cool and detached tone of the reply is jarring. I'm mostly upset about this cold tone. Plus, the scalding "you've-overstepped-the-boundaries-of-this-relationship" just feels disproportionate to my request. One would think I asked him to loan me a lump sum of money, and with no interest.

The way he normally behaves now seems so fake, and I just don't feel comfortable being open and sincere during sessions (and there's no point in continuing the sessions otherwise). Whatever our previous interactions had been, this situation is my doing (as in, I shouldn't have asked). I know this, but I can't help feeling the way I do.

I haven't brought up the issue of early termination with him yet. I'm afraid that, if it turns out I can't end it early, the situation will become even more unpleasant. Or else I might lose quite a lot of money.

How do I handle this? Should I suck it up and continue, even though I'm so uncomfortable now? Should I bring up early termination, and if yes, how?
posted by Guelder to Human Relations (19 answers total)
I think you are radically overreacting to your coach's statement.

From a legal perspective, a six month agreement is a six month agreement. He is under no obligation to offer you an early termination at all, with or without a fee. However, correspondingly, if you don't pay him, he will have to do the work to get paid and that may or may not be worth his time. Individuals tend not to have access to the level of debt collection services that large corporations do so this will partially depend on whether he sells his services by himself or with a larger company.

I would suggest that a useful exercise for you is to figure out how to reconcile with someone who declines a request from you (especially one without any compensation!). This will not be the last time this happens to you in life and dealing with other people in a professional relationship is a basic life skill.
posted by saeculorum at 10:46 AM on June 11, 2016 [25 favorites]

I've been told that sometimes I am too cold or terse in email. A lot of times it is because I am just trying to respond quickly and without much thought because if I think about it too much I will convince myself to do something I do not actually want to do. He may have wanted to let you know that it was a "no" without getting into it too much so that you could ask someone else for the favor. When I am businesslike and straightforward in an email I am just being totally unemotional about it. I'm just trying to get whatever the information is across quickly and without flair. This does not mean that when I am warm and nice that it is fake. I personally find it difficult to say no so I have trained myself to be clinical when I do it. Perhaps that is part of what is going on.

I would discourage you from terminating the agreement; that seems very reactionary to a simple "no." He did not admonish you or belittle you. He said no to you and it wasn't in the way you wanted. Is that really an acceptable way to treat someone? To essentially fire them because they didn't phrase a "no" in exactly the right way?

If your sessions revolve around being open and honest and so forth, can you talk with him about your discomfort directly? "I'm having trouble when people say no to me. How do I handle this?" Because like it or not, that is what is going on here: you are having trouble that he said no in the "wrong way," and that sounds like an opportunity for personal growth on your part.
posted by sockermom at 10:56 AM on June 11, 2016 [11 favorites]

Could you have a conversation with him?
If you are considering terminating anyway, you might as well air your feelings and see if that fixes things first.

I'd suggest you tell him how you feel in a way that is straightforward, sincere, kind, and open.
I suggest doing this on the phone: email is too stiff, and face-to-face is too intense.
Phone gives a little privacy around your emotions, but tone and sincerity are still very apparent.
Make sure you have 30-60 mins free for this convo, maybe schedule the timing over email - "I'd like to discuss something with you- I predict it will take about 30 mins, could we have a phone convo?"

Once you're on the phone, perhaps you could say something like:

"Is this a good time to talk? Thanks for making time for this chat. I feel weird about the way things went when I asked you for that favour. From your reply it sounds like I crossed a boundary for you, and I want you to know I feel badly about that. I'm sorry I crossed your boundary. When I asked, I didn't think it would cross a boundary because I saw it as similar to the thing I did for you last month, but it looks like I misjudged how that would affect you. I like you a lot and respect you a lot. I feel awkward and hurt about what I perceive to be a chill in our relationship, and concerned about how our relationship has changed. Could we talk about what happened?"

Try to listen openly, breathe, stay open and relaxed and sincere for the call.
Figure out what comes next based on how the conversation goes. Probably either:

A) He explains what happened in a way that makes emotional sense to you, reassures you that he respects you in a way that matches how he has treated you when things were good, and apologizes for hurting your feelings, in which case you may end up even closer than you were before, and you would likely want to continue the relationship.

B) He explains what happened in a way that does not make emotional sense to you, or that does not reassure you about him caring about you. He either does not apologize or he gives a shitty conditional apology (ie, "I apologize if you felt hurt"- you DID feel hurt, no "if" about it, and using cold, stiff formal language just might not speak to you- whatever. He can't read your mind so try not to get hung up on wording- try to feel how the emotions behind his apology, and if it feels sincere, I'd say take it even if it's awkward. If it feels insincere, get outta there). If his response does not generate warmth in you, I'd say you're done, and termination is next.

C) He gets defensive and shitty and fighty. In this case, again, you're done, and termination is next.

If you feel it's time to terminate, I might say,
"Coach, I guess we just don't see eye-to-eye on this issue. I am really sorry I crossed your boundary; I wish it had gone differently. I have learned a lot from you and I have a lot of respect for you. Sadly I think this has changed our relationship to the point where I'm not comfortable having you as a coach any more. I've paid for X sessions, I owe you for Y sessions, I will pay that today. Will that work for you?"

Then pay promptly, enclose a very brief, polite thank you note, and breathe a sigh of relief it's over.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:59 AM on June 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

You really have to discuss this with your coach. You can say, "I was surprised by your tone, since you asked me to do a similar thing." See how he responds to that. You can say, "I feel like you're judging me for what I thought was a reasonable request, and it makes me uncomfortable." If necessary, you can ask about fees for early termination.

Yes, it's uncomfortable to have this discussion, but there is no other way to resolve this. Remember, you are the employer in this situation. You have every right to bring up something that's having an impact on your relationship. Presumably, your coach wants to either continue working with you or have you recommend him to other people. It is to his advantage to work this out with you. And if this person is coaching you, then learning to deal with controversy is a good life skill that will be useful in other situations.

I am taking your word for it that your request wasn't completely unreasonable - obviously, we have no way of knowing that without knowing what it was.
posted by FencingGal at 10:59 AM on June 11, 2016 [13 favorites]

Can you say what your request was? Otherwise it is kind of hard to help.
posted by bookworm4125 at 11:29 AM on June 11, 2016 [12 favorites]

I know you were keeping it vague on purpose but my answer depends on the type of coaching and what the favor was. Like if he coaches you in CrossFit and you asked him to go to your kid's play, that would be strange and his reaction was understandable. But if he's a life coach and you asked him to go to a seminar with you and you two generally get along, then he seems pretty rude. If your request was normal then I think you're within your rights to ask for early termination, but if your request was weird or presumptuous then I might suggest you maintain a strictly professional relationship and just complete the contract if the coaching was helping you.

Based only on what you've said here I would say: You've already committed to spending the money and it sounds like you REALLY don't want to see him again, so I would just email him and say you won't be going to any further coaching sessions and if he'd consider waiving the final payment that'd be great but if not you understand you forfeited it. If he refunds you, great! If not, oh well, the money was basically spent anyway. If he apologizes or asks if this is about him declining your request, then just keep it light and say "Yeah, that did bother me especially since I'd just done the same thing for you, and I'd just rather not continue our relationship. But thanks for checking in!" Personally I would probably never want to talk to him again because I would be embarrassed about apparently overstepping a boundary I'd missed, and even if he apologized I'd still feel self-conscious. I'm sorry you're feeling bad, I know it sucks!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 11:30 AM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also I almost never get into the Ask/Guess stuff because I'm not even sure I get it but I wonder if you asking him for whatever it was made him uncomfortable (especially if this coaching is not related to your profession) and you are of the mind (ask?) that he would say "Don't have time to/don't want to" but he may not have felt comfortable being that blunt (guess?), especially since you're his client. Blaming your professional relationship may have been the easiest, least rude way of declining he could come up with.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 11:35 AM on June 11, 2016

It's halfway through a handshake agreement where you've paid two thirds of the agreed upon price. You're done here, just tell them that.
posted by fixedgear at 12:05 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

So, at worst, I expected a "sorry, don't have time/don't want to", but I got a rather formal and cool reply along the lines of "as your coach, I would prefer not to do this". The content of the request can in no way compromise our coaching relationship, so this is clearly not the real issue.

As folks have said, it is hard to know exactly what to think without more details. But here on AskMe, and in advice columns everywhere, it is a common piece of advice to turn down a request by simply saying, "I'm sorry, that won't be possible." This is to avoid giving a reason that may be discovered to be not perfectly true, and also to avoid inviting persuasion or argument. If you say you don't have time, the person replies that it will be very quick, for instance. It may have felt like a cold answer to you, and I think such a thing would feel like a blunt answer in most contexts, but your coach may just have been trying to be as clear as possible about their unwillingness to do what you were asking.
posted by not that girl at 12:40 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe it's just me, but I can't really tell the difference between "sorry, don't have time/don't want to" and "as your coach, I would prefer not to do this". They both just sound like you asked for something and he said no. That doesn't sound uncomfortable to me, or like a "cold tone", it sounds like a normal professional exchange between adults. It would seem just bizarre to start a big conversation about tone or boundaries or any of that. I'd just fire back an email like "OK thanks for letting me know! Looking forward to seeing you on whateverdate" and carry on as normal.

But then I am an asker and it sounds like you are not.
posted by emilyw at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm a social worker (aka boundries enforcer). Apperently he stated clearly he didn't want to help you outsidr of coaching. That is okay. He may have mistaken it as a romantic jesture, or if related to your job just completely out of his skill set. The firmness of his voice is just to make it clear dont do this one thing again and has nothing to do with how he feels about you and your goals through coaching.

Keep going and try to maintain the professional relationship you have. Talking to him about it may make you feel more comfortable, but make sure you let him know you understand that this is something you will not cross and you aren't asking him any more favors.

And if he asks you a favor from now on say no.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:50 PM on June 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

From a legal perspective, a six month agreement is a six month agreement. He is under no obligation to offer you an early termination at all, with or without a fee.

It's not quite that simple. If one party breaches a contract, the other is supposed to make reasonable efforts to mitigate damages (in most states). So if OP stopped using the coach's services, it's not a simple matter of him just owing the coach the entire remaining sum for no services at all. If the coach sought damages, OP would be entitled to a showing that the coach had made reasonable efforts to pick up a new client in his place.

Also, if the contract was for physical training, it's entirely possible that the contract did not contain provisions mandated by governing regulations, such as the ones in New York, and might be unenforceable to begin with.

Not saying that OP has no responsibilities here, but contracts are not as ironclad as some people would have you believe.
posted by praemunire at 1:08 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

He asked you to be a reference. This is appropriate (if you're happy with his services). You asked him to be a reference. This is not appropriate, because it's his job to be an objective and encouraging resource for you, and acting as a reference for someone entails an implicitly different role.

Your relationship is not exactly symmetrical, and I think that's why this is throwing you off.

The above is my best guess.
posted by bq at 2:22 PM on June 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

If you feel uncomfortable continuing to work with him, then pay the remainder and politely cancel the rest of [whatever]. I completely understand why you felt like it was a smackdown. I agree that you should challenge yourself to understand your feelings, but no one should have to do that in the presence of someone who they are uncomfortable with. You can process it without ever laying eyes on him again.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 3:07 PM on June 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I immediately wondered if his chilly tone might stem from the fact that you appear to be late in your payments to him. So not only are you getting your agreed-upon paid services from him, but you're also asking a (small) favor and your payment is late? If your coach is like many independent contractors, it can be a challenge to get folks to pay in a timely manner. Getting asked for a 30 minute unpaid favor on top of the late payment might rankle.
posted by arnicae at 3:37 PM on June 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

How has the coaching part been going? Don't let the emotional baggage override that you hired him to do something, and if it's been going well, why stop over a little awkwardness.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:22 PM on June 11, 2016

I think it's weird to think it's ok for him to say no but only if he does so in some precisely worded way that he has to guess. Get paid up, then cancel of you really can't take it. Unfortunately by blurring the lines between client and service provider you shined the clear light of day on the fact that that friendliness and support is part of an act. Not like a con man act but like an actor act. The act is required for his job, to make you feel comfortable and trust him. If you can't do that anymore, get paid up for the full agreed amount and *then* cancel.
posted by bleep at 5:02 PM on June 11, 2016

...I've made my relationship with my coach somewhat uncomfortable...

It doesn't sound like you've made it uncomfortable, particularly. It's become uncomfortable for you.

I'd just ask him about it. For example, ask what was different between the favor he asked and the one you asked? Depending on the kind of coaching this is, that could be a fruitful exercise. It could cast an interesting light on the coaching process to this point, and help you learn more from it. At this point, it sounds like you are starting to doubt the value of the whole process and I think it would be too bad to come away with that feeling, having invested so much time and money.

I recently had a weird experience with my financial adviser where I felt he crossed some boundaries in conversation. I had to think seriously about what this meant going forward. Ultimately I decided it was better to know he had the attitudes he'd just displayed and better to be a little more questioning with that kind of adviser in the first place. I'm more glad than not that the awkward conversation took place, because I have more information now and had to think about what I wanted out of an adviser.
posted by BibiRose at 5:57 AM on June 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Am I the only one who needs to ask what kind of coaching this is?

What kind of coaching is this, and what were the favors that you did for him and that you asked him to do for you?
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:58 AM on June 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

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