What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s something we might easily say to our clients. But with some health coach clients, it’s a mantra we have to keep telling ourselves.
There are so many ways clients can challenge us: from rude and disrespectful behaviour to lack of motivation or inability to follow instructions. And occasionally, there’s a perplexing case. One where a client does everything right yet makes no progress.
Few of us are in a position to turn away income. But is there a point we need to walk away from a client? And what are the warning signs for difficult health coach clients that you should avoid from the beginning?
Not everyone works well together
I want to start this by saying that this is not a post to bash certain types of people, in fact it’s the opposite. Everyone works, thinks and feels in a different way and sometimes this clashes. One person’s laid back is another person’s lazy, but ultimately it’s up to you.
It’s your business, and your process. If you find someone too challenging and it’s causing you stress, go with your gut and put your own health first!
Just like we tell our health coach clients. But, sometimes it’s not so black and white, and if you can’t afford to let a client go yet, here are some typical client types and how to deal with them!
#1 The Challenger
Challengers can be exactly as their name suggests – challenging. But a real challenger is someone with whom it is worth persevering. The challenger personality needs to understand the reasons behind any instructions. They may seem resistant to following instructions at first. But once they are convinced, they will become compliant.
Challengers are your “lemons into lemonade” opportunity. They stand a higher chance of personal success because they internalise the content. They will want facts and figures but will take more ownership of, and accountability for, their progress than average.
These health coach clients can also become your biggest advocates. In a class situation, they can support you. And they can also bring you high quality leads for new clients. They will have done half your work for you by being able to explain why you are effective!
How to deal with a challenger:
- Don’t take offence at them questioning you. It isn’t personal – they want answers to their questions, not proof of your credentials or abilities.
- Reframe the situation and see it as an opportunity. We all need to be put through our paces occasionally. A challenger may lead you to rethink how you approach something. But don’t blur lines – you are the trained professional in the relationship.
- Make time to address their concerns. Have a one-on-one discussion with them. If they feel like they are not heard they will likely move on and stop working towards their goals.
- Refer them to external resources. To avoid challengers taking up too much of your extra resources, refer them to reliable books or videos that explain the concepts behind your programme.
Top Tip: Challengers can have a high need for control. Make sure this is directed towards controlling their own behaviour – not yours. Allow them autonomy to set their own goals and hold them accountable.
#2 The Sceptic
Sceptics will exhibit many challenger behaviours. They will ask a lot of questions and also resist following instructions. But the energy surrounding sceptics tends to be negative. They may be more interested in finding reasons why things won’t work. They may try to justify why their case is different.
Clients with a sceptic change personality may come across as complainers or as lacking motivation. They will use pain and discomfort as a tool to question your methods. If it’s good for me, why do I feel sore/tired/hungry?
What distinguishes a sceptic from a challenger is an underlying trust issue. Convincing them of the reasons behind your instructions may not be sufficient. They are actively looking for ulterior motivations. Sceptics can be a destructive presence in a class or group coaching environment and disrupt your peace of mind. They can also bad-mouth you to potential clients.
How to work with sceptic health coach clients:
- When dealing with sceptics, it is vital to set clear boundaries. You can’t forever be trying to please someone who doesn’t want to be pleased. Put a result timeline in place and agree to part ways if goals aren’t achieved. Your sceptic will know that you are prepared to lose their business, and it may convince them your intentions are good. And if the results are achieved, then their arguments are moot.
- Don’t be bullied into arrangements of refunds. Another tactic of sceptics – a way of them getting you to “admit” they were right. First and foremost, remember the clients for whom your programme does work.
Top Tip: Not every sceptic is a lost cause, in fact, they can be the ideal client for some mindset or motivation coaches. But, just like with challengers, make sure their negativity is used constructively in your sessions.
#3 The Saboteur
The saboteur personality is that client who appears to want to make changes. But somehow, they always derail themselves. Meal plans are followed, but then abandoned and followed by binge eating. Or exercise routines that are going well are suddenly suspended for a series of family crises.
Whatever your saboteur’s modus operandi, they need help. It just might not be your help they need. Humans are complicated beings. Sometimes a poor state of health is an emotional crutch. It can be a way to elicit sympathy or maintain a co-dependent relationship. Or it could be a way to avoid dealing with other issues. Clients may need to deal with underlying issues that fall outside your work scope as a health coach.
When dealing with a client you suspect is a saboteur:
- Check if their basic skill set is everything it needs to be. You can’t run before you can walk. Go back to basics and make sure your programme isn’t trying to build on a platform that isn’t quite there yet.
- Help them identify trigger behaviours. What are the conditions that cause them to sabotage their progress? And how can they cope differently?
- Make adjustments to your programme and its goals if necessary. But insist on accountability after that.
- Question what impact being successful will have on their lives. Will they know how to cope with the new version of themselves?
- Refer them to a suitable professional if they need extra support.
#4 The Prisoner (or ‘People Pleaser’)
The prisoner personality is trapped by others’ expectations of them. They might be engaged in coaching at someone’s request or suggestion. Or it could be a case of feeling they must conform to society’s view of what they should be. They will use language like “I should”, “I have to”, “I must”, but seldom “I want”.
A prisoner might exhibit some of the behaviour of a saboteur. However, for the prisoner, it’s a case of low motivation. The initial bursts of enthusiastic activity seen with a saboteur are typically missing. They will talk the talk, but not walk the walk. In other words, over-promise and under-deliver.
It’s possible for a prisoner to be coached, but consider the following:
- Help prisoner clients take ownership of their goals by helping them realise the benefits for themselves of improved health. For some, it might be the prospect of playing with grandchildren, as opposed to the grandchildren visiting their bedside. For others, it can be the expense or loss of independence resulting from ill-health.
- Celebrate small wins. Focus on what they have achieved rather than what they haven’t.
- Make adjustments to your programme where necessary.
#5 The Passenger
Your passenger client is just along for the ride. They will never take ownership of their behaviour. But at the same time, they don’t complain about their lack of progress.
It’s important to realise that passengers may be getting something else from the coaching relationship. It might be that they like your attention, the company, or an excuse for an outing.
And it can be tempting to let things slide. After all, without you, they would probably be doing even less. But passengers can be a bad advertisement for your services. Friends may watch them “working” with you for years without any significant improvement. They can also switch coaches when they get bored and use you as an excuse for their shift.
How to work with a passenger:
- Try to engage passengers. Have an open conversation and put a name to the behaviour you’re seeing.
- Emphasise accountability and let them know that your attention and company come at a price. Acting with integrity may lose you a few passengers over time. But it will win you the respect of the ones you keep and anyone else who may be watching.
- See if you can find the reason they are with you and use that as a driving motivator to succeed. If they just want company, go for a run, or to a cooking class so they are getting the benefits but in a unique way.
How to tell it’s time to walk away…
It’s easy to assume that a client signing up for coaching is committed to the process. But, as professionals, we know that’s just the first step. After all, if it were that easy, we’d be without a job.
But how do we know the client/coach fit is right for both the client and ourselves? The relationship must benefit both parties to be effective.
If that’s no longer the case, and you can’t find ways of working with them, it’s time to walk away.
If you decide that you need to let a client go, you must handle the process professionally. It can be easy to get worked up, and stressed about it. But, professionalism starts long before you reach the point of firing:
- Your coaching contract needs to refer to this possibility up front.
- It should never come as a surprise to a client that you have reached the point of parting company. (If it is, you have failed to draw attention to the issues and allow the client to correct them.)
- Your decision must be objective; that is, clearly tied to measurable outcomes.
- Remain respectful. Don’t allow your language to become personal. Reiterate that the decision represents your professional commitment, that your commitment to progress for your clients doesn’t allow you to continue a partnership in which that’s not a shared goal.
- Have the conversation personally (even if you find it tough!) and then follow up with an email or in writing to formalise it.
Difficult clients challenge us to become better coaches. Understanding why a client fails to respond can be a case of understanding how they respond to change.
That doesn’t always mean you’re able to convert a problematic client. It may be that they need another kind of help. Or they may remain closed to any help at all.
Continuing a doomed health coach client relationship is not in anyone’s interests, yours included. End the relationship professionally and move on to someone who can benefit from your attention.