Having “the Talk” with Clients 

As a coach, we meet all kinds of people who want to become better public speakers and communicators. Most of them are keen to learn, try new things, and some need a little friendly push now and then to keep going.  

But what happens when the client refuses to communicate or shuts down? Some signs of trouble with the client could include missing appointments with no notice, not doing practice or assignments between meetings, or if they do meet, they have very little to say. 

The coach in these situations may find it hard to sort out what’s not working. Most coaches are quite reasonable personalities, empathetic, and quite skilled in their own communicationBut how do you reach another adult who is shutting down and shutting you out? Here are some ideas on how to manage this rare but vexing problem.  

  1. It might not be you, the coach, at all. There could be job issues, marital or child-rearing problems at home, financial or health issues that are getting the best of the client. They could be just barely holding everything together. So, it may not be you at all. 
  2. Not practicing or doing work between sessions…could be a sign that they do not value what you are working on together. Maybe they are busy, but generally, there are enough days between coaching sessions for practice to get done. 
  3. Shutting down in your session is probably the hardest thing for a coach to manage.  


How do you coach someone who doesn’t show up for their own meetings…or if they do, they avoid eye contact with you and won’t talk? 

Any of these situations might require what I call “the Talk.” The Talk puts aside the roles of coach and client to get at what’s not working well and talking about options for moving forward. In some cases, a break from coaching sessions may be best. In other situations, the person may be in such a mental state to be uncoachable at that moment. In this case, ceasing sessions is probably the best idea. 

What does “the Talk” sound like? It probably goes something like this. John is the coach, and Margaret is the client. 

John: Margaret, I’d like to take a time out and discuss our sessions. What I see happening is that we miss many of our sessions, and when we do get together, there isn’t a lot of communication between us. How can we do better in the future? 

Margaret: I’m sorry…I just have a hard time focusing on all this. I’m having some troubles with my son, he’s just turned 15, and he’s not doing well in school. I’m hearing things from his teacher three times a week. It’s tough for me right now as I’m not sure what the next problem will be.  He’s been caught smoking in school and has been in detention for two weeks.  

John: I see. I understand that has to be pretty worrying. Is the content of our sessions helping you? What things could I be doing differently? 

Margaret: It’s not you. I actually like what I am learning, although I know I don’t show it. 

John: I have a few ideas on how we can proceed…one idea is we take a break, a few weeks for you to work with your son and see how he can be helped. Would this make you more comfortable if we resumed in two or three weeks? 

Margaret: Yes, that would be great. Thank you for addressing this. I didn’t know how to talk about this with you.  

As communication coaches, it’s important to take the lead and address things directly but empathetically with clients who seem to struggle with coaching sessions. Having adult conversations with clients is all part of demonstrating that talking about things is almost always better than pretending nothing is wrong.  

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