Becoming A Coach

That Coaching Session Didn’t Go as Planned… Now What?

When a coaching session goes off the rails, these are the techniques you can use to learn from it and move forward in your coaching role

How to Bounce Back from a Challenging Coaching Session

Your coaching session is going great – you’re asking great questions, the client is coming up with insights when all of a sudden something goes wrong. Maybe the conversation gets stuck, emotions run high, or the strong connection you previously felt with yourclient just seems off. 

It’s easy to get thrown off your game and begin to question your abilities as a life coach when this happens. But here’s the good news – these bumps in the road are just that! It’s not the stumble so much as how you recover that really counts.

Every coach has this experience, and usually more than once. So when it comes, remember this: something that might seem enormous to you in the moment is often just a temporary setback that gives you (and your client) a realopportunity for growth. 

Want to navigate the inevitable setbacks with more grace and confidence? Check out the following tips on how to successfully (and smoothly!) recover when a coaching session doesn't quite go as planned.

1. Don't panic, stay calm

You’re human, your client is human, and the coaching process is unpredictable precisely because it involves complex human emotions and life situations. If you’re panicking, that’s because you’re feeling that things are deviating from your preconceived idea of how a “good coaching session” should go. 

So, take a deep breath, let go of judgment, and focus on what you can learn from the experience. It’s all part of the process of “getting your reps in” as Lumia Alumni Kane Moore says. The more times you show up, the more opportunities you’ll have to smooth over any unexpected issues.

2. Post session self-reflection

After a challenging session, spend some time reflecting on what you felt went wrong without spiraling into self-blame. Remember, sometimes these things are more apparent to you because YOU’RE the trained coach. Your client may not even have noticed the fumble at all.

You can even ask yourself a few different questions to kick off your reflection: 

  • What went well? 
  • What didn’t go well? 
  • What will I do differently next time? 
  • Is there extra training, or further resources I might want to explore around this topic?

Making this a regular part of your coaching practice can yield big dividends over time. Consider spending 10 minutes at the end of every session to mentally process it when the information is fresh. This will help you dissect the experience in a useful way and prepare better for future sessions.

More Resources:
Build Self-Awareness: Ten Self-Reflection Exercises and Self-Assessment Tools

3. Seek supervision or peer feedback

For the first few years of your work as a coach, try to meet regularly with a group of peers as well as a dedicated mentor coach. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn by collaboratively working through the issues other coaches face, and how quickly you can grow as a skilled coach through working with your own mentor.

At Lumia, we’re big fans of the International Coaching Federation’s system of mentor coaching as well. Even if you’re not pursuing your ICF credential, consulting with a more experienced coach can give you a fresh perspective after a challenging session.

More Resources:
How A Mentor Can Enhance Your Coaching Career

Mentor Coaching: What it is and How to Meet the ICF Credential Requirements

4. Be honest and transparent with your client

Because coaching is inherently human and can sometimes be messy, showing up in an authentic way to acknowledge the blocker can make a big difference. Demonstrating your own vulnerabilty can pave the way for a deeper and more productive relationship with your client, who will respect you for your model of transparency in the coaching relationship.

If something throws you off, here’s a few things you might try:

  • Ask to take a minute to recenter yourself
  • Ask a question like “I’m sensing resistance, can we explore what might be going on?” 

This can open up a whole new avenue of questioning and give both you and your client the space you need to collect yourselves and proceed.

5. Re-establish the coaching agreement

The International Coaching Federation recommends two forms of client contracting, which helps address the natural evolution that occurs from one session to the next. 

‍1) The Coaching Contract

‍This is the written agreement that both parties sign at the start of the coaching engagement. It includes everything we’re discussing in this article!

‍2) In-Session Coaching Agreement

A new agreement is essentially made at the start of every coaching session. It happens when you establish the focus of the session, and the outcomes your client hopes to achieve that day.

If it feels a little unfocused or sliding sideways in one single coaching session, you can always return to the In-Session Coaching Agreement and reconfirm if that is where they want to focus today’s session.

If you seem to be having trouble getting on the same track as your client over the course of a few different sessions, it can be helpful to return to the beginning. Not the literal beginning, but by revisiting the initial coaching contract that you two agreed upon. 

If your client is experiencing fatigue or resistance, it may be that the goals they initially set are no longer a good fit. In that case, re-aligning with your client's original goals and revising them as needed can help get the coaching partnership back on track.
More Resources:
How to Create a Coaching Contract 

6. Know when to refer out

Understanding the differences between coaching and other healing modalities is vital. It's essential to know your limits, your boundaries and when to refer a client to another professional, such as a therapist.

Coaching is future focused, goal oriented and a partnership. If emotional or psychological issues come up during the coaching process, it’s a good idea to refer out to a qualified therapist who can help your client with issues that are best worked through in therapy. Even if it means an end to your coaching relationship, doing what’s best for the client is always the right move.

More Resources:
How To Handle A Difficult Coaching Session (And When to Refer Out)

What’s The Difference Between Counseling, Therapy and Life Coaching?

7. See it all as a growth opportunity

Yes, it can be disheartening to feel as if you’ve stumbled during a coaching session. It's also a strong opportunity for growth and improvement. None of us are perfect, and you don’t have to be either. If you find yourself dwelling on a misstep, consider how you might practice self-compassion.

Resource: Self Compassion is a Coaching Superpower

Every single coach has been there, and the most successful ones are those who take these experiences as learning opportunities. They focus on improving their skills in order to better serve their future clients. At the end of the day, it’s about the CLIENT and what they are thinking, feeling, and experiencing rather than about the coach’s ego, or perception of their personal performance.

Remember, the path to becoming an exceptional life coach is a journey, not a race. these setbacks with curiosity, you’re well on your way to becoming a master of your craft!

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