Much of the time, when a coach and client work together, everybody plays nice. Each person treats the other with respect and consideration, and the relationship moves along smoothly.
Sometimes, however, a coach will step over the line (not that everyone agrees where the line is) and say or do something that offends the client. Or behave in a way that just doesn’t work for the client.
When this happens, clients often don’t feel comfortable speaking up about the problem.
Coaching relationships are new for most people, so a client may not be sure what his role is and what his rights are. Also, a coach feels at least somewhat like an authority figure to most clients. Clients tend to let coaches get away with things that the clients wouldn’t tolerate from other people. And clients often want to impress their coaches by being good clients, doing whatever the coach says, and not complaining or making trouble.
About this rights of clients list
I’ve created this rights of clients list to help you push against these forces so you can recognize and feel confident speaking up about problematic behavior by a coach.
Before we dive into the list, I want to tell you a few things about it.
- It isn’t exhaustive. If you think of something you think belongs on it, I’d love to hear it.
- It’s based on my views, and it isn’t universally agreed on by coaches.
- It’s not theoretical. Every item has made its way onto this list because I’ve observed coaches’ violating it.
Rights of Clients
To be treated with dignity and respect
You shouldn’t have to tolerate bullying, threats, negative predictions about your future, insults, criticism, and negative judgments about your personality from a coach.
Sadly, I’ve observed coaches doing these things. Often, the coaches use these unsavory techniques to push their clients into action — in other words, these coaches think they’re doing it for their clients’ good. To me, even when a coach’s motive is pure, this behavior is inappropriate. It’s also not effective, especially in the long run.
You don’t have to take any sort of disrespect, nastiness, or verbal abuse from a coach, whether she thinks she’s doing it for your own good or not.
To leave coaching when you want
It’s always your call when you leave coaching (though legally binding agreements could possibly leave you on the hook to pay for a certain number of sessions). A coach may advise you to continue working with her, but you don’t have to follow that advice, which may be motivated by the coach’s financial interests.
Even if your coach’s motives are pure in advising you to keep working with her, she doesn’t necessarily know the right path for you. No one does. If the coach has a good reason for you to continue working with her, she’s free to explain it to you. You may decide to stay if you find her arguments compelling.
But the decision is yours and only yours.
To have solutions tailored to your personality, values, and circumstances
You have a right to request from your coach that she creates action plans and assignments that actually work for you the way you are. If you’re not comfortable doing something your coach assigns, that’s an indication that there’s a problem with the assignment, not that there’s something wrong with you.
In my view, it’s usually unwise to force yourself to do assignments that don’t work for you. Instead of struggling to complete an assignment that doesn’t work for you, you’re probably better off asking your coach to work with you to design an assignment that fits your personality, values, and circumstances.
Not to do an assignment
If you get an assignment from a coach that you don’t want to do for any reason, you have every right to choose not to do it. Even if the coach insists that it’s mandatory.
It’s your life. You’re the one who’s going to be taking the action. You’re the one who’s going to be living with the consequences. You don’t have to do things that don’t work for you.
You can say “no” to any assignment you want, for any reason you want or no reason at all.
To choose your own goals
Some coaches assign their clients goals. Unsurprisingly, these goals often reflect the coach’s values and priorities, not the client’s.
Philosophically, it’s problematic to spend your time and effort working on a goal that doesn’t really matter to you. From a practical perspective, it’s generally quite difficult to keep motivating yourself to do something you don’t really care about.
You have every right to decide your own goals. What your coach thinks isn’t important.
All that matters is what you want, what you value, and the way you want your life to be.
Not to be given psychological labels or analyses
You have a right not to have a coach analyze your psyche and label you, especially if you didn’t ask her to do so. Coaches are not qualified to give psychological analyses and labels. They may not even legally allowed to do so.
Getting a psychological label — especially a negative one — can be traumatic and damaging to you. It’s not a coach’s place to diagnose or label you, even if the coach is a therapist.
Not to be pressured to give a testimonial, be a reference, or give referrals
It’s not your responsibility to help your coach with her marketing efforts.
When a coach asks you to give her a testimonial, be a reference for her prospective clients, or send her referrals, she puts you in an awkward position. If you don’t want to do it, you have to either compromise your integrity by agreeing to do it, anyway, or risk offending your coach by refusing. You may not feel comfortable giving a testimonial, being a reference, or making referrals for your coach for any number of legitimate reasons (not that you need a reason to refuse to give a testimonial, be a reference, or make referrals).
For example, you may not feel comfortable putting your name, picture, and/or contact information on a website. You may not want it publicly known that you’re working with a coach. You may just be a private person. When it comes to referrals, there’s no reason you should be in the uncomfortable position of pushing a coach on your friends and family like you’re some creepy network marketer.
I know of a number of coaches who ask potential clients to make referrals as part of the initial interview process. They’ll say something along the lines of, “If I do an excellent job with you, would you agree to recommend me to three of your friends and colleagues?”
To me, this is inappropriate, as well as being a signal that the coach isn’t confident of her value (maybe for good reason).
A talented coach who’s confident of her value would trust that her clients will tell their friends and colleagues about her naturally. She wouldn’t need to pressure her clients into agreeing in advance that they’ll give her referrals.
Just because you started working with a life coach doesn’t mean you’ve given up all your right to privacy. Coaches ask highly personal questions, often for valid reasons. But you don’t have to share personal information with a coach until you trust the coach and feel comfortable doing so.
You may trust a coach in the first few minutes of talking to her or it may take weeks or months to open up, especially about certain topics. You have every right to disclose at your own pace, when you’re comfortable sharing personal information with your coach.
What you say in a coaching session shouldn’t be repeated to anyone else unless you’ve given permission for that to happen.
Though I believe this right should be universal, the norm in corporate coaching seems to be the opposite. If you’re working with a coach and your company is paying her, you can expect that she’ll be reporting to your boss and/or human resources about her work with you. She may tell them anything that you’ve told her.
Also, coaching probably doesn’t have legal confidentiality protection, so if a judge calls a coach to testify, she’ll have to answer whatever questions she’s asked.
It’s normal practice in coaching for coaches to illustrate their points — and market their services — by using examples from clients, with details changed to that the people aren’t recognizable. Coaches also share client situations without identifying details when they’re being mentored, going through the certification process, or in need of suggestions and advice from other coaches.