Here’s the scenario: You get an email from your client. It’s not a good email. In it, they say they’re not sure if your coaching style is working for them. They still want to have a conversation, so the door is not closed, but it’s not as open as you may have thought.

What do you do? Beg them to stay? Call it quits? Close up shop and do something else with your life entirely? (Definitely, no to that last one. You got this.)

First, let me say this: This kind of email isn’t uncommon. If you’ve been in business long enough, most coaches will experience a “you’re just not working for me” email at some point. We can’t expect that everyone is going to like us. And no matter how authentic you are in your social media post or client communications, things can get lost in translation. Someone may not realize who you are until they’re in the thick of it with you. That doesn’t make this interaction easier, but I hope it helps to know that you’re not alone.

What Went Wrong with this Client Relationship?

My initial reaction to this email would be to go into reflection and improvement mode. That’s my personality to turn inward first. I’d ask myself: 

  • What could I have done better in this coaching relationship? Was there a flaw in my process? 
  • What did I not make clear to them about my style or personality in our previous interactions or through my marketing? 
  • Did I clearly communicate what THEY need to bring to the table? Are they feeling blindsided by my expectations?
  • Was I distracted in other matters while attending to their needs or questions? And, if so, how can I prevent that from happening in the future? 
  • Are they really not a good fit and, if so, how could I have caught it earlier? Were there signals that seem so obvious now that I didn’t recognize at the time? 

For me, this has become part of my process. This type of email is a form of feedback, a crucial form of feedback, so I need to use it to inform my coaching. I take personal responsibility seriously, so I need to reconcile the contributions I made to the situation, first and foremost. 

Once I’ve examined the role I played to lead to the client sending this email, I ask myself, “How can I best serve this client now?” That means:

  • Can I still help them? 
  • Can I make this right through coaching and a rededication on my end to the client? 
  • What’s TRULY best for the client? Would they be better with someone else? 

You need to recognize that your style and approach may not be what is best for this client. It’s sometimes hard to admit, but by realizing this at the start of the relationship, you’ll make things easier on yourself in the long run. And you’ll end up serving that client better by not serving them. 

Only once I’ve taken a survey of everything that was within my control do I go to the client.

How To Respond to Your Client

Fourth, depending on how you answer those previous questions, ask how to best communicate what you’ve discovered to the client. Do you think this coaching client is still a good fit or do you agree that your style isn’t working? Regardless of how you answer that question, you need to lay it all out on the table with your client. 

But first, listen. Sure, they may have started this conversation via email, but you need to hear them out first. Tone can easily get lost in an email and wording can get misconstrued. So before you speak, let them talk and just listen. Give them a chance to expound on what they may have only alluded to in their email. 

After taking that in, then respond. Show them that you have thought long and hard about what they said and for x and y reasons, this is what you think is the best way to proceed. 

My suggestion – craft your response as humbly and authentically as possible. 

Ultimately it’s your client’s decision. They can choose to remain your client or not. But you’ve done your part and spoke your truth. And by staying true to your coaching style and client expectations, you will be better for the next client as a result.

For more helpful advice on how to handle tough client conversations, see our ongoing series here