When I was a new coach, my boundaries with clients were really loose because I didn’t have confidence in my skills yet.
Maybe you think back on those days with a knowing smile, or maybe you’re experiencing boundary issues with your clients now. Either way, there tends to be a learning curve for coaches in the area of setting boundaries – so today, let’s talk about where and how you can respectfully teach your clients how to treat you.
Lack of Boundaries = Exhaustion and Resentment
Not that long ago I had a client we’ll call Sharon. I worked hard to meet Sharon’s high expectations of me as a coach – and let me tell you, it wore me out. I found myself feeling exhausted and resentful of her. I could get into the nitty-gritty of how our relationship worked, but that would require a couple glasses of wine first 😉
What you need to know is this: at a certain point, Sharon told me she wanted to take a break from coaching for financial reasons. I responded to her email wishing her well (between you and me, I hit the send button with a potent sense of relief).
She quickly responded with an email that really took me by surprise. Not only was she stunned that I didn’t offer her a free month of coaching, but she was hurt and upset by it.
At first, I thought, “What is she thinking? She expects me to offer a free month of coaching?”
But when I reflected further, I realized, “Of course she does. I’ve been giving the farm away every single day since we started working together.”
I’m sharing this story because I’ve recently had two different conversations with coaches in my Power Groups who are experiencing resentment toward their clients. They’re going through the same experience I had with Sharon: they’re not communicating their boundaries or committing to standing powerfully in them when clients push back.
Now that I have some space from the situation with Sharon and I see what other coaches are going through, it’s clear that setting boundaries is a must for coaches. Here’s what I’ve learned, condensed into three tips, and what I shared with my Power Group members about setting boundaries:
Tip #1: Set Yourself Up to Exceed Expectations… without Burning Out
A lot of coaches put pressure on themselves to reply to emails from clients right away. They might even promise to respond within 24 hours. So what happens on the day that you need 25 hours to respond? Or 36?
To ensure that you can meet client expectations, why not make it known that you’ll need 72 hours to respond? That way you’re always getting back to them early instead of in the nick of time and you won’t be tied to your laptop 24/7.
In fact, I have a 72-hour email policy with clients. There are times when I’m in my inbox and totally available to reply, but I stop myself. I know that if I reply right away, the expectation becomes that I’m always available, and I’m not.
Tip #2: Give Yourself Room to Decide
One of my Power Group members, we’ll call her Larissa, discovered that she was making decisions based on the question, “How can I make this work for my client?” She would even meet with a client at 9 pm if that was the time slot they wanted.
I can relate to that. There was a time in my coaching practice when, if a client asked me a question that I didn’t know the answer to, I would take it upon myself to find the answer as quickly as possible. Yikes.
First of all, the client didn’t ask me to do that. Secondly, how am I serving my client if I teach them that the only place to go for answers is… me?
In order to break that habit, I created a rule for myself that for 30 days, anytime someone asked me a question – whether I knew the answer or not – I would respond with, “Let me think about that.” I was so committed to breaking my habit and giving myself space that when my assistant said, “I’m going to Starbucks, do you want anything?” I responded, “Let me think about that…”
Back to Larissa, I encouraged her to ask herself, “How can I make this work for me?” She has worked on being available but firm with her clients.
So think about where you are over-extending yourself or tricking yourself into thinking that you’re serving your clients when, in reality, you’re robbing your client of an opportunity to be resourceful and flexible.
Tip #3: It’s Okay to Change Your Mind
Often we enter into a coaching relationship and realize that the way we thought it was going to go isn’t the way it’s going.
In those instances, it’s okay to adjust your boundaries or remind your clients of the boundaries that are already set. It’s okay to course-correct, especially when those changes will support your client.
It’s easy for us to fall into the mindset of, “I made this bed, now I have to lie in it.” But the reality is that any coaching relationship is a living, breathing organism that requires communication and flexibility. It’s always in process!
Today, think about one area of your coaching practice where you’re over-extending yourself or loose with your boundaries. What decision do you need to make, what action do you need to take, or who do you need to communicate with in order to make an adjustment?