Six ways a ‘chemistry’ coaching conversation can go wrong

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In a world where the supply of coaches exceeds the demand, the so-called ‘chemistry’ conversation is ever more important. Some organizations may even insist that their potential coachees meet or interview at least two coaches. But it’s so easy for this conversation to take a wrong turn. In my work as a supervisor I hear many of these tales of woe and have experienced all of them myself.

1. The coach sees the conversation as a trial coaching session.

It’s not a trial coaching session. If you think of it like this you will be tempted to pull out all the best tricks from your coaching toolbox even though you have not had the benefit of that first ‘intake’ session where you will have established goals for the whole coaching programme in some detail and taken time to get to know more about the client’s personal history. The chemistry meeting is a buying and selling meeting. True, the client needs to get a flavour of what it would be like working with you, but working on a sample problem is not the way to do it. The reason is that you will neglect all the other topics that need to be discussed in this conversation.

2. The coach sees it as an audition

It’s not an audition. Unusually, for a buying and selling conversation, it’s about mutual matching. You need to make it clear to the client that you can say no to them as readily as they can say no to you. Feeling that you are on trial will create anxiety and may mean that you over-talk or are swamped by paralysing nervousness.

3. The coach does not explore the client’s motivation

One of the main questions as the coach that you need to ask in the chemistry conversation is whether you have a genuine client in prospect. A genuine client is one who can take responsibility for themselves and who is prepared to work on the changes that they need to make. Someone referred by a third party may or may not be a genuine client. if, in the conversation, you hear much blame attributed to others, constant references to other people who think that coaching would be good for them, then it may be wiser to say no. No agenda, no real wish to change = no coaching

4. The coach does not manage the ‘process framework’ of the conversation

Some coaches muddle the need to listen carefully to the client and to intervene sparingly, with the need to manage the ‘process framework’ of the conversation, just as you also need to do this in the coaching sessions themselves. You have had many of these conversations before and know what topics these events need to cover, the client has not. You manage the time and you manage the flow; never expect the client to do it. If you do, you will over-run and get nowhere, with the client reporting afterwards that you were ‘a lovely person, BUT…’

5. The coach rushes to the selling part of the conversation too soon

The first part of the conversation is about facilitating the client’s decision to buy. You are neutral while in this phase and your role is to ask the questions, including ‘What is your agenda for the coaching? And ‘What are you looking for in a coach?’ Only then can you move to the second part, where the client asks the questions and you talk about yourself: your experience and approach, basing what you say on the client’s criteria.

6. The coach is afraid to say no

There are many reasons to walk away from a potential client, but the less experienced you are, the more desperate you are to consolidate your coaching hours, the more you need the income … the more afraid you may be to say no. But longer term this is not a good idea. Reasons to say no include all of these: the client has no ‘sense of agency’ (see above); the client is about to be fired and the coaching is a meaningless gesture where the organization can claim that it did everything that it could; the client is a friend and you would hesitate to challenge them; you feel an inexplicable dislike of or lack of respect for the client; the client’s problems include serious mental health issues; the client needs expert input on subjects that are beyond your own portfolio. When you take a client on in these circumstances, however brilliant your coaching, it will be impossible to succeed and you will be the person whose reputation will suffer.

For success

A successful chemistry session is an alert but relaxed exchange between two equals who are exploring whether or not they can work together. When they decide that they can, it is because what one needs and what the other offers is a good match. As the coach, you take responsibility for managing the conversation. In the first part you ask the questions, touching on all of these: the immediate trigger for the coaching, the overall goals, what the client’s concept of coaching is, what they are looking for in a coach. Once this is established, in the second part you move to inviting the client to ask you questions: what your experience and approach is, timescale, fee, venue.
With luck this ends with the client saying, ‘So will you take me on?’ and your happy reply is, ‘Yes, delighted’.

Building a Coaching Business - second editionThere is more on all aspects of selling in my book Building a Coaching Business, available from my website