You Have To Get This Right – No Excuses

We’re about a third of the way through the latest Coach the Life Coach course and this past Sunday a question came up from a new coach.

She asked the excellent question of what to do when you get into the coaching relationship and it becomes apparent there are red flags that weren’t obvious previously.

For example, what if a client is suffering from bi-polar, but on the day you took her on and maybe even the first session she was having a good day and it was impossible to recognize.

Firstly, let me say it’s a rare occurrence.

As you do more and more consults you will spot red flags at an unconscious level that you may not always be able to explain at a conscious level.

Sometimes they will be obvious, but other times it may just be the way a client answers a question, or maybe even avoids a question that makes you think things may not be exactly as they seem.

Be Prepared To Walk Away

A sense that something is wrong should be enough for you to either immediately walk away or dig down deeper, much deeper.

It’s very easy to shrug it off because turning down a paying client is tough for many new, and even not so new coaches.

But the last thing you should be doing is doubting your own intuition in such a situation.

You can always find reasons why you should work with a client in such circumstances and it’s easy to justify to yourself that she deserves the benefit of the doubt, or that you probably got it wrong, but you shouldn’t.

In 12-years of coaching every time I have ignored my gut instinct I have regretted it.

Let me say that again.

I have probably done north of 1,000 client consults and every single time I have had a bad feeling and still agreed to coach the client, it’s been a negative experience.

I think that’s pretty compelling evidence to support the notion that I should accept that in these kind of situations my gut instinct deserves my respect.

Do not compromise on this kind of thing, ever!

There has been an occasional instance when I didn’t pick up on something and then realized a session or two into working together.

Under these circumstances it’s more difficult to exit stage left, but it’s no less necessary.

Just because you’ve had their money, just because you have built up a certain level of rapport and just because you want to help them, makes no difference.

Pretend You’re A Doctor

You have a duty of care to do you best for every single client. As such you should adopt the medical communities principle of ‘Primum non nocere’ – first do no harm.

Saying on a consult that you’re not quite sure you’re the right coach, or even if there’s something seriously amiss, suggesting they chat with their PCP – is refusing to do harm.

Apologizing to a client when you’re underway, politely telling them that you’re not sure you can help and refunding their money is refusing to do harm.

Sure she may get upset and may even bad mouth you, but that’s not your problem because you’re refusing to do any harm.

If you push on through because you feel awkward about telling your client you cannot help her.

Or because you like her and really want to help, you’re risking doing harm if she has mental health issues (presuming you don’t have professional mental health training that is).

I’m going to make the reasonable assumption that you’re a coach because you have a strong desire to help people.

If that is the case then under no circumstances should you compromise with this.

If you spot red flags on the consult – walk away.

If red flags arise when coaching has commenced – walk away.

No excuses and the dog didn’t eat your homework.


  1. I’m a little unclear what you mean by following your gut instinct to walk away from a potential client. Do you mean you anticipated some things wouldn’t work with some clients because they would be unwilling to try your advice? or because you didn’t feel adequately prepared to tackle their specific issues?

    • Tim Brownson

      Neither really Adam. Just that I got a sense that something was wrong during the consult but because I wan’t sure exactly what it was, I ignored the gut instinct.