What To Do When You (or a client) Gets Offended

Probably about once a week somebody leaves the Coach The Life Coach Facebook group because they take offense at something somebody else said – usually me.

That’s happened three time this last week.

1. I Feel Attacked

In the first instance a woman asked for advice about which career path to take.

I responded that I didn’t think it was wise asking complete strangers for such advice.

That she needed to figure that out herself taking her values into consideration.

Or even hire a professional career coach who could really drill down and get to know her.

She then went off on one saying she had made herself vulnerable and I should respect that and not attack her.

And before I had chance to explain futher she deleted the thread and left the group.

2. I Don’t Feel Valued

After I asked people what they would do if they had $5k to invest in the business a lady replied that she’d spend it on doing free workshops to help as many people as possible.

A noble and kind gesture I think we can all agree.

However, it confused one coach who said that she could do that anyway as there are plenty of free, or almost free, community rooms where she could offer workshops.

That wasn’t appreciated at all.

In fact she was pissed.

At the end of her response she said this ‘Thanks for letting me know how much my response to this group is valued’.

That was weird, presuming that one question from a group of over 2,000 coaches was in any way reflective of what the group as a whole thought of her.

3. I Feel Offended

The third person to make a dramatic exit did so because I mocked somebody’s attempt to sell to me on LinkedIn with a spammy email that no doubt went to thousands of other people.

I found the message the guy sent me amusing because the grammar was so bad. I mean really bad for anybody who speaks English as a native language.

It also broke just about every rule in the book when it comes to building relationships and adding value BEFORE you try and sell to somebody.

She thought I lacked compassion and said I should have just deleted the message rather than responding as I did.

Also, she suggested I start coaching the guy via email and was concerned that I used the abbreviation ‘WTF’ in my reply to him because she saw that as swearing.

She went on to say she was frustrated because she found the group useful but didn’t like the fact I mocked somebody else’s work.

Then after a number of people agreed with me so posted this:

If acting like a bully is acceptable to all of you, enjoy your lives… hate breeds hate. Exit stage left!!

I’d like to have asked her if she was being pursued by a bear (Shakespeare joke), but she’d gone.

Shortly after Obama got re-elected I received an email late one Saturday night from a lady on my newsletter list.

I’m an open book when it comes to my political leanings. It can quite reasonably be seen as unwise to talk politics as a coach, but I’m not always wise and I have done….a lot.

It’s almost a branding issue for me and I’m very vocal on social issues and I doubt that will ever change.

It doesn’t mean I don’t work with people who have contrary political opinions, I do regularly, just that I like being transparent.

I can’t remember now what it was I’d said that annoyed her, but I can only presume the lady was not a fan of Obama’s because here’s what she said verbatim:

‘Why don’t you fuck off back to England you Queen loving Limey bastard’

I was sat in bed at the time doing some stuff on my laptop as my wife did whatever women do before coming to bed.

I read the email and just collapsed laughing.

I was laughing so hard my wife came back into the bedroom from the bathroom to see what was going on.

I couldn’t speak so I showed her the email.

She was annoyed and felt insulted even though it was aimed at me.

Orange door in a line of grey doors

Taking Offense Is A Choice

As a coach I sincerely hope you understand that taking offense is always a choice. There are never any exceptions.

When we say that we are insulted, angry, humiliated, sad or whatever other negative emotion you care to think of because of something somebody else has said or done, it’s not true.

We made ourselves angry, nobody else.

We’re not born with an innate inclination to take offense, we have taught ourselves to react that way. You don’t see two-year-olds taking offense.

There is a space between somebody saying or doing something and our response.

It isn’t a cause and effect. More a cause, interpretation, effect.

And it’s the interpretation that initiates how we feel.

Here’s what happens when somebody aims some criticism or insult our way.

We hear what they say and then with lightning speed we run it through our belief system and ask ourselves, ‘what does this mean?’

Depending on the answer that comes back, we then attach that meaning to the event irrespective of whether it’s the right meaning. Very often it isn’t.

Let’s suppose that we have been working together for a couple of months and I suddenly tell you that you’re an utter idiot and you have zero chance of ever making a go of being a successful life coach, how will you feel?

Probably shitty, insulted, sad, angry or a combination of a mixture of emotions. And you would almost certainly blame me for feeling that way.

Of course, I played a large role in the situation and what I said was pretty outrageous.

But, and it’s a big but, you still had an opportunity to choose a different response.

And you could have done that by asking yourself one simple question.

‘What else can this mean?’

This question does two things.

Firstly, it throws you into a reframing mindset that allows you to take back control of the situation and how you feel about it.

Secondly, it moves you into a state of curiosity.

cat looking through a hole

The Power Of Curiosity

Curiosity can be incredibly powerful and is one of the few states that can kick the ass of negative emotions.

You cannot be curious and vindictive at the same time.

You cannot be curious and judgmental at the same time

You cannot be curious and offended at the same time

In 2001 I was carving through the North London rush hour traffic tucked behind an ambulance with its lights and sirens on

I was taking a lot of abuse and a couple of cars even tried to block me, but without success.

I’m sure people were thinking things like, how disgusting to use an ambulance to beat the traffic.

What a low life.

I hope he has an accident.

But what if they had asked themselves ‘what else can this mean?’ and shifted into a state of curiosity

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to have arrived at the conclusion that the car following the ambulance was doing so because a loved one was in it.

The reality of the situation was, my dad had had a stroke and was in the ambulance.

I’m highly confident that if the people in the other vehicles knew that then they would have given me the same courtesy the ambulance got.

red question mark

What Else Can This Mean?

If the three people who stormed out of the group had asked themselves the simple question of ‘what else can this (or that) mean?’, it would have removed the need to feel offended or attacked.

‘’What else can this mean?’

Could Tim be genuinely trying to help me from getting poor advice? Is he concerned that the opinion of a complete stranger may influence my path in life?

Without the ability to see his body language or hear the intonation in his voice, could I be suspecting an attack that wasn’t there?

Was Julia just not sure what I meant and trying to help me do what I want to do anyway and without feeling like I needed $5,000 to start?

Is it possible she’s not even a native English speaker? Could it be that English is actually her third language, so nuance may sometimes be missing?

Was Tim just trying to highlight how not to write a sales letter whilst at the same time warning new coaches who may fall prey to such tactics.

Does he get inundated with spammy emails and does indeed just delete 99% of them?

And was he doing it with his tongue firmly in his cheek and having some fun with his dubious British sense of humor?

And in case you’re wondering, the answer to all those questions is, yes!

As coaches we need to realize when we may be jumping to erroneous conclusions and understand when our behavior is a choice.

That way we can then spot clients making poor coaches too.

Taking offense is always choice, but it’s rarely a useful one.

I highly doubt that the lady who sent me the email really thought I would read it and think ‘Hm, yeh she makes a good point, I’d better book the plane tickets because we’re going back home!’

No, she wanted to get under my skin and if I’d have responded by getting angry and offended, she’d have succeeded.

Instead she gave me a great laugh.

Every time you get offended you hand over control of the situation to the other person.

Do you really want to do that?

I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments and I promise not to take offence if you disagree.


  1. Michael Wecke

    You Queen loving Limey bastard?? WOW and LOL! Sounds like practiced invective to me – and I can imagine your laughing response!

    I also wish at times that I would pause in that little space – between stimulus and response – before responding to some insult or criticism. Often my impulsive reactions would have come from what has been called our “Shadow side” – that hurting or sensitive spot that hides in the deep recesses of the mind, and which reacts like a landmine when stepped upon.

    At least I may have been more successful in the written medium: I may compose a bitingly sarcastic response to a Twitter, email or Facebook comment and once written, read it through – and then deleting it. Venting and extinguishing vent. Works for me.

    Loved this post, Tim – and some of the comments that followed.


  2. I got a lot of value from this. Someone gave some great advice once, and I think it’s apropos here: “Before you criticize, ask an open ended question.” It does so much to defuse those strong emotional reactions we have to hearing something that makes us uncomfortable. Cheers!

  3. Tim, excellent post! I read it with great interest! I certainly agree with you! People live in a perpetual state of victim hood and being offended is almost “trendy” and I’m not sure why. I think it’s behavioral addiction and people become addicted to their own thoughts and perceptions. I truly believe in NOT taking most shit personally as I used to be the perpetual victim living life in a constant state of stress and offense and I realized how miserable I was and I decided to change it. I am not responsible how anyone else feels and I use sarcasm a lot too. If you want to be offended go ahead. However, when you can reframe and be curious, it will absolutely change your life for the better! Susie.

  4. Alison Underwood

    Great post Tim. People definitely often choose to take offense to add to their own story, rather than engage further, either with the person or within themselves and learn more.
    Your ambulance story is a great example. In a recent group workshop, a similar topic came up. I asked everyone to picture when they’re sitting in traffic, getting more frustrated. Then rather than get angry, to assume the person who cut across them is frantically trying to get to the hospital, or is worrying about their sick child etc. How does that change your feeling?
    I love your straight talking. For me, that’s based on honesty. I can still agree or disagree, that’s my choice. (Though I pretty much always agree!)

  5. Brittany Westfall

    Fabulous post. I go in and out of your group because I signed up for way too many FB groups and had too much noise in my head from it all but I really love your email newsletters. Thanks for being you!

  6. I’m art therapist (and human being) and a coach and find most people react from a place of hurt. I know I have! A place that often reflects feelings of the past they haven’t been made aware of yet. When they connect their responses to their hurt they can move past it with proper guidance. BTW I love that visual of the pause between stimulus and reaction. Thanks for this discussion.

  7. Anna

    Hey Tim, I’m the lady in #1 and I’m still in the group! I wouldn’t leave such a great platform.
    To explain my posting about choosing the right avenue to go into – I framed my comment wrong and my intention really was to see if other peers felt a more viable coaching path would be executive or life coaching. That was it, that was all. It was a sincere request for any input as to whether (at a juncture to where I’m currently unemployed to focus on my coaching course and nervous of a lack of money to float me) one worked better for some and/or the other worked better for others.
    I wasn’t asking anyone to make my choice or coach me with their professional hat on just to say “Hey, yeah it can be tough. I’m an X type of coach and I find… Etc etc.”
    Just wanted to clear that up.
    Thank you,

    • Tim Brownson

      Glad you poked your head up above the turrets and didn’t leave.

      In fairness you were the only person who didn’t say they were leaving. I just presumed, incorrectly it would appear, that because you were pissed and deleted the post you had also left. That’s pretty much always what happens.

      I wish you had left it (the other two are still there) because it would have been cool to go back an unpack it now.

      Even so, I still think you’re better looking inward to decide what to do rather than asking others.

      There will be people who have tried and failed at both. And there will be people who have tried and succeeded at both. But what you won’t get from this group is an accurate reflection because it’s an incredibly tiny percentage of people.

  8. I love this post! Like Viktor Frankl said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” There is always, always a choice but we often choose the one that makes us feel bad (sad, angry, unappreciated etc)… discovering there are other choices is SO liberating!

    • Tim Brownson

      Yet there are people who even when I explain this think that there are exceptions.

      It can be a hard concept to grasp when you’re coming under a vicious attack, especially if you belong to a minority group. At the moment we (Society) seems to be encouraging certain groups of people to be even more responsive.

  9. Ben Bennett

    Like yourself Tim, I’ve been called pretty much every name under the Sun over the years and have learned that the most effective response for both my own sanity preservation and to defuse the situation is to internally think “Is that the best you’ve got?” and outwardly laugh. When you laugh at someone that’s just called you a &@#& you reframe the situation totally.

  10. Harvey Opps

    Thanks for your insight, Tim. We often get in our own way by not listening to what the other is meaning. As humans we often forget that it’s not about us. We are not the only center of the universe. I’ve had truly great teachers and models regarding striving for empathy and not sympathy. Building Trust is an ongoing occupation.

    • Tim Brownson

      And we seldom stop to tell ourselves that it’s the other person with the issue not us.

      I wonder what would have happened if I’d responded to that lady by saying ‘You seem very angry and upset. Maybe I can interest you in my diamond coaching package?’ 🙂

  11. chris grant

    I’ve been trying to enlighten my wife to that same concept for many years – Uh-Hum…with little success.
    I think that taking responsibility for how you feel and react is the number one tool for improving relationships
    and ultimately a major factor in your own self-improvement.

  12. I think in some cases if it’s our fault we can start with a quick apology and then request them to realize that we both are human so if we talk politely with each other we can end up with a solution.

    • Tim Brownson

      Certainly by apologizing and taking responsibility we lower our own status and it will often diffuse the situation. It’s a judgment call.

  13. Well articulated, and I agree wholeheartedly. To be offended is to be prisoners of emotions, circumstances, and that individuals perceptions. To say offense is a choice is a powerful truth that when realized can be quite liberating for all concerned. Thank you for your insight!

    • Tim Brownson

      Yep, a prisoner of our own emotions and a prisoner of other people who will be able to push our buttons at wil..

    • Tim Brownson

      I think a LOT of people genuinely don’t know there is an alternative.

      If only we taught kids this in school along with refarming and correct breathing techniques to manage anxiety and stress. We prefer to tell then Columbus discovered America [eye roll]

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