‘I don’t like the way you change appointments at the last minute, I don’t like your platitudes and I didn’t appreciate you attacking Martha Beck on our last call. As such I would like to cancel our final session.’
I stared at the e-mail in disbelief and shock. I’d never received an e-mail like that from a client in my life.
The only thing that had even come close was listening to a stream of vitriol and foul language that would have shamed a drunken sailor being aimed at me down the phone.
The latter just made me laugh though.
That client had come to me for help with accountability. He was very wealthy and because he owned his own business he had nobody to check his erratic and often self-sabotaging behavior.
He had failed to show up for the previous day’s face-to-face meeting. So I e-mailed him to say I was billing him and if he didn’t show again we were done.
It took him 5 minutes to call me and go ape shit at me. When I just started to laugh he stopped and asked me what I was laughing at.
‘This absurd situation. You hired me to make you accountable and when I did you respond like this’
He agreed it was ridiculous, and then fired me.
Even if he hadn’t, I’d have terminated the relationship anyway so nothing was lost.
That didn’t bother me at all.
Nor do the occasional e-mails I receive attacking me for something I said in a newsletter or blog post. They come with the territory and are far more likely to make me smile than get me down.
This e-mail really got to me though.
I kept reading it over and over again, just in case I’d missed something such as a winky emoji, but unsurprisingly I hadn’t.
The bit that confused me the most was his assertion that I attacked Martha Beck. I have a great deal of respect for her and she is a highly skilled coach, so I couldn’t imagine I would have done that.
I know I said I wasn’t a fan of her book, ‘Finding Your Own North Star’ but I always explain that I read it 12 years after it was published. In that period I had probably read more than 250 books on self development and didn’t get anything new from Beck’s book.
Even so I was giving myself a hard time.
I got the clients file out to look at the tracking sheet I use to record calls, cancelled calls (by me and/or the client) and the length of calls.
I’d actually only cancelled one appointment when I was ill with a stomach bug. He’d also cancelled one and we had to cut another short because he had a raging hang-over.
I started to feel a tad better, but then decided to watch the last call we’d had. I use Skype recorder so all my calls are automatically saved. I then offer them to the client or just eventually delete them
At this stage I just wanted to learn what I could have done differently to have avoided a client thinking like this.
As I watched the video it suddenly dawned on me what the real problem was.
We had spent 5 sessions together with one remaining from the original package. My client was very successful in banking but he totally hated it and was on a sabbatical living in South East Asia.
What he really wanted to do was start his own business in a very specialized field that was so far out of his comfort zone and area of expertise you would have needed the Hubble telescope to spot it.
He had committed to start the process prior to our final session.
He had made a similar commitment the previous week and hadn’t followed through because of a number of reasons that he insisted were out of his control.
All of a sudden it hit me. I hadn’t done anything wrong at all. At least not on that call.
The immediacy of committing to such a complicated project had overwhelmed him.
Rather than admit that to himself he had passed the blame on to me. By doing so he removed the need to act and because it was all my fault he didn’t need to feel bad about it.
I had made a mistake, but it wasn’t during that session, it was accepting his reasons for not following through on the previous call.
I should have spotted it was really crippling self-doubt and we needed to work on that first.
Like every Life Coach, I make mistakes with clients and I didn’t sit down to watch that video determined to exonerate myself. I wanted to know what I had done wrong so I didn’t replicate it with somebody else.
You will work with clients you don’t help one iota and some will fire you.
It may be your fault, but presuming you’re competent it’s more likely to be there’s, or just a culmination of circumstances.
However, once it happens it happens.
I wasted a couple of hours stewing on this and I unnecessarily gave myself a hard time.
Even if it had been entirely my fault, there was still no point wallowing in it. If we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them.
When (not if, because it will happen) you get a client who fires you try to look at the situation as objectively as possible.
If you screwed up vow not to do it again, but if the client didn’t stick to their side of the bargain just accept that’s part of coaching and move on.