What To Do When A Client Fires You

‘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.

Comments

  1. Thanks Tim. This hasn’t happened to me yet. But I’m saving this article to help me out of the tirade of criticism i will no doubt heap upon myself when it does!

    • Tim Brownson

      The thing is I hope it will happen to you.

      If you never have a client fire you, then you’re probably not pushing them enough 🙂

  2. Thanks for this enlightening blog post. I really feel for your disappointment in being fired by a difficult client.

    Lately I have been wondering why I am coming up against so little love and respect for clients in the coaching profession. Is the coaching profession about accumulating large amounts of money from wealthy clients or is it about compassion to help our fellow humans? I am feeling so confused by what is becoming of this profession.

    Thanks again for all of your insights.

    • Tim Brownson

      Jonni, rest assured that there are lots of people like you trying to help others.

      Horror stories regarding coaching make much more interesting and shareable stories, but they are not the norm.

      Stick to your morals and people will appreciate you. Thanks!

    • Jonni as a very heart-centred and values focused coach I really feel the same.

      I see a lot of people just focusing on the ‘high ticket’ business coaching making crazy promises to people about how much money they can help them make, even sometimes putting numbers on it like $10k or $20k months.

      This is less relevant to me as I do Self-Love and Confidence Coaching and Drug and Alcohol Recovery Coaching – I’m here to do the deep work with people that will help them in the end meet their goals. However, I can’t in good conscience quantify that if someone increases their confidence they will make $10k extra per whatever period of time.

      What I can tell them is that if they’re feeling good about themselves and able to put themselves forward for whatever opportunities are relevant to them there is no limit to what they might achieve, as opposed to someone who feels small and frightened of being judged all the time.

      To me, in my niche, that is all I can say and that should really be sufficient as an answer. But I do feel that the coaches who insist they can help you do everything including make you rich beyond your wildest dreams and claim the high fees to try to back that up have a marketing advantage at the moment.

      However, in the end surely the consumer will get wise to these marketing tactics, at least the smarter ones.

  3. Great, down-to-earth insight, thanks a lot Tim! It is sometimes very hard to spot where the mistakes are originated, because once you’re in the game, you start to develop a behaviour based on that mistake and it is pretty hard to track it back when you realize something’s wrong. It takes a good deal of analytic skills to realize where the issue with your client was, so thank you again for sharing it with us!

    Best,

    Carlos (Prismalize)

    • Tim Brownson

      And here is the deal Carlos.

      Your response tells me you’re able to do what you talk about it.

      And that is all YOU can do.

      Be honest, do your best and let the rest of the world do what it sees fit mate, because you cannot influence the latter.

  4. Kimberly Stein

    Thank you Tim! I simply wanted to relay that but my passion has taken over and here I go…I realize you may not post my response as you do not know me from Eve (hint: i have a belly button and dont much like apples lol but various forms of forbidden fruit still tempts me too much…thank God for grace!) but it feels good to say it all the same.

    In a different venue, yet quite the same, when I motivationally speak to inmates I experience an array of emotions and reactions. Tears, laughter, some rising to their feet cheering and clapping and rushing in for a hug while others act like they are watching paint dry; but very rarely has anyone ever walked out. Yet I always focus on the latter if it does happen and right away question myself though I know – over time I have learned – it is because something has hit too close to home and they just are not ready – or are not willing – to face their ‘demons’. Everyone is in a different place and knowing when to push and when to let it go can be tough. So maybe it’s really a gift- ya know – to get fired!? My problem is my Saviour complex…I want to save them all. But some truly don’t want to be saved, I do believe, no matter what they profess or may even truly believe. They turn the tables of blame and move on to the next person – a new wife, husband, lover, friend, boss, counselor or coach- and they will inevitably blame them in time, too, for their life’s pain.. It’s sad to me, and not at all unfamiliar to my past track record. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and cried all night cause it ain’t no fun being so pitifully noosed to the tree of self destruction and self loathing!

    Aaaahhhhh, its so frustrating to believe in your heart you hold the keys to help someone and they choose to give up…they choose to stay shackled – and I dont mean incaceration, I mean imprisonment in their heads and hearts, chained to their pasts, their present and future’s hourglass completely clogged!

    I may lose you here but God said, I have put before you life and death – CHOOSE LIFE! And that does not just pertain to a spiritual (eternal) choice – so NOT trying to get all religious on ya, not at all, just saying, how many of us have become dead fish floating downstream in the river of fear and complacency cause we chose somewhere along the way not to fight anymore? We have convinced ourselves we simply are not worth the fight!and we look for others to validate that claim though on the inside we are screaming for help! We are screaming to ne noticed snd validated: to be truly known. We want to live! But we all have a double edged sword to wield in our futures called ‘free will’ and too often we choose ‘death’. And inevitably compounded pain and a life of regrets. And we expect those in relationship with us to suck it up and accept our self destruction. That is so unfair and just too tall of an order!

    ***

    When I was in EMS a young victim of a stabbing (I did CPR on for a long time) was never resuscitated. After death was pronounced a fellow EMT jumped to her feet and said , “Well, I gotta go. Got a roast in the oven.” I both hated her and envied her for that seemingly flippant reaction. I personally went home and bawled my eyes out. It has taken me years to realize it is absolutely imperative to be able to let go of the ones too far gone. We simply are not in control. We cannot save everyone. But I still feel the other EMT should have been more reverent in the face of death–which I have tried to take away from that experience and apply to expectations of myself, but I believe her heart was just a bit calloused at that point after years of seeing death. You see, I was still new and really tender. Too tender.

    I feel sorry for your client. Yet despite having said that I admire your ability and strength to walk away. I still grieve over that young man who died. That ecpetience cost me my EMS career. Cause I was too weak and too prideful to ask for help in coping with the loss. I do know he put himself there and was not a totally innocent victim, unfortunately. Despite my/our best efforts he was unsavable. We all are-after all-only human.

    Ok ok moving on- I tend to get very passionate and have a hard time turning my spickett off. If you have made it this fat thank you for sticking with my rant.

    On another note: Tim-have you ever heard of the Sand Castle Syndrome? It is so odd and I want to learn more about it if you can suggest any material on it. Thank you Tim for all your insight -Kimberly

    • Tim Brownson

      Not approve it?

      Fuck no, it’s awesome!

      I love to hear stories like yours, they are what help us learn, grow and understand the differences as well as the similarities we all experience.

      Thank you

      PS I too would like to know what Sand Castle Syndrome is too!

  5. Kimberly Stein

    I am totally smiling over here in the Texas Hill Country! Thank you. You may not hear from me much but I do read all your emails

  6. Kimberly Stein

    Here is a small blip about Sand Castle Syndrome. I first heard of it years and years ago when reading Monty Robert’s book about horse whispering and how he – unfortunately – got into business with a mega millionaire who suffered from this disease. After building up a lucrative thoroughbred ranch that man turned around and destroyed it, referring Monty to his psychiatrist for an explanation. Of course, Monty was reeling in disbelief of what was happening and his once close friend and business partner wouldn’t even talk to him anymore; everything went to ruins and all Monty could do was watch it happen.

    The client you were talking about on this post made me think of this; it seems to affect the affluent and wealthy more than most? Not sure, but some things I have read suggest so, anyway this disease makes people work very hard to create something grand, something beautiful, something perfect and then they destroy it without mercy, like building a sand castle and deriving more joy in destroying it than building it.