colluding with the client

The more I coach the more I realise how fragile the process can be; the more I realise how narrow the border is between, say,  intuitive enabling and dangerous intervention; between holding conflicting confidences and being ‘economical with the truth’; between creating a safe space and colluding.

Coaching may be require us to deal with the flux of change but woe betide us if we ever mistake that fluidity for laxness or sloppy thinking. Every time I have been tempted to think that I ‘don’t have to be entirely transparent on this occasion’ or  if I give myself the credit for a client’s success (even privately) Mistress Coaching delivers a smart kick in the teeth. So in the interests of minimising my dentist’s bills, I’m learning to listen out for  the warning signals.

There is only one reason we coach -and that is for the learning of the client.But “being there entirely for the development of the client” can so easily elide into thinking that we are there entirely to protect our  client.  And that’s where the collusion starts. If you client has agreed to take a particular action as part of her coaching objective – and she persists in not doing it, what do you do? At first, you may use that to examine what may be the underlying causes; the blockages and fears. When her inaction persists you then have a choice: you may tell her you can’t do any more and withdraw or you may tell him that this is a significant block that needs to be cleared before he can take another step towards his outcomes. Either way, he needs to make a decision: either he will commmit himself to working with you to take the next step or he won’t.

But do you report the matter to his sponsor? After all, if you don’t, you are signally failing to deliver on your contract: to enable the client to reach her outcomes. Or is your instinct not to say anything because you know that your client may well be viewed not too favourably by his employers? If you say something, you may be breaching confidence. If you say nothing you may be colluding; colluding with your client towards his not learning.

It is here, in my experience, that those dentist’s bills are in grave danger of rocketing unless I recognise exactly how rigorous coaching is in its transparent and ethical  pursuit of the learning of the client. If you were put that rigour inthe form of a dialogue, this is what it would sound like:

“What am I here for?”

“For the learning of my client”

“In what context?”

“Learning to achieve the outcomes he and his employer have agreed”

” Do you believe you can help him past his current block [in the time frame]?”


“Yes” (in which case he’s still learning, so back to the coaching)



(in which case…)

“Have you rigorously examined whether this block is the ideal opportunity to enable him to learn something far more profound (and important to him) about himself?”

“No” (so back to the coaching)


“Yes” (in which case….)

“What are your choices?”

“Tell him I can do no more -and withdraw”.

“What happens if you just keep going? After all you may enable his learning in other areas…”

“If I keep going, I am consciously not working towards his agreed outcomes and I am in fact breaching both my psychological and actual contract with both client and sponsor”.


“Unless I renegotiate the terms with both client and sponsor”.

“How would you do that?”

“By being transparent with both parties”.

“But how would you do that without breaking confidentiality?”

“By  either getting my client’s permssion or, even better, making sure that I have clearly prepared for this eventuality ( and it will come) in my initial contracting”.

“But you could be damaging your client’s career! If his employer discovers that he is not able/prepared to work towards his original outcomes then  he might fire him!”

“And I could be damaging my client’s career and certainly his learning if I insulated  him from the consequences of his actions or inactions. After all, what am I here for?”

“For the learning of your client.”

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