What to do when a client has a lot to say...
You know exactly what I am talking about. You connect with a client. You both exchange a short greeting. You then ask the client what would be important to work on during the session and… the client responds by giving you a long discourse with a detailed description of the situation – every part of it, every emotion, every character, every step. This long statement goes on for minutes, making you even feel overwhelmed with the amount of data thrown at you, without any pause or space for a response. Finally, you find a little break where you can say something, but right after your statement, again the client goes on with yet another long monologue.
What to do in this scenario? How can we support a client who barely gives us any space to say anything?
As coaches, our value is on our ability to support the client on how to maximize their discovery moment. This becomes a challenge if we barely have any time to respond.
In the case of a verbose client, as a ground rule, I take the approach that if a client needs to talk, let them do it. This is their way of processing what is going on and as a coach, I just need to respect it. At the same time, I also believe it is very important for me to pay close attention to the nuances of what is happening so I can best support them along the way.
One thing we need to remember is that there can be several things contributing to the client’s verbose stance.
Maybe the client is overwhelmed, and this is the only place they have to download and verbally process what is going on. Maybe the client is not fully aware or knows how to handle their emotions and their way to deal with them is by talking. Maybe the client is uncomfortable with the process itself. Or maybe the client is so focused and determined that they just need the space to verbally organize what they have saved internally for a while.
Another important aspect of this issue is to realize the distinction between the different kinds of verbose clients. Not every verbose client is the same and each deserves a different approach.
Here I list two different verbose clients to consider:
Lost on Tracks
This is the coachee that can speak for hours without any difficulty in finding what to say. They talk but, in truth, they don’t always make sense. The information is chaotic and sometimes confusing. They jump from point to point, even losing track of their own thought process. They talk in circles and there is no true development or substantial insight happening.
Since our job as coaches is to provide this space for growth and development, I believe this situation may call for some interruptions. This is when we gently and respectfully jump in with a laser-focused and precise statement or question that will anchor and somehow help them organize what they are saying.
It is very important to remember that interruptions are tricky, and if we choose to do so, they must be intentional, and strategic, with a clear purpose to ground the coachee and move them forward. If we do this, it must be in a way that does not break the trust and safety and does not bring the spotlight to us. This is not an excuse for us to take charge. The client must remain at center stage. We are just the prompter giving them just a nudge to move to the next level.
To do this, we can use humor. We can start by immediately acknowledging that we know we are interrupting. We can wait for that quick catch of breath or a tonal break. Bottom line, this is intentional and with the client, not the context, front of mind.
The other kind of verbose client is the one who is on a roll. They make long statements, but you see that they are moving forward, generating their insights along the way. You can sense their thought process and how they are absolutely in control of the flow of information coming out.
In this case, it is paramount that we do not even flicker. Let the client do what they must do. Let the client continue their work. Our job at this moment is to just be a witness and to hold the space for them, giving them full permission to develop, explore, and find their way through it.
In the end, let’s continue to remember that coaching is client-centered. The coachee is the one in the driver's seat, always taking the lead and doing the actual exploration of their situation. We are partners in the supporting role, bringing our expertise in the coaching conversational framework with the sole purpose to generate a conducive environment for discovery. It is not our place to take control or try to shape the conversation into what we think is supposed to be.
This is all about the coaching mindset and what we truly believe to be our role as coaches. If we feel the urge to be hands-on and take charge, it is probably time for us to stop and question what is bringing us to this. Each one of our clients has their own way. Each has their own personality and their own needs. We respect them, staying out of their way, just holding firm the space for them to walk their own path.
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