The dynamics of the coaching relationship can be as complex as they are critical, often taking a back seat to the focus on skill-building and problem-solving. This article delves into a case study that illustrates the powerful impact of flexibility and genuine connection in engaging even the most resistant clients. It explores unconventional but effective means of relationship-building, like online gaming and casual text check-ins, to shine a light on the importance of authentic interactions in the coaching process. The insights are tailored to benefit both novice and seasoned coaches, as well as anyone with an interest in the dynamics of effective coaching. At its core, the article emphasizes the evolving nature of the coaching relationship and the constant nurturing it requires, offering a unique perspective on how soft skills can often be the most crucial components of a successful coaching journey.

The importance of ditching the executive function agenda when facing student resistance.

I would like to share a story. I started with a client not too long ago who was extremely resistant to the coaching process and battles depression. The client had been characterized as very resistant to change, and a difficult personality to work with. He also did not want coaching, which he told me from the start.  I thought I could win him over by teaching him skills to increase his academic success. I threw out every strategy in my Rolodex, no go. Next, I tried targeting the depression through behavioral therapy methods, no such luck. Our sessions were like root canals. I arranged a meeting with the parents and client to discuss his struggles and whether or not the coaching model was effective. We agreed to make a few changes. We shortened our session time and switched to online coaching. We also decided not to touch or discuss any academics, aside from receiving an update on his grades at the start of a session.  The rest of our time was devoted entirely to anything he wanted to discuss. Initially, even this proved challenging, but we stuck together and like a rolling snowball, our relationship never stopped growing. A few weeks ago, we had a breakthrough, although it didn’t occur to me at the time. The client came to the session running on fumes; he was less chatty and every question I asked seemed to be harming our alliance. Rather than calling the session and risk setting a dangerous precedent, I asked him if he would be ok with me ranting for 30 or so minutes.  He was noticeably appreciative I was willing to meet him where he was at, and that I would gladly take the hit (i.e. go on a tangent and risk saying something silly if it meant he wouldn’t have to be uncomfortable).  After that session, there was a subtle but noticeable increase in his enthusiasm during our weekly check-ins.  In our next session, we played an online game. I trash-talked through the game chat even though I was behind most of the match. I believe, in hindsight, that this was an opportunity to truly connect – to show realness with humor and vulnerability. This moment has left a lasting impact. Today, our sessions and all my sessions remain imperfect, but the relationship never stops growing and I continue to meet individuals where they are at that moment. Here are some takeaways from this incredible client:

  • Meet clients where they are, and get wins for the relationship (talk about their interests, be genuine, humble, etc.). Be willing readily throw away your agenda for the day
  • The relationship is always growing, (always)
  • Do text check-ins  at least twice a week, send anything like funny memes or whatever that may resonate with our clients in between sessions (again, the relationship grows even from that)
  • Don’t force things on clients. If you push, they likely will push back, and the relationship could be harmed as a result. 
  • Once the relationship grows enough, it can be used as a buffer for less fun conversations
  • Be creative! every client is unique, and there is no one right way to go about a coaching session

Learn more about Coach Matt.
Effective Effort Consulting