As a coach, one of my main responsibilities is to create a safe space or container to have candid conversations with the people we coach. And that’s all about boundaries.
It’s coaches who set the boundaries and maintain them throughout the relationship. We watch not only for when we encroach on that boundary but also when the client gets close.
This is a professional relationship, not a friendship. We can be friendly, but we’re not friends in this context. Friendship is reciprocal; coaching is all about the client.
There’s a time boundary that doesn’t exist in other friendships and intimate relationships. They may end, of course, but we don’t begin with an end in mind, and in fact, we hope those relationships never end. There is also a time boundary for each coaching session.
Because the person we’re coaching is healthy, there are boundaries around when we meet. While we may have quick check-ins by email or phone, there is space between the sessions and both parties honor that space.
What are some examples of boundary-breaking by coaching clients?
The client gives inappropriate gifts. What’s wrong with receiving a gift? Nothing, when you’re talking about a card or a small gift for a special occasion like a holiday, birthday, at the conclusion of a project, or coaching engagement.
Red flags to watch for would be a large, monetary gift out of the blue, or any gifts that seem unwarranted or extravagant, or that make you feel uncomfortable in any way. Again, this is a professional relationship with agreed-upon terms and compensation. Gift-giving can undermine that agreement and change the nature and dynamic of the relationship. It’s a subtle change; it’s almost like you’re being rewarded or influenced, and that can skew your own professional assessment of the coaching.
The client wants to know more about you than is warranted. This also speaks to the issue of relationship. Making the coach a topic of conversation shifts the interaction from being all about the client to being also about the coach. For the client, it may seem natural to think they should reciprocate. After all, you know so much about them and you always show so much concern for them and interest in their life. But it’s very important to just give very brief answers, and then gently steer them away so you can move things along.
The client wants to schedule extra time with you. This is both a relationship boundary issue and a time boundary issue. Again, it’s your job to help the client understand. Remind them: “You’ve got this!” They can continue the coaching work in between sessions, on their own. And you’ll be there for them when it’s time.
If any of these issues become a regular habit or routine, you definitely want to raise the topic and discuss your original coaching agreement.
P.S. We’ve been talking about boundary-breaking clients, but remember that coaches can have boundary issues as well. For example, do you ever find yourself stepping outside the boundary of your role as coach (beyond just switching hats)? It might be time to review your ethical guidelines and responsibilities.