For the most part, coaches who have been proprly trained and have a little experience have a good grasp of what boundaries are. As your coaching business grows and evolves, it can be difficult to know where to draw the line. Plus, add to that the importance of storytelling in connecting with clients… how do you create strong boundaries as you simultaneously also share your story?
Sharing your story to inspire and encourage your clients and audience shouldn't come into conflict with creating boundaries (also what John Kim calls non-negotiables) within the coaching relationship. Stories are used to build positive relationships, and limits and barriers are there to make sure that the relationship remains strong. But also to make sure you still have a healthy relationship with yourself.
Why Do We Need to Set Boundaries?
Boundaries play an important role in our mental and emotional health. Of course, physical health too. Without it, you will most likely end up making yourself available to all clients. Even on weekends. Even in the wee hours of the night. Even on family events. This may not sound like a big deal ("it's only a few hours here and there!") but really, this is diminishing your potency and your effective coaching skills.
It’s important to set professional boundaries in your coaching business, not just for your own sanity but also for your clients. This will help ensure that neither party is taking advantage of the other, or exploiting the relationship. As Brene Brown says, "Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind." Boundaries help you preserve the relationship with your client, so whenever they have a coaching session with you, you're always at your best, most present, most authentic self.
Tips to Creating Boundaries Within the Coaching Relationship
Understand your limits
Before you enter into a coaching relationship with your client, whether that’s your first or your fourth client, it’s necessary to have a clear understanding of your limits. How much time can you offer to this client? What about your other clients? Are you sure you’re not stretching yourself too thin? What will you do if things get emotionally demanding? What exactly is “emotionally demanding” for you?
There are many important questions you should ask yourself when it comes to understanding your limits. And it’s necessary to have crystal clear answers to these questions. Do a Q&A session with your own personal coach or a good friend if necessary.
Set the coaching agreement
A very clearly laid out coaching agreement can save you a world of hassle in the end, as it lays out what your client can expect from you and what you expect from your client. A good agreement will also outline the frequency of sessions as well as desired outcomes and what happens if a session is missed, etc. Communicating these things at the outset and agreeing with your client ahead of time means that you'll be on the same page when it comes to the big picture as well as the smaller details. Setting the coaching agreement is an ICF core competency, and something we teach in the Intensive!
Not all coaches are mandated reporters, of abuse or other crimes, but you need to make it clear in your agreement and up front what the expectations of privacy and confidentiality are for your client, and what actions you will take if they reveal certain thoughts or behaviors.
Be responsible with time
Time really is gold. No matter how cliche it is. That said, we highly encourage our students to be responsible with time. Both your time and your client’s. If the coaching session is set to start, go ahead and start. Divert the chit-chat and get into business. If there’s no coaching session and your client wants to get on the phone for “just a few minutes” consider the implications of this moving foward. Quick questions between sessions may be fine for some coaches and not for others. Think hard about how available you want/need to be. It might be totally okay to get in touch with clients for short consults but not on all occasions. Be considerate but also be firm. You have a coaching practice for a reason and it can take a little practice to set professional boundaries.
This is something many people miss... We all communicate with so many people every single day thus, it’s easy to think communication is something we’re all good at. Unfortunately, when it comes to creating boundaries within the coaching relationship, communication plays a vital role and this is when we realize we’re not always good at it. Sometimes, we just assume people already know what’s going on in our heads, but this is where a coaching agreement can make a big difference!
Effective communication, along with a great coaching agreement, is one of the ways to make sure your client understands your rules and restrictions well.
Know when to be assertive
Because of the common fear of “becoming the bad guy,” many life coaches end up with tangled schedules. We keep letting small things slip with the thought of it being a small thing. But too many small things become a big one.
That said, learning to be assertive is one of the most essential and effective coaching skills every life and personal coach must develop. And if you think assertiveness is the opposite of positive psychology, think again. It is merely protecting your time and making sure your clients remember your rules and restrictions. Because let’s admit it, when you and your client have a long working relationship already, it’s easy to miss those boundaries. To think they don’t exist anymore. Be assertive but not harsh.
Learn to say NO
If you have problems saying NO, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there and sometimes, we still find ourselves saying yes to things we actually want to say no to. It takes time and practice to get good at saying no.
Saying NO is important when it comes to creating boundaries within the coaching relationship mainly because it’s what boundaries are all about - when you say yes and when you say no. It’s when you allow things to slip and when you stand firm with your NO. This doesn’t make you a bad coach if you say NO. It makes you a professional one.
Coaching is not therapy. Refer out.
Coaching is NOT therapy. Therapy is focused on bringing people from suffering to baseline. Therapy deals more with behavioral or emotional problems, disruptive situations and works to bring clients towards normal function by healing disfunction. Coaching is focused on bringing people from baseline to flourishing. Coaching helps functional people achieve higher goals and achieve excellence while creating their ideal life. The main focus remains on flourishing, and creating the future. Coaching is client led, and the topics and issues the client brings to the conversation sets the context as coaching or therapy.
If a client comes to you wanting to delve into traumas, is asking for assistance that is far outside your knowledge basse, or is constantly rehashing the past, it's time to grab a referral to a therapist or other resources instead. Don't try to deal with things that you are not equipped to deal with! You are good at what you do, but coaching isn't therapy.
Why Do We Struggle With It?
We don’t want to be seen as “the bad guy”
The fear to be seen as the bad guy is probably one of the top reasons why so many people struggle with limits. They think if they create one, they’re automatically not being open-minded or perhaps they're being too tough. The thing about boundaries is that sometimes, it requires toughness. You need to draw the line dark and thick. You need to be the first to stick with your own restrictions and not waver.
So, this fear of being the bad guy? Forget about it. Spare yourself from struggling on creating boundaries within the coaching relationship by teaching yourself that in order to be an effective coach, one that truly impacts and helps her clients, you need to set a good example, from a strengths-based perspective.
We feel like we’re alienating our clients
Why is it so hard to say NO to clients? Because it feels like you’re alienating them. Believe it or not, so many people share this feeling. It's most common to new coaches. Regardless of what type of coach you are, if you’re still in the process of slowly building your business, chances are you’ve dealt with this feeling. We’re here to tell you that limits and restrictions aren’t there to alienate your clients. They’re there simply to protect you, your well-being, your business, and most importantly, show your client the importance and impact of it.
We think it’s consuming too much energy
Okay, this can be true. Setting limits, professional limits, can consume too much energy. Especially if you’re new to it since it requires more effort to make sure you stick with it. And because of this, many coaches think they can simply bypass the idea of setting limits. If you’re one of these people, think again. The struggle is only at the beginning. Everything that’s new is all difficult. But with persistence, you’ll if it easier to implement your rules and to ensure you and your clients stick with it.
When Boundaries Get Blurry
There’s no one answer to this. We’re all different people and we all have different techniques when it comes to creating boundaries. However, one thing we want to highlight is that when your boundaries start to get blurry, the only way to get back on track to acknowledge it. And then to remind yourself and your client of it - what those limits are and why they’re there in the first place. The business of life coaching is both complex and fulfilling. And like any business, some things get blurry. Some things dissolve on the sides. Even when they’re important things. The next time this happens, don’t be afraid to point it out and to get back on track.
Ready to know more about creating boundaries? If you're ready to learn more about how to become a life coach, take a look at The Catalyst Life Coaching Intensive. Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.