Please, for your sake, just say “No, thanks.”
“I will definitely let you know by next Friday,” he said assuredly.
“Great, thanks,” I responded, a hint of disbelief in my smile that he could not see over the phone. I’d been down this road before.
“This road” was the end of a sample coaching session where a prospective client gets to try out my coaching style in advance of making a commitment to move forward together.
“This was great,” he’d said enthusiastically. “You asked some questions that really made me think.”
We’d connected through LinkedIn’s “ProFinder,” a service that puts prospective clients in touch with a variety of providers. In this case, the prospective client could review up to five proposals from career coaches. As part of that proposal, prospective coaches are required to provide a free 15-minute consultation.
I had given him an hour.
“Hiring a coach is a big commitment,” I’d told him. “I want you to be comfortable with whom you might be working. And I want you to see the value that I provide.”
When our hour was up, we debriefed, and he offered “I have two more coaches to talk to, so I will definitely let you know by next Friday.”
Who is the silence really about?
When this type of communication went dead early in my coaching career, I remember calling one of my coach mentors with “What happened here? What did I do wrong?”
“I doubt you did anything wrong,” he replied, opening up his little jar of coach salve. The few prospects that actually respond with ‘No, thanks’ offer all sorts of reasons.”
- “The devil I know is better than the one I don’t.”
- “A friend is going to advise me.”
- “Another coach charges less.”
- “I have to finish (fill in the blank) first.”
- “I don’t have the money.”
- “My spouse pooh-poohed the idea.”
- “I’m going to clean up my resume first.”
“So if they don’t respond, it could be for any of those reasons.’’
“I don’t know,” I wavered. “Maybe I awakened their inner critic. Maybe I moved too fast. Maybe…”
“Maybe you don’t know,” he interrupted.
Then, quoting from Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, he concluded: “Don’t make assumptions, and don’t take it personally. The fact is, you don’t know why they didn’t get back to you. Maybe they had company drop in unexpectedly, or a medical emergency with one of their kids, or God forbid, a death in the family.”
Now years later, and with miles of coaching in the rearview mirror, my nagging concern has shifted, as it should have, from me to them. It’s not the commitment they can’t keep with me; it’s the one(s) they can’t keep with themselves.
If they aren’t following through with me, what other empty conversation bubbles have they left hanging in the air?
- To their last date: “I’ll call you.”
- To their own prospective client about an estimate: “I’ll get it to you.”
- To their colleague about the LinkedIn recommendation: “I’ll write it.”
- To their spouse about the project: “I’ll finish it.”
- To their friend about the invitation: “I’ll let you know.”
OK, sometimes we just honestly forget. There’s a lot going on in our lives, and that email or text slipped way below the line of sight.
But sometimes – often? – it’s not about forgetting. Saying “No” or “I can’t” or “I’m not feeling it” is hard. No one wants to give what they perceive is bad news. No one wants to hurt another. So saying nothing is a way out. But saying nothing sends its own fill-in-the-blank message.
I want to say to them “If you decide not to be coached at all for any reason, tell me because by telling me, you’re potentially taking a step toward real awakening down the road. You’re telling yourself you’ve decided to stay stuck for the moment. And maybe the consequences of that decision will gnaw at you until one day, you just might say ‘Enough!’”
I know. I stood at the intersection of “I’M STUCK” and “I DON’T KNOW WHICH WAY TO GO” and watched the traffic of my life pass by. Days of personal inaction turned into weeks into months into years. I can’t get those days back.
And neither can they.
Finally I want to say to them, “If you decide to coach with someone else, tell me, because by telling me, you’ll keep the little commitment you made to me and to yourself. And maybe by keeping that little commitment – and those other commitments – you’ll step more fully into the work you want to do.”
And toward the better you that you sought in the first place.
Many thanks to Susan Rooks, the Grammar Goddess, for her support. She has committed to making all of her blogging clients, as only she can say, look and sound as smart as they are.
I am a certified executive coach and principal at Quetico Leadership & Career Coaching. I partner with individuals to remove the obstacles that stand in their way of being truly engaged and fulfilled in their work or career. We work too many hours to be otherwise. I also cohost the “Getting Unstuck” podcast. We help individuals and organizations get out of their own way as they move toward productive change.