Handling Difficult Coaching Sessions

Nov 7, 2016 10:17:39 AM / by Christina Bowser


Difficult coaching sessions are just that…difficult. What happens when a debrief gets challenging and how do you best handle push-back and objections?


Are there things we can do to help smooth out some of the bumps in the road? Host, Christina Bowser and certified Executive Coach, Wilma Stephens  are both senior Extended DISC trainers. Listen as they discuss  approaches and offer tips to improve difficult coaching sessions when you are reviewing Extended DISC assessments.

What makes a person difficult?

Our clients all have different DISC styles. In addition, we as coaches have various DISC styles. What may be difficult for one person may not be for the other. It is our job as coaches to see if any adjustments need to be made in order to create a smoother interaction. Remember, we are the only ones who can control our behaviors.

Prepare in advance for difficult coaching sessions

You may already be aware that a client or worker will present challenges. A key to managing difficult coaching sessions is to be prepared. The Extended DISC Assessment tools are often the focus of the coaching session itself. However, consider using the DISC report to your own advantage. In order to do that you must get to really know the DISC tools. Do your homework.  Find sections of the report that are most useful to your and your clients and employees and finally, be prepared. Use the Extended DISC Client Resource Site to learn more.

Also, difficult coaching sessions can occur without warning. Even when you go in prepared, the session can become a challenge. What is the best way to handle this type of session?

Practice what you coach

Sometimes the others are really not the difficult people. Check your attitude and behavior. If we have a positive attitude then we will tend to have better outcomes. Present yourself as open to ideas and views.  Also, focus on your client by being present and respectful. Positive attitude sets a constructive and optimistic mood which leads to "bigger picture" thinking.

Getting stressed, having bad days, or settling into a routine can lead to issues. When this happens we can go into a behavioral style auto-pilot mode. Remembering that people come to us with different styles and expectations requires that we be alert to the changes. Take a moment between sessions to breath. After finishing an interaction, whether it's on the phone or in person, take a few seconds to breath and reset. Then you will be able to focus on what's next and make the best adjustments possible.

Set the stage for success

Consider time and location for sessions. What works best for you and your client? Think about the set up. Will you be in a private setting? Is it best to sit across from the person? Do they have a copy of the DISC report beforehand or in the session?

Pay attention to your body language. How do you greet them? Smiling not only sets a good tone for start of session, but it also relaxes you and others. Sitting up, leaning in, and showing hands can all present a picture of being present and attentive. Make eye contact. Use the DISC profiles as insight into the preferred styles of your clients before meeting with them.

The DISC report holds no value judgments. However, we often come in with preconceived ideas and opinions. Loose your judgment and try to see things from your clients' views. Have empathy by being neutral and objective. Your job is to help difficult people and all people improve interactions through self-awareness and learning to adjust our behaviors.

DISC debriefing mindset for coaching difficult sessions

Remember the key points to a DISC debrief. It is not a test, but simply a self-evaluation of where the person sees his or her DISC profile. The DISC report does not measure IQ, skills, ability, or attitude. In addition, it does not limit a person's ability to develop or excel in any other direction as long as we make adjustments.

Focus on the big picture which is to improve communication. No DISC styles are better or worse, but simply different. However, they all have similarities as well. Successful people come from all styles, including difficult people! They are more self-aware and able to adjust their style.

Identify the DISC style

Think about how you can best communicate with your client or worker. For example, with D-styles be direct, be brief and quick, don't over use data, and allow verbal recognition. With the I-styles allow social time, engage briskly, be energetic, and have fun. For the S-style check for understanding, relax and build rapport, and do what you say you are going to do. Finally, with the C-style you may want to remember to answer all questions, slow down, focus on data and facts, and don't become too personal.

Remember to avoid labeling people. For example, S-styles and I-styles are helpful, but so are C-styles and D-styles. We are all friendly or logical. The styles simply present the behaviors in a different way.

How to respond during difficult coaching sessions

Listen and show empathy. Watch your own words by avoiding absolute or inflammatory words. Remind yourself that the objection could stem from blind spots the person may have about him or herself. Also, items in report they agree with typically will not bring about an easy change with behavior. They need a compelling reason to change.

Difficult coaching sessions can bring out emotions. Stay calm. Listen like you mean it. Show it in your body language. Take a moment if you need to or stop session and reschedule at different date if needed.

If there is resistance try the Litmus test. Ask them to get feedback from others like trusted co-workers, family and friends. Again, there are times we are not aware of how our style comes across to others. This is our blind spot.

Be prepared for the predictable questions. For example, they may tell you their DISC style is different from other reports. They may tell you this is how they are at home, but not at work.

Key take-away

First, practice what you coach. Be prepared. Adjust your own DISC style to the individual. Create a setting that is most comfortable. Finally, the two most important things to remember is to breath and listen like you mean it.

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Christina Bowser

Written by Christina Bowser