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The Hard Line: Setting Boundaries for Coaches

Posted by Tonya Echols | December 15, 2017 | Comments (2)

As coaches, we are trained (and often personally hardwired) to be 100-percent client-focused in every way possible. Coaching partnerships are based on trust and establishing a meaningful connection with our clients, and doing so allows us to support them as they progress towards their goals. With our commitment to being intensely client-focused, it isn’t surprising that we sometimes neglect creating and/or enforcing the boundaries that will benefit not only our clients, but also ourselves. We work with our clients to establish clear boundaries for their lives, and those boundaries should apply to the coaching relationship as well.

Put It in Writing

The clearest way to define boundaries with your clients is in the coaching contract. A well-written contract will ensure that both parties are fully aware of the way the coaching partnership process will work, covering everything from the purpose and length of sessions to pricing and payment options. With a written agreement in place, both you and your clients will have a clear understanding upfront of the expectations and flow of the coaching process. Contracts are especially important when working with sponsors who are paying for coaching services on behalf of the client. It is imperative to set the boundaries regarding communication and confidentiality that you, the sponsor and the client all agree to before starting a coaching program.

Watch the Clock

Dedication is a critical part of how coaches support their clients, and the time we spend both during and in between sessions can easily get away from us if we aren’t vigilant in monitoring it. Coaches aren’t clock-watchers; we are sincerely committed to being present in the moment with our clients. However, time is also a key boundary that coaches have to set and enforce. It is far too easy to answer that extra email or take that unexpected phone call, especially with long-term clients. When added in with regular sessions, pre-and post-session planning and scheduled follow-ups, these “extras” can accumulate into significant time that takes away from other aspects of your business and life. If you find yourself frequently taking client calls in the middle of your planned personal activities, it may be time to reassess the boundaries you have in place with your clients. In addition, it is not necessarily helpful for your client to have unfettered access to you because it could foster a dependency that may not be appropriate or healthy long term for either of you.

The Hard Line

If you feel that your boundaries may have inadvertently slipped away from you, it is up to you to redraw the hard line and stick to it. Because coaching relationships are just that, relationships, we tend to try to create a space that is comfortable for clients, which can sometimes lead to a level of familiarity that takes advantage of our time and energy. Your boundaries may require a reset if you have repeatedly canceled or missed appointments without proper notice, sessions that start late and go over, payment changes not previously approved, or frequent unexpected phone calls and texts. It may be appropriate to do an internal assessment of the boundaries that you want to set with your coaching clients, taking into account your personal values, business goals and commitment to your own time for self-care and renewal. However, you also want to factor in the realities of your client base. If your niche caters to clients in a time zone 12 hours ahead of yours or who are only available for weekend sessions, then your boundaries will consider the need to accommodate less traditional hours or other unique requirements specific to you. Whatever boundaries that are appropriate for you and your business, make sure you define them, communicate them and enforce them consistently.

Boundaries can, at times, feel restrictive to the open and trusting relationships we strive to build with our clients, but in setting those boundaries, we are actually leading by example, clearly putting rules in place that will allow for a productive and collaborative coaching partnership. Boundaries help to make you a more connected and present coach, which in the end, benefits everyone.

tonya echols headshot

Tonya Echols

Tonya Echols is a Leadership coach, trainer, consultant and founder of Thrive Coaching Solutions. She is an Associate Certified Coach (ACC), credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF), of which she is also Communications Chair of the ICF Georgia Chapter. A Certified Public Accountant with 20 years of experience in corporate management, digital/traditional media, finance, and coaching, Tonya utilizes her diverse background and experience to help others achieve their personal and professional goals.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (2)

  1. says:

    I want to make a comment regarding the color of the letters on the new page: it is very clear and the content can not be read easily. After a while of reading, my eyes gets tired because I have to make a lot of effort to read the content. I think the color should be changed for the benefit of all readers. Thank you

    • Lisa Cunningham says:


      Thank you for your feedback. In the coming months, a randomly selected representative sample of ICF Members will be surveyed regarding their experiences with the website. We look forward to using these results to inform any future choices or changes.

      Best regards,

      ICF Social Media Specialist

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