Executive Coaching – How to Accept Rejection With Grace

June 13, 2013

Executive Coaching | How to Accept Client RejectionsIt’s been a pretty fast and furious year so far. March end is just behind us, and lots of great stuff has been happening. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been on about 100 or so initial scheduled conversations with prospects and catch-up calls. I’ve got a pretty full docket with clients, everything’s where it should be and backlogs are building. Amidst all that though, I wanted to share a setback. Earlier this week, a client sent me an email and said, “I’m canceling our engagement. This just isn’t working out for me.

Not to go into a ton of the details, but long story short, they felt the approach I was taking wasn’t going to work and lacked confidence in my ability to execute. The client cited specific actions that had happened on my part that caused him to lose confidence, and since it was three weeks into the billable month, he also asked in the email “What do you want to do about payment? How should we handle that?”

I sent him back a brief note saying, “Sorry I disappointed you, and I wish you the best of luck. Here’s where I’ve gotten so far in your process so feel free to either run with it or back out from it, and here’s how you would do that if you chose. As for the bill, tear it up. We’re done. I understand, so no worries.

I’m bringing this up to help with ongoing executive coaching because losing clients and deals happens to everybody, and I, despite not always wanting to admit it, have very human emotions and had to do a little soul-searching about whether I had or had not performed the way that I should have.

I came to the conclusion that I did not believe I did anything different than I normally do. I’ll use the word “different” rather than right or wrong because I have a certain way of engaging that I believe works, and often times a lot of my engagements are driven more by experience and intuition as opposed to a “here’s my project plan and I’m sticking to it” approach. In almost every engagement, there are a couple of on-the-fly decisions I make that changes what we are doing, and I stand by those.

At the same time, I have to acknowledge a deep and persistent respect for my client, the entrepreneur, because he, too, has his own set of expectations and way of doing things that is neither right nor wrong. In business when we have a disagreement and a client wants to dispose of us, the natural tendency is to vilify the other party.

What I have learned over years and years of consulting with lots of different kinds of clients that I offer for executive coaching is that customer relationships are a lot like real relationships in that sometimes they are a good fit and sometimes they are not.

While my work with clients is always focused on a specific goal or benefit, one of my guiding principles is to ensure I do no harm. In the case of this client, I took a step back and determined I had invested some time which I was willing to not get paid for. The client was not out money for services they didn’t receive. Ultimately, I hope some of our conversations provided additional clarity for my client. At the end of the day, I respect whatever decision they made on behalf of their business but whether or not they think I’m a good practitioner doesn’t matter.

I say this again and again when I’m coaching entrepreneurs and small business owners. The two most important things you can have clarity on are

  1. Who you should serve?
  2. How should you serve them?

I try to stay true to those foundational principles and allow the engagement and the relationship to determine if it’s working or not, and if it’s not, I must accept that. It doesn’t serve anyone’s interests to point a finger at the client and say, “They are being stupid” or “They don’t understand.” This is their business, their money, and their risk, so they understand perfectly well.

I know I’m sharing less than exciting news this week, but it’s still a learning experience both for me and executive coaching opportunities. Even though this case didn’t do anything to change my perception of what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, I always find it positive to have opportunities to reflect on, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I serving my intended client authentically?”

I’m sure many of you out there can relate, so I’d love to hear your comments.


By Townsend Wardlaw



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