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How to Deal With Your Coaching Client’s “I Don’t Know” Like an Expert

Coaching is not an easy job. It is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. In coaching we meet different people from different backgrounds. We have to make strong bonds with our clients to help them till their satisfaction and success. 

In this regard we have to ask different things from our clients. This is the point where communication skills of coaches are tested.

How to Deal With Your Coaching Client's "I Don't Know" Like an Expert coaching clients

Many clients just answer every question by saying just “I don’t know.” When the client is utterly unwilling to participate, the coach’s good communication skills and expertise come in handy.

We’ve all had clients who are a nightmare to work with. Plenty of them may not notice that what they want is out of their price range. Others expect you to make decisions based on incomplete data. Clients would invariably leave and take their contracts with them if you don’t know how to handle such circumstances. 

A single challenging client’s issues might sometimes eclipse the benefits they provide to the company. It is vital to treat them with respect in order to maintain the business relationship, but occasionally civility and goodwill are insufficient to save the partnership.

“I don’t know what to talk about,” a client will occasionally comment during a coaching session. It can be difficult to know how to respond when this occurs, especially because it can activate worries that many coaches have. Fears that we aren’t very good at what we do, that we’ll run out of topics to coach about, and that we won’t be able to justify the astronomically high costs just to speak to us. 

However, if you understand why this is happening and learn how to service your clients effectively from this location, this is an incredible opportunity.

As coaches, seeing our clients succeed fills us with pride, excitement, and joy. We smile comfortably, knowing that we’ve made the correct life decisions to arrive at this point of professional pleasure.

However, occasionally find ourselves on the opposite end of the spectrum. We have a client who not only struggles to make progress, but also does not appear to care enough to put up any effort. We put it down to a sluggish start at first. We believe the person is taking a long time to warm up. 

Then we experiment with our strategy. Things will undoubtedly alter if we hit the perfect groove. But the client continues to be adamant about not wanting to change. We’re a little jittery at this stage. We fear that we’re missing something or that we’re not doing our duties at times.

 In others, we’re trying to find a way out of what now appears to be a bind. We might start to be concerned about our professional reputations or our ability to show up for our next meeting with this person with a positive attitude. 

Coaches focusing solely on their contacts with clients and allowing change to unfold on its own is critical to good resistance management and the cornerstone of effective sessions. So, it is the primary job of the coach to know about their client’s each and every situation by diverting them from these words “I don’t know.”

As it is rightly said,

                                  “You can only change yourself; you can’t change anyone else!”

—Clifton Mitchell

Many coaches have used this common piece of advice to assist clients in overcoming difficulties, but it’s critical that coaches understand the concept as well.

So in this article we will basically focus on those clients which are non-cooperative towards their coaches. We will give you tips to deal with such clients like an expert.

Let’s begin!

In Brief : How To Deal With Your Coaching Client’s “I Don’t Know” Like An Expert
  • Create A Positive Tone For The Coaching Meeting – Establish a friendly yet professional tone for effective coaching, emphasizing encouragement and trust-building.
  • You Have To Truly Care – Emphasize the importance of genuine care and trust in coaching relationships, encouraging open dialogue and addressing client goals and fears.
  • Don’t Show Negative Body Language – Prioritize positive body language to create a comfortable environment, understanding the impact of nonverbal communication on client engagement.
  • Acknowledge Positive Change – Pay attention to clients, recognize positive improvements, and reinforce favorable habits to build trust and motivate continued progress.
  • Consider Their Perspective – Encourage coaches to understand the client’s perspective, asking open-ended questions, and tailoring coaching conversations to individual motivations and preferences.
  • Great Expectations – Set clear expectations for clients, aligning activities, outcomes, and accountability to ensure goal achievement and maintain trust.
  • Ask Open Ended Questions – Utilize open-ended questions to promote detailed and thoughtful client responses, fostering fruitful coaching interactions and emphasizing emotional intelligence.
  • Recognize What’s Going Well – Strike a balance between criticism and appreciation, acknowledging and appreciating what clients are doing well to motivate improvement.
  • Be Ready To Offer Additional Support If Needed – Emphasize the coach’s readiness to provide additional support as needed, recognizing the coach’s role in assisting clients through challenges.
  • Talk About Next Steps – Clearly communicate and agree on the next steps in coaching, ensuring shared expectations and practical steps for improvement.

What can lead to an “I don’t know”

There are many reasons when the clients are not willing to cooperate and they just respond by saying “I don’t know.” As coaches are new to them, they might feel uncomfortable telling them about their personal life. 

Some coaches may don’t have the sense to ask their clients, which is why it is always recommended to do a professional certification before starting your career as a coach. When the client is not willing to cooperate it is your duty to make them comfortable in your company

One issue is because people may be unmotivated and wonder, “What’s in it for me?” and see no motive to comply. They only see the value of being self-centered and looking out for their own interests for themselves. 

They don’t understand the benefit of collaborating with others to achieve a greater good. It is the job of the coaches to encourage and motivate   clients to collaborate, as well as to explain why collaboration is in their best interests and selfishness is not. It all relies on the coaching skills of professional coaches to deal with such situations.

The most effective coaching occurs when a coachable client or client meets with a reputable coach. Client resistance is one of the most serious challenges to the relationship’s efficacy. Unfortunately, resistance can arise even before the coaching process begins.

If a client is requested, referred, or even forced to engage with a coach, they may be reluctant to the arrangement. While a good coach can eventually help a client overcome their reluctance, it’s far better for everyone if the client enters the coaching partnership with no preconceived opinions about the process.

What to do when a coaching client says “I don’t know”

Clients who do not cooperate in coaching sessions and just respond by saying “I don’t know” are more commonly calledresistant clients”. These are resistant to bringing change in their lives. They do not want anyone to interfere in their lives. 

Occasionally, a coach will come across a difficult client who refuses to listen to advice, doesn’t follow through, and appears to be testing your patience at every turn. This client’s apathy is most likely due to one or more underlying causes. As a coach, it’s critical to figure out what’s going on and either new ways to communicate with the client or respectfully part ways. 

When a client is arrogant or refuses to listen, it could indicate that they are unwilling to put in the effort that a successful coaching relationship necessitates. In that instance, the coach must decide what the best next actions are. Clients who are resistant to change and feedback are typically individuals who dislike change and disagree with input. 

They oppose the change, disagree with it, and react badly to it. This should not be confused with clients who inquire, express alternate viewpoints, and even disagree. In simple words, when people only come to the party kicking and screaming, and their opposition is actually weakening your function or position, this is called resistance.

Most good coaches understand the importance of leading by example, demonstrating the types of behaviors that match their own and their organizations ideals. That is textbook coaching, and when done correctly, the majority of clients will follow suit, even if it involves change. 

However, a select handful will not. They’ll fight back–indirectly at times, and outright at others. Some clients regard any change as a danger for a variety of reasons. Clients who lack good leadership and team cohesion have a hard time attaining any form of team or corporate goal. 

Companies are better positioned to establish customer loyalty, outperform the competition, and raise the bottom line when clients understand what is expected of them, the goals they are striving to achieve, and how they contribute to the team’s success.

Here are some of our best recommendations for dealing with clients expertly who are unwilling to cooperate in coaching:

1. Create A Positive Tone For The Coaching Meeting:

For a coaching session to be effective, it must start on a good note. Good environment will help your clients to speak openly and he will not resist any question to answer. This step necessitates a number of tasks. The first step is to establish a friendly but professional tone. This might be accomplished by privately coaching the clients. This follows the management idea of public praise and private correction. Clients who are verbally punished in front of their peers are few and far between. Second, the meeting’s aim should be explained in a polite and non-accusatory manner by the management. It’s crucial to avoid using incendiary terms. Too often, a manager’s poor choice of words in opening a meeting spoils the whole coaching session.

Tremendous coaches, at their core, are great encouragers. They are, at their core, people who support and lead in such a way that they radiate energy, bringing out the best in others. These radiators have a natural talent for forming bonds. 

Effective coaches want to create long-term relationships with their followers. In other words, the higher the level of trust and connection, the longer they remain. If one operates from a place of negativity, true depth will be difficult to achieve between two people

As a permission-to-play rule, the most powerful directors in any organization understand that they must influence others by optimism. In this way, making a welcoming environment will help the restricted clients to speak.

2. You have to truly care:

Coaches must encourage clients that their leaders are sincerely concerned about their well-being. Clients who do not trust their coaches are not coachable. Clients want to know if their coaches are devoted to their success, if they can be trusted to tell the truth, and if they are acting in their best interests. 

Coaches must be willing to discuss their goals, flaws, and fears about change and uncertainty. Clients will trust their coaches if their leaders trust them. This enables for more open dialogues, which helps to identify and address the challenges and reasons for underperformance of clients. In this way they will no longer be reluctant to answer questions and speak up! 

That is why it is critical to have trust. It will be extremely difficult to create an influence unless trust is established initially. A coach should never presume that their position entitles them to trust; it must be earned. This necessitates not only time, but also a deliberate effort to learn about each team member’s aims and ambitions.

Similarly, your openness and honesty will assist your clients to believe that you care about them and want them to succeed. 

Clients will build confidence in their own abilities as they apply your coaching recommendations. They will recognize that you have their best interests at heart if they follow your recommendations and enhance their procedures and skill sets, and they will learn to trust your coaching approaches.

3. Don’t Show Negative Body Language:

The first impression is the final impression as the saying goes therefore you should constantly be cautious of your body language. This will encourage your client to speak openly with more comfort. 

As your body language directly affects your client.  A typical communication is believed to have more than 50% nonverbal communication, which includes body language. As a result, if your body language sends unfavorable messages to the other person, communication will most likely break down. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that there should be no physical boundaries between you and your client. Distractions are created by barriers, which can make the communication process unpleasant.

4. Acknowledge Positive Change:

Most coaches do not pay attention to their clients. Because of this their clients become reluctant and they become less conversational. Try to pay attention to every word of your client. This method is quite simple but extremely effective. 

When it comes to personal training clients, this is especially true. They don’t want to let you down, which is one of the reasons they turn up and give it their all. You become a parent figure for a specific aspect of their lives, and like all good parents, you recognize positive improvement as effective as, if not more so than, punishment.

Pay attention to your clients and learn about their problems and concerns. Make sure they know you observed and appreciate any tiny changes, such as improved nutrition habits, strength gains, or lifestyle behaviors.

Even minor things, such as when they improve their form or start being on time for sessions instead of being a few minutes late, can make a difference. Reinforcing favorable habits will increase their urge to accomplish more and better things. Furthermore, highlighting positive change reinforces the fact that you care about your clients, making all other tactics for dealing with problematic clients even more effective. This will help to bring your client into conversation.

5. Consider Their Perspective:

Have you worked with a personal coach before? It will be difficult to fathom what it is like to be a client if this is not the case. If necessary, have a few sessions with someone. Someone you regard to be considerably smarter than you, ideally, just to get a sense of how they might feel.

A client, especially at first, will be shy, believe they can’t accomplish anything, and be concerned about appearing ignorant.

Approaching things from their perspective, rather than your own, while coaching clients to increase performance and engagement, will greatly aid in seeing the improvements and results you desire. Everyone has different motivations, preferences, and personalities, so you can tailor your coaching conversations to align the way they work best with the improvements you’re both aiming for if you ask questions to help you understand where their “why” comes from and what their preferred “how” looks like.

For example, suppose you have switched from an office layout with a lot of separate offices to one with a lot more open space, and one of your sales people has seen a significant drop in successful calls.

If you start asking questions and discover that this person is great in one-on-one chats but rarely speaks out in groups, you can imagine how they would feel like everyone is listening in on their conversation, making them feel less secure than when they had their own space. You can work with them more effectively on how to get their numbers back up if you keep that perspective in mind.

It’s your duty as the trusted professional to manage their expectations, understand where they’re at mentally, and make sure you explain everything clearly, give clues when introducing new exercises, and ask for feedback frequently.

6. Great Expectations:

Setting expectations is one of the most important aspects of effective coaching. Expectations should be crystal clear, not hazy or ambiguous. Clients must have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Meeting production targets is an example of a hazy aim.

“Be cautious what you ask for, or you might get it,” 

—say san old adage

Effective coaches make sure that activities, outcomes, and accountability are all in sync. Your client’s performance evaluation system is one instrument that might help with this alignment. Clients may wander from the route of goal achievement if they are not aligned. Set expectations and examine goals on a regular basis to ensure that team actions are aligned toward a common purpose.

Make sure your clients understand what you expect of them and what you anticipate of them. Then don’t disappoint them. Lateness for sessions, cancellations at the last minute, and failure to deliver on promises are all small things that erode trust. Life occurs, traffic can be horrible; just make sure you don’t leave them hanging by communicating any concerns as soon as possible so they know you’re concerned.

The same may be said for your clients. While you’re building up your terms and conditions, sit down and manage those expectations. Explain what they should do if they’re detained in traffic, what they should do if they’re unhappy with a certain component of your service, and how they should cancel if they need to.

7. Ask open ended questions:

Asking questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” is an important part of good coaching. The client will be more likely to expound on the concerns as a result of this. The more information the client provides, the more you can assist them. 

Most leading questions are eliminated when using open-ended inquiries; coaches should aim to remain neutral and not try to urge a specific response. More detailed and thoughtful replies result from open-ended, directing inquiries, which leads to more fruitful coaching interactions. It is vital for you to create excellent relationships with your client as a manager or leader. 

This can assist you assess whether your staff are curious, capable of performing and improving, and have a positive attitude toward their work. This is when emotional intelligence and

communication abilities really shine. Coaches should lead dialogues by asking questions and listening rather than delivering orders. 

When clients discover the solutions for themselves, they learn and grow the most. Asking open-ended questions and giving clients the freedom to take some appropriate risks will help them gain confidence and identify alternate solutions to difficulties at work.

This does not imply that you should offer a client complete autonomy. Consider a worker who completes a task faster by skipping a seemingly insignificant step. In the meanwhile, the lack of that phase causes issues later in the process.

If working quicker is the aim, a coach can challenge their thinking, explain the consequences of their decision, and engage with them on different ways to work faster.

An important component of this is letting clients know how their work contributes to the organization’s goals. They must understand that their work facilitates the next step in the process, and that the quality of their work is critical. It can be tremendously motivating for clients to know that they are not working in a vacuum and are an important component of the firm.

8. Recognize what’s going well:

Coaching effectively necessitates a delicate balance of criticism and appreciation. It’s not inspiring, but it’s disheartening, if your coaching talks are entirely focused on what isn’t working and what client must do to change. 

Your acknowledgement of what your client is doing well can serve as a springboard for how they can develop. However, we’re not talking about the compliment sandwich, because that coaching tactic frequently devolves into hollow praise that appears false. 

Giving compliments that you don’t actually mean can have a worse effect than not giving any at all, so take the time to think about specific things that are going well, and let your clients know that you see and appreciate them!

Another consideration is how the client prefers to be acknowledged. Is frequent recognition helpful in keeping them motivated, or is once in a while sufficient? This is a fantastic question to ask them right at the start of your relationship. Is it more important for them to receive acknowledgement publicly or privately? When you’re trying to be a good coach, the last thing you want to do is disgrace someone!

9. Be ready to offer additional support if needed

As a coach, you are always required to open your doors for your client anytime. If your client asks for additional support, you are supposed to provide him on a priority basis. Client is totally dependent on you to solve his problems. Additional support needs can be long-term or short-term, or they can simply refer to assisting a client through a tough time. Disability or illness may necessitate more assistance. So, always ready to help your client in any circumstances.

10. Talk about next steps:

Coaching talks are supposed to result in changes and outcomes, so make sure to spell out exactly what needs to happen next. This will ensure that you and your clients are on the same page when it comes to expectations, as well as giving them a clear grasp of the practical steps they can take to improve. Also, these next steps should be discussed and agreed upon by both parties to discuss what is realistic to expect given their workload and the intricacy of the changes being implemented.So these 10 tips will surely help you to have an effective conversation with your client without any hesitation. By following these tips the client will definitely involve himself in the session and you will be able to help him out.

Why you should let your client find their own answers?

Asking clients to find their own answers is critical because it improves their style of thinking. When the customer discovers the answers to their inquiries, they will be exposed to a variety of ideas that will broaden their views and enable them to analyze things in a new light. 

Good responses and exploration can boost your self-esteem, competence, and confidence. They can also help with test and deadline anxiety. You may be able to reduce the amount of hours you work by gaining successful abilities, leaving more time for other things in your life. That is why it is important to let your client find their own answers.

What can you learn from such a blockage?

If this scenario occurs in your instance, you will gain a great deal of knowledge from it, especially if you are a newbie. You’ll discover how to cope with clients that are unsure about their own ideas. You will find out new ideas to impel others to speak. 

Knowledge from this blockage   allows you to do a   comparison with your own situation and systems and enables you to generate creative solutions and take time to prioritize the measures. All these will help you to make a successful coach in future because a man always learns from incidents and communication blockage is also a kind of incident for new coaches which they will never forget.


In this article we have discussed those clients who do not actively participate in coaching sessions. They just answer all the questions asked by coaches by just saying “I don’t know.” We have provided you with firm knowledge about these sorts of clients along with top 10 effective tips to deal with such clients. We hope that these tips will help you to be a successful coach.

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