“And noowwwww, the end is neeeeeaarr...”, ok, sorry for my singing :-). However, ending a coaching conversation is not as easy as the final bars of a song. When a song is over, it’s over. Maybe the audience wants an encore, but no-one wants the continuation of the song. This is different for coaching conversation. Sometime the client would like a few extra minutes, sometimes you can give them, sometimes you have another client waiting…. I think everyone knows the problem. So, how can we end coaching sessions in ways that work for the coach and for the client?
Start “ending” early enough
I think the most standard international coaching format is one hour, so I am going to use that as an example. If your timings are different, maybe you need to adjust. I usually think about ending the coaching session around 20 minutes before the actual end. Around that time, I will be looking for a good place to start winding down the conversation.
Partner with your client
When the client has finished a line of thought around that time, I ask them: “Would this be a good time to summarize what has emerged for you so far, or is there another thought that you would like to bring into the session here?” Usually, the client is fine and if not, they will let me know. Summarizing the learnings, insights up to now sets the stage for the close of the session.
Invite description of signs of progress
After the client has summarized the learnings and insights, it is quite easy to invite a description of these learnings and insights playing out in the future. You might ask something like: “Suppose, you take these learnings and insights into the future, how will you know that you are making progress?” You can get an experience-near, rich description of the changes that may be happening. What will be different, how will people respond, how will the client respond to those responses.
Collect learnings about “what”, “who”, “how”?
Ask about “what will be different”, but don’t forget to invite the client to reflect on what they have learned about themself. If the learning process in the session was interesting or new, you could also explore together how the session’s process went and whether this is a process the client may want to use again in the future.
Ask about the client’s way of implementing
Don’t assume everyone needs support in order to hold themselves accountable or that everyone needs a plan with dates and deliverables! Simply ask your client whether they need any support or what they know about what they need to successfully implement a change. It may be very different from what you think!
Create a topic-parking
If the client brings in different and interesting topics near the end of the session, offer the client the choice: do they want to dive into the new one quickly and forgo the collection of learnings from this session or do they want to use a separate session for the new topic? If the client is very creative when it comes to discovering new topics during a session, you can also create a “topic parking lot”, a piece of paper or file in which you note down all the topics for later consideration.
Be mindful of “openness hangover”
Many clients don’t have anyone who listens to them intently. When they experience coaching, maybe for the first time they have someone they can share their thoughts and feelings with. Clients find themselves speaking about things that they have not shared before. Near the end of the session, they reflect on what they have shared, and sometimes they experience a moment of fright: “O no, what have I done – I have shared too much.” Something like an “openness hangover”. I think this is completely normal. As coaches, we can help by also “normalizing” this, when it happens. Being appreciative of the client’s openness, their willingness to learn and honoring the shared experience that way is a really good way to close.
So as I am closing this piece of writing:
- what stood out to you?
- in your next coaching session — what will you notice yourself experimenting with?
- what will your client notice?
- how will they respond?
- how will you respond?
- what might that say about you as a coach?
- and what are you learning about how you learn when reading stuff?
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