Episode 65: Transparency in Coaching

How much should you share? How will sharing serve your clients? What are you comfortable with? We’re talking about why transparency in coaching is important and how to figure out what’s appropriate for you, your clients, and your audience.

65: Transparency in Coaching

How much of your life should your clients have access to? Where are your boundaries? Transparency and self-disclosure are important topics for us as coaches. It can be tricky to figure out what's appropriate because there are serious implications whether we share too much or don't share enough.

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Show Notes

How much of your life should your clients have access to? Where are your boundaries?

Transparency and self-disclosure are important topics for us as coaches. It can be tricky to figure out what’s appropriate because there are serious implications whether we share too much or don’t share enough.

As a coach, your level of transparency with your clients is a very personal decision and there’s no one right answer. Today I’m sharing a series of questions to help you figure out what feels right for you, your clients, and your audience through the lenses of marketing and service delivery.

Topics covered

  • Why deciding how transparent to be with clients is a personal decision
  • How sharing about yourself contributes to building authentic connections
  • The spectrum of transparency
  • Focusing on the purpose behind sharing
  • How to center your potential clients in your marketing
  • The problem with oversharing
  • What to consider before sharing personal insights and stories with clients

Resources mentioned

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Well, hello, my friend. Welcome to the Coach with Clarity Podcast. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough, I'm your host, and I'm so happy that you're joining me for today's episode. I want to dive into a topic that comes up quite a bit in my certification program, or when I'm providing mentor coaching, and even in the Coach with Clarity Membership. And that is a question around how much we as coaches should be sharing with our clients. I think this is one of the most important topics we can be talking about as coaches, because there are serious implications if we share too much and if we don't share enough. So, it is about finding that sweet spot in terms of how transparent we should be and how much of our lives our clients should have access to. So we're going to talk about that today, and I want to start by saying that there is no one right answer to this question. In fact, this is a very personal question that will require a very personalized answer. What feels like an appropriate amount to share for me may feel like too much or too little to you. So I don't want to suggest that there's one right way to do this, it will be on a spectrum. And at the end of the day, you will need to decide what feels right for you and what feels right for your clients and your audience.

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So let's view this more as a conversation and maybe as a series of questions to help you figure that out. And, understand that there may be a little trial and error involved until you figure out what feels best for you. When we talk about this today, I want to kind of separate it into two topics. One is about marketing, and how much of ourselves should we share when we are talking about our businesses and connecting with people before they are our clients. And then the second topic is how much we should share once they are our clients. How much do we share in session? Whether one on one or groups, or if you're running masterminds or memberships, what's appropriate there? So we're going to talk about it in two respects today: one through the lens of marketing, and one through the lens of service delivery. So let's start off by talking about how we want to show up when we are working with people who are not yet our clients, or who are referral sources for us. So we're really looking at marketing. And remember, when we talk about marketing, we are talking about building relationships. That's what marketing is, it's helping people get to know us a little better, so that they raise their hand and say, “Hey, I'm interested in learning more about you. I'm interested in maybe working with you, what's the next step?”. So marketing is about creating those initial connections and creating those relationships. Now, in my book, ACT on Your Business, one of the things I talk about is something called the KLT factor. KLT stands for Know, Like and Trust. So generally speaking, before someone is ready to engage with you in a paid capacity, first they need to know you, then they need to like you, and then finally they need to trust you. And then, and only then, are they going to be at a point where they feel comfortable enough and safe enough to spend money, to spend time, and to spend energy working with you. So part of developing that KLT factor, part of building that connection, means sharing enough about yourself that the clients know who you are, they like who you are, and they trust you. Any relationship is going to be built on honesty and trust. And especially now, where in the age of social media there is a lot of sharing that happens, (we can argue about whether or not that's appropriate or not) but we are living in an age where people are sharing about their everyday lives and experiences on the regular. And so that's becoming an expectation. Clients want to be able to go to your website, or to your social media, and learn about who you are and what matters to you. That's how they're going to feel connected to you, and so that is the start of the relationship. So as I mentioned before, there's no one right way to do this. And I think it's probably helpful to think about transparency and how much you want to share as a spectrum. So on one end of the spectrum, we're not sharing anything. So you won't know anything about me as a person, my likes, my values, any of that if you go to my website or my social media. You're going to hear strictly about my services, my business, what I do, etc. And interestingly, this was more or less what I was expected to do very early in my therapy career. When I was first getting started around 2003, the idea was that I can share my professional accolades, and my certificates, and my degrees, and my trainings, and so forth. But outside of that, you're not going to learn much about me on my website, or my Psychology Today profile, or any of that. Because, as we'll talk about later, when we talked about working with clients, the expectation was therapists should not share very much about themselves. And we saw that reflected in a lot of their marketing. So that's kind of one end of the spectrum, don't share anything about yourself. Then, of course, on the other end of the spectrum, you get everything, and I mean everything. Every moment is shared and chronicled in great detail. And there are few, if any boundaries around personal privacy. So these are the two ends of the spectrum, and so you can see that they're pretty extreme. On one end where we're not sharing anything, it's going to come across as cold, distant, even aloof to our clients. And as a result, your potential clients are probably not going to engage with you because they don't feel connected to you. Then of course, on the other hand, with the “everything goes” perspective, when we share too much it can feel overwhelming to potential clients, even confusing. They may not know exactly what it is they're getting with you because they're getting everything. And that can create blurred boundaries around who you are personally, who you are professionally, and how you show up as a coach. And it can also mean that your expertise gets lost in all of that. So if we have the spectrum where either it's “I'm not sharing anything at all”, or “You're getting all of me”, for most of us that sweet spot is going to be somewhere in between. And again, how much you share will ultimately be up to you. But we do want to make sure we are remembering the purpose behind what we share. So when we're sharing, it's an introduction to who we are and to our business. And yes, it helps establish a deeper, truer connection. And it does let people see a little bit of the real you, especially as it relates to your work. So when you're sharing something personal, ideally it in some way connects to the work that you do, how you approach coaching, even what you offer. So for example, if you are following me on Instagram, and I hope you are. If not, come follow me, I'm @CoachwithClarity and I would love to connect with you over there. And once you are following me, you'll see all my stories that I'm often sharing little slices of life, behind the scenes footage of what I do on a day to day basis. You're going to see me on the Peloton. You're going to see me going out to dinner with my kids. This is who I really am. So not only are you seeing what I do on a given day, but you're also learning about what's important to me. There are some conclusions that you might infer based on what you're seeing. If you're seeing me hanging out with my kids, then you might correctly assume that family matters to me and that family is a core value. If you see me on the Peloton, you might assume that I really enjoy pushing myself and going to the next level. I like that sense of accomplishment when I'm done with a workout. And that's something that's definitely relevant to coaching and how I work with clients, that we can be very goal oriented, and very focused, and that we work on getting things done. I'm sharing all sorts of things over on my stories that give you an idea of who I am as a person and what matters most to me. So you are able to get an idea of my values. And in marketing, I think that it is so critically important that our clients really understand what our values are. Because those values are either going to draw them to us, or they are going to see that, “Oh, maybe we're not values-aligned here”. And that's a good thing, because that means they're probably not your ideal client. So sharing a little bit about yourself, and your life, and your activities, actually goes deeper than that. It signals what your values are, and whether you might be a good fit for a prospective client.

Really what matters most when we think about how much of ourselves we should share as coaches, and this is true both in marketing and when working with clients and again, we'll get to that in a minute. But the number one question we should be asking ourselves is, “How will this serve the client? How will sharing this piece of myself or of my life benefit the client?”. Because service is one of my core values, it's really important to me that any time a client spends in my world, whether it's one on one in a coaching session, or in the certification program or the membership, or even if it's just watching my stories on Instagram, I want them leaving feeling like they've gained something from that experience. So maybe they've learned something new, maybe there's a takeaway that they can apply in their business or their life, or maybe it's just feeling more connected to me. Knowing that, “Oh, I'm not the only one who does this. I'm not the only one who feels this”. That has value too. So anytime we're putting something out for our businesses for public consumption, we really want to ask ourselves, “How will this benefit the client? How will this serve the client?”. This is especially important when we think about our websites. So, a website is often a critical component of our marketing plan. It's a way where people can verify us, learn more about us, and ideally, reach out to work with us. And so the two most popular pages on any website are going to be your Home Page and your About page. So a lot of times what I see on Home pages and About pages are a lot about the coach, or about the offer, or about the business. And I actually don't see a whole lot about the client, or how what the coach is sharing pertains to the client experience. So I'll see a lot about,  “I do this, and I do that. I have this certification, I have this training, this is my approach”. It's a lot of me, me, me talk. And that doesn't center the client. So when it comes to your website, let's use the analogy of a recipe. The main dish is the relationship that you are building with the client. Ideally, it's going to be a paid relationship, but a relationship nonetheless. And so the primary ingredient for that recipe is the client, we should make sure that what we're talking about on the page speaks to them and speaks about them. So when we bring in ourselves, our training, our background, our personal experiences, well that's like the seasoning. We use that to spice up the main ingredient. And we need that seasoning, right? Like in a dish, if a dish doesn't have enough salt, it's bland. And the neat thing about salt, is that salt really just helps ingredients taste more like themselves. So if we're the salt to the dish, we are adding to the client. We are making the client more of themselves. So we need that salt, we need a little bit of that in the dish. But of course, if there's too much salt in the dish, it absolutely kills it. It's too salty. It's unpalatable. And that's what can happen with websites too. If the website is all about us and how amazing we are, it's too salty. And we're missing out on the main ingredient, which is the client. So thanks for bearing with me with that little culinary metaphor, but I hope it illustrates how we can talk about ourselves and share our experiences in such a way where it will serve the client. So on your Home page, we want to start by really identifying what the clients are looking for, where they are now, and where they want to be. And then we introduce ourselves as a way to help them get there. So we are the seasoning, they are the main ingredient. We want to do that on the About page too, and so think about your About page as being about the client. And then we kind of introduce ourselves as the guide, as the way they can get from where they are now to where they want to be. And we can do that by sharing a little bit about who we are, how we got to where we are today, what matters to us, there's all sorts of ways we can do that. But again, we want to make sure that we do so in a way that centers the client and their experience. The same holds true on social media, as I was talking about before. Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, these are great platforms to connect with people. And sharing a slice of life is fun. Like clients, people really enjoy seeing that. They want to get to know the real you. But what I also find with social media, is that it can be very easy to overshare. And that can really backfire. When we share too much, then the client views us more as a friend and less as a coach or as an expert in our field. So we do want to, again, find that balance between sharing who we are but also positioning ourselves as someone who knows what they're doing and can provide support. So that's a little bit of a look at how we can share who we really are and be transparent in our marketing. It's about defining that spectrum and deciding where on the spectrum you want to fall. And the guiding question behind that decision is, “How will this serve my potential clients?”. That's the same question that we will want to ask ourselves in session, when it comes to figuring out how much we should share with clients. So that's part two of this conversation. How transparent should I be with my clients? How much access to my life should my clients have? So let's have this conversation with two fundamental pieces in place. Number one, there is no single right answer or right amount of sharing you should do, it's a very personal decision. And number two, any sharing we do should serve the client. We want to make sure that the client's agenda, their needs, and their desired results, stay the focus of the session. So anytime we share something about ourselves, it must be in service of the client's desired outcome. In fact, I find this holds true not just when we're talking about how much of my personal life I should share with a client, but also how much of my professional expertise should I share with the client. And this is another question that gets asked a lot in my Certified Clarity Coach Program, and in the Coach with Clarity Membership. The question of “Well, how much do I tell my clients what to do? Like if they're asking me for advice or guidance, or if I have a strategy or an idea that I think will help them, how do I share that? Should I share that?”. I would say the same principles apply: when we share something, it's to do so to benefit the client. And there's a way that we can share it that still keeps their needs at the center of the discussion. So for example, if you are about to share a story about something that's happened to you in your life, or maybe you have a thought about something they could be doing differently that might serve them, we want to both set up that share and conclude that share in such a way where we are respecting the client's autonomy. So I still do this even with clients I know really well. If I'm about to share a suggestion or a story, I asked permission first. So I just kind of check in and say, “Is it okay if I share something with you?”. Or, “ Oh, I just have a thought, would it be okay if I shared it with you?”. And most times, in fact I think all times, my clients have generally said “Yes, of course”. But I'm still asking permission, I'm getting their buy in. So I'm not just launching into a story or a suggestion about myself without their consent. That's what this comes down to, we always want client consent, which is why we ask permission. So we do that before we do the share, then we share whatever it is, and then we create an opportunity for the client to derive any sort of meaning from it. So after we've shared the story, or the suggestion, we want to conclude it by asking the client to reflect on it. By asking them, “How does this resonate with you?”. Or,  “What in that do you feel might be relevant to your situation?”. And we have to be prepared for them to say, “Uh, it doesn't really have much to do with what I'm talking about”. Or, “Yeah, I'm not really feeling that”, and that's okay, right? This is why we need to kind of detach from the outcome, and understand that sometimes we may see a connection before a client does. Or maybe we see a connection that's not really relevant for the clients experience. But if we share something, we do need to be prepared for the possibility that our client may not accept that, they may view things differently. And that's okay. To keep the session client centered, we need to give our clients the chance to accept or modify or even reject our suggestions. By doing so, we are promoting their autonomy, and demonstrating trust in their ability to make sense of things, to make decisions, and to determine what is relevant for them. Doing this requires trust, and that's trust on both ends. The client needs to trust that what we share with them is for their benefit, and we also need to have some trust in the client. That if they say,  “That doesn't really sit with me, I'm not really feeling that”, it's not personal. It's not about us, it's about their situation. That's why it's important to spend time in the coaching session building rapport, and building the relationship, so that you have a foundation upon which to do this kind of work. Now I suspect most of you out there, if you're sharing a story or you're sharing a suggestion with permission, it is going to resonate with your client. You're intuitive, you're thoughtful, you're following your clients energy and their story. So the chances of you sharing something that doesn't resonate with the client at all, is probably pretty slim. But it does happen. And so when it happens, we just need to remember, “ Oh, okay, that didn't land, moving on”. it's not about us, it's not a commentary on how good of a coach we are, or how good of a person we are. It's simply, “Oh, this particular example I shared doesn't really resonate with the client”. That's okay. Let's move on. So that's the other piece that comes with sharing yourself. Being transparent. Whether in marketing or in session with clients, we do have to be prepared for the possibility that people won't agree with us. People might not see where we're coming from. And especially when it comes to marketing, if we're on social media, people may disagree with us and do so in ways that aren't very kind. And let me tell you, I have been on the receiving end of that, it's not fun. And here is a bit of a content warning, I'm about to share a story that references sexual assault, and specifically the Brock Turner trial. So if this is an area for you that can be a bit sensitive, you may want to fast forward a minute or two. 

So several years ago, I published an article that got featured in Salon around how I spoke to my nine year old, who is now fourteen, on how I spoke to him about sexual assault. He is a big sports fan and we were watching ESPN, and they were covering the Brock Turner trial. And this was a trial of a young man, a college athlete, who committed sexual assault against a young woman. And they were talking about this on ESPN. And my nine year old was asking questions about what sexual assault was, why this was happening, and so forth. And we had a discussion about it. And it was not a comfortable discussion, but an absolutely necessary one. And then I wrote about it, I actually posted it on Facebook as a status. And then a colleague of mine, who ran a website called The Scientific Parent, asked if she could publish it. And then it got picked up by Salon.com, which gave it even more visibility. Which is great in some ways, but in other ways it wasn't. Because on Salon.com, there was a comments section. And you can imagine the kinds of comments that were posted in response to my article around talking about sexual assault with my son. And we did talk about the intersection between race, and assault, and accusations. It was actually quite a nuanced conversation for a nine year old, and it brought out the trolls. There were comments on there like, “How dare she talk about this with her son. Someone should call CPS on her, child protective services”. I mean, there's just some really hateful stuff in there. And I'm not gonna lie to you, it hurt. No one likes to see themselves being dragged through social media. Even though I knew these people didn't know me, they didn't know my son. But it still hurt. I had shared something really personal with the world, and there were some unkind responses to it. Now I can say five years later, that experience helped me develop a thicker skin when it came to being visible. I know that there are people out there who don't agree with me, who may not like this podcast. Eventually I'll probably get a one star review, I'm just kind of waiting for it. That's part of being visible. And so if and when we choose to do that, we have to understand that that might be a consequence, and that it says absolutely nothing about who we are as human beings. So, I share that story just to acknowledge the fact that there is a risk involved in being transparent in your marketing, and with your clients. There is always the risk of rejection. And it's okay if it hurts when you are rejected that way. Then the challenge becomes to detach ourselves from that response, and to remind ourselves that what other people think about us is not a measure of our self worth. And in coaching, it's even okay if our clients disagree with us. Preferably in a kind way, not like the online trolls. But simply saying, “Hmm,  that doesn't sit with me”, or,  “Oh, no, I have a different take on that”. Because when they disagree with us, that creates a new opportunity. It's prompting them to think about things in a different way. It's prompting them to get closer to an idea, or a strategy, that's going to work for them. So again, it's not that you did anything wrong by sharing something they didn't agree with. In fact, that might have been the catalyst to get them thinking about something in a brand new way. 

Wow, my goodness, we always cover so much in this podcast. It's funny, because I create outlines in advance, and I have ideas of what I'm going to talk about. And then things come up that I don't plan for. I did not plan on sharing about that article I wrote in Salon.com, and the online outrage I saw in the comment section. And yet it's so relevant to the conversation at hand. About how much we should share, where our boundaries are, how it will serve our clients, and what we are comfortable with. These are things that we absolutely need to think about in advance. And it's also things that we will figure out as we do them. And so that takes me to this week's Clarity in Action moment.

For this week's Clarity in Action moment, I want to invite you to think about the stories, or the beliefs, or the values that you want to share with your audience. What is really important for your current and future clients to know about you? What are you comfortable sharing with them? And what are your non-negotiables? What are the things that you will not share publicly, that you want to keep to yourself, to your private persona? When we think about these things in advance, it can really help us be intentional around the stories that we tell, and who gets access to those stories. So once you've thought about where your own boundaries are with regard to self disclosure, then the question becomes, how will sharing this story or sharing this belief serve my client? How will it benefit them? And how can I share this in such a way that centers their experience? So once you've had a chance to think about some of those things in advance, it will help you as you plan your marketing strategy, what you post on social media, what you write on your website, and so forth. Now in session, sometimes it's a bit more on the fly, and we're responding in the moment. But again, thinking about our own personal boundaries in advance can prepare us for when we are in session with clients and something comes up, we can then decide, do I want to share this? Or is this something that I've already decided is just going to stay with me? I am really interested to know your thoughts and your feelings about self disclosure and transparency in coaching. Whether it's working with clients or whether it's in a marketing capacity, I would love to hear from you. So as I mentioned before, you can absolutely come find me over on Instagram, I'm @CoachwithClarity. I'd love to know your thoughts, so feel free to send me a DM. You are also welcome to continue the conversation with me over in the Coach with Clarity Community, that is our free Facebook group for aspiring and veteran coaches alike. And I think you'll find it to be a really supportive place where we can talk about the issues that matter to us as coaches. And let me assure you, we have a pretty strict no trolling policy over there. In fact, we do have some rules that our members agree to follow in order to be in the community. Number one, we are a pro-coaching group. So we are here to learn with and from each other. And we don't tolerate hate speech, or any sort of personal attacks in that group. So when you come over to the Coach with Clarity Community, you can be assured that there are moderators in place to ensure that people are following the rules. Because I really want it to be a safe community where people feel comfortable asking questions, sharing experiences, sharing stories, and you don't have to worry about those trolls coming after you. So I hope you will join us over in the Coach with Clarity Community. Just head to CoachwithClarity.com/community and request to join today. All right, my friend. We did it. It's another episode of the Coach with Clarity Podcast in the books. I will be back in your feed next week with another podcast episode, and I'm super excited about this one. It is an interview with my friend, and colleague, Jacq Fisch. She runs Write like a MOFO, and we're going to talk all about writing and how it intersects with the coaching profession. It's going to be a good interview, so I hope you will join me next week for that. Until then, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough, reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.


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