One Courageous Way to Deal with Overconfident Clients | Get "Heart to Heart" with Julie Johnson MCC

Client and Coach giving honest feedback on sofa with notepad

In this "Heart to Heart with Julie" column, Julie Johnson MCC shares sample coaching conversations and situations to help you grow along with her learnings, ideas and practical tips to help us all become better coaches. These are real coaching experiences that illustrate common issues coaches face.

We encourage you to share your thoughts, learnings and own experiences in the comments below!

These articles were first posted on Julie's blog, The Coaching Cube, and have been updated for inclusion here.

We have all had to deal with an overconfident person at some point in our lives—whether it's a colleague, boss, friend or relative. However, as a coach, we have more options up our sleeve. And below Julie shares how she dealt with a challenge that most career, leadership and executive coaches will face at some point—an overconfident client. Meet "Mr Perfect"!


I still clearly remember a session I had in my first year of coaching. The assignment was to work with a leadership program participant, debriefing the results of a handful of assessments he had completed, including a 360° report (feedback from peers/colleagues, and people both junior and senior to them).

The trainer had briefed me privately that this person had annoyed a number of his fellow participants with competitive and overconfident behavior. He was young and further than most in his career for his age. So I was most definitely curious.

How did I deal with "Mr Perfect"?

Well, here's what happened:

As expected, there was a lot of material to review and we spent three hours working through the data. During that entire time, he happily expanded on the positive feedback he had received, telling supportive stories at length.

But whenever I pointed out data that suggested a potential area for improvement, he would brush it away saying things like: "That's because of Person X", or "I have to do this because no one else takes responsibility!" or "They're just saying that because they're jealous I was promoted and they weren't" etc.

Towards the end of our time together, I was desperate to provide anything of value and exasperated because I was sure I hadn't.

So I decided to make one last attempt:

  • I said: "Well officially we're finished with this session, but do you have any last questions?" (now mind you, this was a set-up).
  • He folded his hands together behind his head, leaned back in his chair and crossed one ankle over the other knee. "Yeah," he replied, with a smile on his face. "Can you… sum me up, in a few sentences?"
  • As far as I was concerned, I now had permission to share what no one else in his life probably had dared to say to him. "OK," I said.   
  • I then paused for a moment to pull my thoughts together, swallowed, and began:
    • "As we've discussed, you have quite a bit of positive feedback in this pile of data, and you've reached an impressive level in your organization at a relatively early age."
    • Then I continued: "That said, I have found it quite unpleasant to listen to you say positive things about yourself for the past three hours, and brush off every attempt to explore potential areas of improvement. If you're behaving this way when interacting with superiors and colleagues, they may be feeling the same way I have. And if so, this could eventually derail your career."
    • "And secondly, you admitted openly that your career is more important to you than your family. I'm very concerned for you, because I could envision that at about the age of 40 you might find yourself lonely and all alone."

During that oration he had steadily moved from his initial "power" position to a sort of fetal position, crouching forward on the chair.

Somehow, we managed to say goodbye and part ways. I remember him looking like he had just been hit by a boxer in the ring, dizzy from the blow. So I went straight to the trainer and asked him to keep an eye on my participant, explaining that it had been a tough session.

Of course, I was extremely curious how my client would rate his session. What would be the impact of those last messages on my coachee? Well, as it turned out, he scored the experience a 5/5.  

Here's my take:

I thought long and hard about that experience in the weeks following. And concluded that one gift we can offer our coachees is frank feedback—to dare to say to them what no one else in their life may have had the courage to say.

Now it's your turn:

  • Have you had a client in the past who would benefit from such honest feedback?
    • If so, what did you do? And how did that work out?
    • What could you have done differently?
  • And if you have a client right now who would benefit from honest feedback:
    • What might you do going forwards?
    • What could get in the way of you doing that?
    • And lastly, what support could you seek so you can offer your client the chance to grow through frank feedback?

Share your thoughts with Julie in the comments below.

If you liked this "Heart to Heart" column from Julie Johnson, you may also like:

Julie Johnson

Contributing Author:

Julie Johnson MCC, MIM is an Executive Coach, Coach Supervisor and Author. Her purpose is to help motivated people be at their best. She's passionate about spreading quality coaching conversations farther and wider, impacting the lives of people she'll never meet. Julie helps leaders develop an authentic Coaching Leadership Style so they grow next-generation leaders - and scale their own leadership. She also loves creating synergies by connecting 'the right people' with each other. Meet Julie in this short video here and learn more about her on her website here. You can also sign up for her monthly blog The Coaching Cube.

Learn more about Julie & see all their articles here >>

Image of Client and Coach giving honest feedback on sofa with notepad by Prostock-studio via Shutterstock

One Comment

  1. sanjay


    Don't you think telling the client how you felt about them would be judging a client for his behaviour and telling him that he was self-obsessed and also was irritating?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.