How the end of a business relationship taught me something about breakups
May 20, 2019
I worked with a business coach over the span of a couple of months.
As of this writing we’re no longer working together and also not in touch with one another.
The reason I think this story is worth sharing with you is because the storyline of a simple working relationship has some interesting things in common with that of a romantic relationship.
In the beginning I was excited and I overlooked certain events that may have informed me that the relationship wasn’t working out.
Later I became a bit dissatisfied, but I didn’t mention anything and let it fester.
Ultimately when the opportunity came to sever the relationship, I took it.
I get many questions about whether I can comment on what is going on in the mind of an ex-wife / ex-girlfriend for her to break up with someone in a certain, often cold, way.
Unfortunately, often when guys don’t understand the behavior of their ex, we tend to attribute it to them being of the opposite sex or their being a “bitch”.
As you’ll come to realize throughout the aftermath of your breakup, pointing the finger is rarely helpful as it conveniently excuses us from taking any responsibility.
Much of the “strange” behavior your ex puts on display can often be explained rather simply by someone that:
- went through doubts about the relationship,
- didn’t feel like they could talk about it and
- decided to exit opportunistically when an excuse presented itself.
The point of this article is that many of the dynamics of romantic relationships draw parallels to interpersonal relationships in general.
Looking at those dynamics in a context that isn’t romantic and that isn’t YOUR relationship may give you some valuable insights.
Much of the rejector’s behavior can often be explained when we put ourselves in their shoes.
Empathy creates understanding and understanding is often what we need in order to let something go.
In this case, I was standing in my own shoes, so I can offer you perhaps a more accurate description of my thoughts and emotions than you may have gotten from someone that rejected you.
I have added some notes after every section to highlight the parallels with a romantic breakup and to clarify the lesson there is to learn from it.
Here’s the story.
I was looking for a business coach
Last year a friend of mine was telling me about the results he was getting with his business coach.
They had had only a couple of sessions together but my friend had gotten from making no income to getting multiple consulting clients onboard within a week or two.
I was pretty impressed by that and as such I became interested in working with this coach as well.
It seemed that he must really know what he was doing and I was was eager to get the same kind of results.
My friend made the introduction and I signed up for a first coaching session. Initial excitement
The first several sessions with my new coach, I was very excited.
There might have been indicators that this relationship wasn’t going to work out, but they were invisible to me.
I felt incredibly lucky that this experienced individual wanted to work with me and I was certain he would bring me the incredible results I had been longing for.
I told other friends I was now working with this guy and I proudly told them about the advice that I had already put into practice.
I was happy, proud and confident.
Note: Note the initial excitement and the blindness to negative behaviours and traits. This is how many relationships start. We are so eager for things to work out that it becomes difficult to hold a more balanced, realistic viewpoint: things might NOT.
First confusing event
One of the first negative experiences I remember with this coach was when he forgot about one of our sessions.
Because of our time-zone difference our afternoon session meant the morning for him, but after waiting for him on Skype, he didn’t show up.
When I sent him a message he logged onto Skype and he apologised -- sort of.
I remember the apology not being very good, he seemed to blame the calendar.
Despite having a lot of respect for this person, I had no problem spotting the bad apology.
This instance alone didn’t seem like a deal breaker, but it was the first of many tiny red flags that would all contribute to my change of heart.
Note: Note how the first negative is experienced more like a confusing event at the time. It is only looking back that we connect the dots and that it becomes one red flag in a collection of red flags.
Started to have some doubts, still trying to be positive
During other sessions together I started noticing that he would forget what I told him.
At the start I did not mind repeating myself, but these felt like important topics: he was forgetting the very projects I needed advice on or he would remember them erroneously.
He never tried to truly understand what my projects where about.
As part of our sessions together we would go over a todo list which we composed together.
He would simply go over it with me and for each item ask me if I did it or not.
This started to feel more and more robotic and it didn’t seem he was taking the context of the task into account.
I would have liked to mention any one of these concerns with him directly, but he didn’t seem very receptive to feedback to me.
In our discussions together he would often speak from authority, confidently declaring to me how certain things operate in the world.
At the beginning I thought the reason he’s speaking like an authority is because he IS an authority.
More and more I began to feel like he was being overconfident in his abilities and his knowledge.
I remember that there would be more and more instances where I would catch him claiming to know something, where no expert would claim to know the full picture.
Note: Note how the projection we make of someone slowly loses its lustre with each piece of evidence they provide us that undermines that image. Piece by piece a new image forms. While our idealistic projection is fading, it’s hard to know for sure what is going on. People make mistakes, our mind sometimes exaggerates. One piece of evidence doesn’t tip the scale. It’s only after the scale tips that a new picture becomes clear: This is not the person we thought they were!
Having serious doubts, not happy, but I don’t feel like I can disclose it to him
After several sessions where little red flags started popping up for me, I became dissatisfied with our relationship.
I was also not achieving the results that I wanted and I felt a bit resentful for that.
I had paid for 10 hours of coaching and we were slowly reaching the 10 hour mark.
At any point I would have liked to have told him my concerns and talk them through.
But at no point did he seem to be open to this type of feedback.
He would repeatedly present himself as an expert, having perfect knowledge of many things.
But by now it was clear to me that this was an act, that the confidence he was portraying was not warranted by his knowledge (or anyone’s knowledge for that matter).
He seemed like a know-it-all and why would I discomfort myself to tell a know-it-all something he doesn’t know (and doesn’t seem to WANT to know)?
We had talked about things in the past which he clearly could not have known everything about.
Those were the moments where he could have demonstrated that he was open to feedback, open to being wrong.
He chose to present himself as someone that did know it all and to me that appeared dishonest and closed.
He never asked for feedback either. He didn’t set the stage to ask me for feedback.
Note: If someone is not creating an environment with you where it is okay to give feedback, you will feel more comfortable not giving it. As a result, they will never hear it. And, as was the case here, the negative events will accumulate until they tip the scale. Asking yourself “Why didn’t she say anything?” might not give you any answers, but have you tried asking yourself whether you were fostering an environment where it was normal and comfortable to provide feedback to one another?
Seizing on the reason to exit
When we were approaching the 10 hour mark of coaching hours, he asked me if it was okay to charge me an extra 5 minutes for some work his assistant was doing for him.
This struck me as very petty.
I was paying for a coach to help me think big and bring in a lot of money through consulting and here my coach was asking me if he could charge for an extra 5 minutes.
Not only that, but he asked it in a way where he was assuming authority. It felt like saying no would have led to an uncomfortable situation.
In the moment it flustered me a a bit, later on I realize that the situation made me uncomfortable.
I canceled my next session, with the idea to postpone it a bit.
A few days after not having booked a new session he reached out to me asking if I could book the next session in his calendar.
It felt like he was more concerned with the continuation of a paid client rather than my challenges.
I told him I hadn’t made any progress on our shared todo list and would book a session as soon as I did.
Note: Note that although there was some truth to the statement that I had not made progress, I was also using it as a pretext to get out of the meeting with him. It was a convenient excuse, making it possible for me to avoid a confrontation I didn’t feel like having as I was sorting out my thoughts on the topic. Even if you had pressed me at that point in time about how I felt, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you exactly. How I felt about the situation was still evolving.
In the separation, my reasons become more clear
During this time of not having sessions with him, slowly, how I felt about the topic became more clear.
I noticed that I felt relieved that I did not have to have another session with him.
I noticed that there wasn’t any regret, or doubt.
The small red flags slowly became one big rejection in my mind.
I forgot the details, but the conclusion was clear, this wasn’t the right coach for me.
Note: Note that how I feel about the situation develops over time during this separation. The details blend together and a conclusion becomes increasingly clear. The more time progresses, the more clear it becomes. Meanwhile, we might take my words at face value and assume that I just need some time to make progress on the agreed tasks (which was only partially true). He reaches out, I’m distant
After a couple of weeks he reaches out to me.
I see the message, but don’t feel like engaging.
I’m over it. I’m not interested in what he was to offer and I see no benefit in trying to give him feedback he has shown me no indication of wanting.
I take 1 day to respond, but I’m cordial and friendly.
Based on my reply, it would be hard to discern that I am not interested in any follow up.
Note: Note how I was unhappy with the coaching relationship and am not interested in continuing with him, yet I’m being nice to him. Me being nice has nothing to do with wanting to continue being his client. I’m being nice because I value being nice to people, especially people I know.
End of the relationship
He never replies to my reply.
This further cements my feelings that he has a true interest in me but he’s interested mostly in the continuation of a paid client.
This makes me feel I made the right decision.
And that’s the end of our relationship.
Note: Note that my grievances are never fully clarified. I’ve stayed nice and friendly to the end, but I’m definitely not interested in continuing the coaching relationship. I would still happily give him this feedback but I’m not going to discomfort myself in shoving it down his throat. If you want feedback, you need to make sure you’re contributing to an environment where feedback is easily given.