7 Ways to Set (and Keep) Professional Boundaries for Life Coaches

professional boundaries

As a life coach, your ability to implement professional boundaries can significantly impact your coaching practice. 

But how do you set boundaries with clients, and why are they so crucial?

In this post, we’ll explore the importance of boundaries as a life coach to maintain professionalism and avoid stress and burnout.

We’ll also discuss practical methods on how to set boundaries, but also how to keep them!

Keep reading to find out:

  • What professional boundaries are
  • 7 ways to set and maintain professional boundaries with coaching clients
  • The importance of setting boundaries as a life coach

What are Professional Boundaries?

Professional boundaries are like guardrails that keep your coaching relationships on track. 

They define the limits of what’s appropriate and ensure that both you and your clients feel safe, respected, and comfortable.

Think of professional boundaries the same way you’d think of boundaries in your personal life. The only difference is with whom you uphold these boundaries.

What do professional boundaries look like?

Boundaries can cover various areas, from scheduling and communication to emotional detachment and confidentiality. 

For example, set specific session times and stick to them, limit contact outside of sessions, and avoid getting too emotionally involved in your client’s personal lives.

These ethical boundaries with clients are essential for building effective coaching relationships. 

By setting clear expectations from the start, you can avoid misunderstandings and create a foundation of trust and respect.

Why maintaining boundaries is important

It can be tempting to blur the lines when a client reaches out for help outside of your usual communication channels. 

But responding immediately can actually do more harm than good. It can create confusion about what’s appropriate and lead to even more boundary violations – and burnout for you as a coach.

That’s why you need to prioritize your own health too and display healthy habits for those you coach.

Navigating gray areas

Of course, there will be times when you need to be flexible. Emergencies happen, and sometimes clients need extra support. 

But even in these situations, it’s important to communicate clearly and set expectations.

For example, you might establish “communication hours” when you’re available to respond to urgent messages. 

Or you might set up a protocol for handling emergencies so you and your clients know what to expect.

A two-way street

Boundaries should benefit both you and your clients. That means considering how your rules and guidelines affect your clients and being willing to adjust them as needed.

By maintaining professional boundaries with clients, you can create a safe, supportive environment for them to grow and thrive. 

And you can build a sustainable coaching practice that allows you to do the same.

7 Ways to Set and Maintain Professional Boundaries with Coaching Clients

Wondering how to get started with boundary setting? Here are the best strategies for setting boundaries with clients:

1. Create clear communication guidelines 

Set clear expectations about how and when you’ll connect with your clients. 

For instance, specify whether email or text messages, in-person sessions, phone calls, or online platforms are acceptable forms of contact outside scheduled meetings.

If you offer Voxer coaching, make sure to clarify how it will work.

For instance, how quickly should clients expect you to respond? Will you be available every day at every hour, or should they expect a response only within certain office hours?

Here’s an example of how coach Sandra Chau explains the boundaries of her Day of Voxer:

professional boundaries

Notice how she clarifies:

  • How many questions people can expect to ask
  • The time zone she’s in and the times she’ll be available
  • What happens if you need to reschedule
  • What topics she cannot cover during a Day of Voxer
  • How much time is included
  • And more!

By establishing these communication boundaries, both you and your clients can stay on track and make the most out of your coaching relationship.

2. Maintain confidentiality

According to ICF, you need to keep the information your clients share strictly confidential unless they provide explicit permission to share it. 

This builds trust and allows clients to open up and share their deepest concerns without fear.

By honoring confidentiality, you demonstrate respect for your client’s privacy and foster an environment where they feel safe to explore sensitive topics.

3. Set expectations early on

During initial consultations, discuss what your role as a coach entails – and what it doesn’t. 

This could include explaining that you’re not there to make decisions for them but rather to guide them in making their own informed choices.

Establishing this understanding from the start empowers your clients to take ownership of their journey and foster a collaborative coaching relationship.

4. Maintain personal privacy 

Keep personal information separate from professional interactions unless relevant to the coaching process. 

Avoid engaging in multiple roles with your clients, such as becoming their close friend, business partner, or romantic interest.

Maintaining professional boundaries ensures that your coaching relationship remains the primary focus and that potential conflicts of interest are minimized.

5. Schedule regular breaks

Prevent burnout by scheduling regular breaks throughout your day or week to maintain your own well-being as a life coach.

Allowing yourself time to recharge helps you to consistently provide the highest level of support and guidance to your clients.

Using tools like Paperbell can help you manage appointments efficiently without overlapping client schedules and with proper breaks, all automatically!

6. Respect personal boundaries

Remember that maintaining professional boundaries also involves respecting those set by your clients. Each client has their own comfort zone, too, and you should honor their boundaries. 

If they express discomfort about any aspect of the coaching relationship, be sure to address this promptly and professionally.

So, be mindful of topics or areas that may be sensitive to them and refrain from prying into personal matters unless they willingly share.

7. Maintain objectivity

As a life coach, it’s important to remain neutral and unbiased, avoiding any personal judgments or preconceptions. 

This helps you provide objective guidance and support that is solely focused on your client’s needs and aspirations.

Coaches who remain unbiased can better assist their clients because they remain objective observers instead of injecting their own desires into the client’s journey.

Establishing strong professional boundary practices within your coaching practice not only ensures a healthier, balanced lifestyle but also enhances your capacity to serve others effectively and efficiently. 

The Importance of Setting Boundaries as a Life Coach

Setting professional boundaries is an essential aspect of being a life coach. It establishes a healthy and effective coaching dynamic. 

By clearly defining the limits and expectations within the coach-client relationship, life coaches create a structured framework that fosters trust, promotes growth, and maintains professionalism.

Maintains professionalism

Setting boundaries in the coaching relationship helps to maintain professionalism by establishing clear guidelines and expectations.

It prevents confusion between personal friendships and business relationships.

This professional approach allows for a more effective coaching experience, promoting trust, respect, and ethical conduct throughout the coaching journey.

Promotes client independence

Establishing limits on communication outside of scheduled sessions empowers your clients to become more self-reliant and independent in their decision-making processes. 

It encourages your clients’ personal growth journey and helps them develop the confidence and skills they need to navigate challenges on their own.

Safeguards personal time

Defining when you’re available for client interactions protects your personal time as a life coach.

It allows you to be fully present and focused during coaching sessions while also maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Prevents burnout

Setting clear boundaries is like having a personal safety net for life coaches. 

It provides you with enough time for rest and rejuvenation and activities like exercise and hobbies. After all, a well-rested and energized coach is a recipe for success!

Practically speaking, setting boundaries helps prevent burnout by:

  • Limiting contact outside designated session times
  • Preserving downtime periods necessary for maintaining your own wellbeing
  • Preventing clients becoming overly reliant on you as a coach
  • Reducing overall stress levels and increasing your productivity

Without clear boundaries, it’s easier to slip into the dangers of scope creep.

Promotes mutual respect

By setting clear boundaries, you both establish a framework that outlines acceptable behaviors and interactions. 

In this framework, each person’s boundaries and values are acknowledged and honored, creating a safe and respectful environment. 

It fosters open communication, trust, and a collaborative partnership where both the coach and the client feel valued and heard. 

Remember that each boundary serves its purpose, protecting both parties involved while fostering healthy working relationships based on mutual trust and respect.

What To Do If A Client Breaches Your Professional Boundaries 

Setting your boundaries is only part of the equation. But what happens if a coaching client breaches your boundaries? 

First, consider establishing a plan of action before it happens so that you proactively know how to react. Below is an example of what I do to reaffirm professional boundaries with a coaching client:

  1. Choose a medium you’re comfortable with: I prefer communicating my boundaries via email for a few reasons. First, writing is the way I best express myself. Second, it leaves a paper trail. However, you can choose another medium if email doesn’t work.
  2. Define the boundary that was breached: Clients can’t do better if they don’t know better. Specify what boundary was breached. For example, did they send a payment late when you have a no-tolerance policy for that? Do they keep reaching out during your off-time? Clearly let them know the boundary, but also clarify which action of theirs broke your boundary.
  3. Reaffirm your expectations for the future: Now that a boundary has been crossed, how should the client act from now on? I like to keep it simple by saying, for instance: “In the future, please note that I will only respond to inquiries within my business hours. Please also keep communications via email and Voxer instead of a phone call.”
  4. Ask if they have questions: Maybe your client is unclear about your boundaries. Leave your statement open-ended to allow them to clarify things with you, such as: “If you have any questions about this, please feel free to ask and I’ll be happy to clarify.”

If a client continuously breaches your boundaries despite this reinforcement, it may be time to part ways. We’ve written an entire post on how to fire a client while remaining professional, so check it out if you’ve reached this step.

Establish Professional Boundaries for Effective Coaching Relationships

Maintaining professional boundaries is essential for a healthy and effective relationship with your clients. 

By setting clear expectations, you can prevent ethical dilemmas and prioritize their well-being throughout the coaching journey. 

Remember to have open conversations about confidentiality, time management, and personal space with your clients to foster trust and understanding. 

Implementing these boundaries demonstrates your professionalism and commitment to their growth.

Looking for ways to streamline the admin side of your coaching business in the fastest and easiest way? Paperbell has got you covered! Try it for yourself by getting your free account.

professional boundaries
By Charlene Boutin
Charlene is an email marketing and content strategy coach for small business owners and freelancers. Over the past 5 years, she has helped and coached 50+ small business owners to increase their traffic with blog content and grow their email subscribers.
July 21, 2023

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