- 01 Jun
Being With Our Clients’ Emotions
As you’ve no doubt discovered, transformation in coaching requires going beyond content and into the realms of relationships, identity and beliefs. It doesn’t matter if our clients are college students, artists, or C-level executives, unless there’s a psychological or neurological issue preventing emotions, with deeper work unresolved feelings will show up at some point. When they do it’s essential that we’re ready to engage professionally, respectfully and resourcefully.
There’s a tendency for many coaches to move to action when feelings arise in their clients, either to fix or avoid what’s happening. With fixing we move to make everything “alright” through soothing words or encouragement. With avoiding, we brush over the emotion by changing the subject or moving on with the discussion. Both these choices have their occasional moments of value, but in most cases it doesn’t allow room for curiosity and inquiry, two essential elements in coaching.
As coaches, any incongruence we have with our own emotions will be projected onto our clients’, which reinforces the judgment the client might have with theirs. We shut a part of our client down because we’re uncomfortable or have decided they are, and when that happens our own agenda has become more important than theirs. Instead, when we hold a space for our clients to expand on their self-awareness and emotional intelligence—both increasingly viewed as factors for personal and professional success—we create value. This requires our own self-development and personal congruence.
We also have to consider the interpretations that we, as a culture, make about other people’s behavior. When we do this in coaching it takes away our clients opportunity to explore their truth. Their eyes begin to water and we decide what that means and give it a name; “crying”. Their face turns red and we say, “I see you’re angry.” Again, we drive our agenda, not theirs. Instead, the opportunity is to be curious; to ask what their physicality means to them or to feed back the data observed. Of course, not all clients are willing or able to go there, but the more rapport and safety we create, and the more relaxed we are about emotions in general, the more likely they will.
Of course, with any interpersonal skill there are no hard and fast rules, just guidelines. When I engage my client’s emotions I keep my eyes on them, take a slow, deep breath (we tend to stop breathing when suppressing feelings so this invites them to breathe too) and I nod slightly to let them know I’m with them. It’s really that simple. I don’t move to fix or avoid. I just stay present. This means there might be long silences and that’s okay. Silence is a great space for processing. If my client moves quickly past the feelings and changes the subject I communicate directly with them about that. Sometimes I ask if they’d like to be with what just came up or move on. They are in charge of where we go, yet there’s a challenge to visit their emotions if it supports what they want to accomplish. This is just one way to approach it all; there are many others just as effective.
We will always meet ourselves when we coach; we get to see our strengths and limitations, our congruence and incongruence, our joy and our fears. Let’s keep addressing whatever shows up in each room with each person in each moment, and do our best to engage one other as whole.
Here’s to your success.
About the Author
Justina Vail Evans
Justina is co-owner and program director of Envision Coach Training, serving the company in multiple roles including co-designer and training instructor. She is also co-owner of Envision Global Leadership, a leadership development company, and owner of LifeWorks. Justina is a Master Certified Coach, hypnotherapist, grief recovery specialist and master NLP practitioner.