As an experienced coach, you know how important it is to support your clients in feeling and expressing their emotions. Doing so helps them become more connected to themselves and better able to cope with their challenges.
Most of us have “emotional fatigue,” as we have surf waves of emotions in response to unprecedented levels of chaos, uncertainty, tragedy, and trauma in the last three years. Unfortunately, this fatigue leaves both coach and client hesitant or resistant to experience their emotions.
In training experienced coaches in the Next Level Coaching Program, we have developed a process for supporting clients and coaches to become more emotionally fluent.
Creating a Safe Space
The first step in supporting your clients’ emotional needs is creating a safe and non-judgmental space for them to explore their feelings and experiences without fear of criticism or rejection. As the coach, you must be mindful of your reactions, language, body language, and other responses or cues that can be interpreted as judgmental or dismissive of what the client is telling you. It also requires that you remain open-minded and open-hearted throughout the coaching process; avoid making assumptions about your client’s feelings or experiences, and instead listen carefully to what they share with you. Creating a secure environment will make your clients more comfortable being vulnerable with you and exploring their innermost thoughts and feelings.
As coach, you can only take your clients as deep as you are willing to go in experiencing your emotions. We believe “the coach must go first,” meaning it is crucial that you, as coach, get intimate with your emotional landscape and are willing to feel All of your feelings.
Note: It is important to remember that the coach cannot make anyone who does not want to feel their emotions. Rather than demand that our clients feel their feelings, we invite them into an emotional experience.
The Mental Experience
Step Two is inviting the client into a mental experience of the emotion. We define emotions as integrated thought and feeling. Thoughts occur in the mind, and many people are much more comfortable with their thoughts than feeling. If your client is not connected to the emotion, ask them to reflect on a recent time when they were. Have the client notice what is happening in their mind right now. Ask the following questions:
a. What thoughts are you having?
b. What is the narrative about you, others, or the situation?
c. What are you experiencing in your mind? Does your mind feel spacious or tight & contracted?
[Coaches Note: if this is as far as your client can get, that’s ok, and it’s a good start. You are helping them build their awareness AND their comfort in emotional expression]
The Embodied Experience
Step Three is to open the client to experience their feelings.
(feelings – sensations occur in the body – even if your client is not aware of them). Continuing with this same emotion, invite your client to bring their attention to their physical body [note: the head is part of the body, so if you are sensing something in your head, start there. Also, some people experience more “energy” outside their bodies, which is ok, too. For example: “I feel swirling above my head”]:
Ask the client the following questions:
a. What sensations are you experiencing?
b. Rather than thinking about the sensation, give it some room and experience it without trying to direct it.
c. Notice any stories you are telling yourself & imagine dissolving the stories. Notice that the stories have you channel your energy to support the narrative, thereby blocking meaningful change.
Stopping the story means asking your client to state their feelings. For example, “I am angry” or “I am sad” rather than giving you the story of the circumstances.
d. Bring your attention back to whatever sensations you are having.
The Integrated Experience (thoughts+feelings = flow & change)
Step Four involves experiencing the energy of the unified thoughts & feelings without needing to distinguish one from the other.
a. Simultaneously experience & witness what is happening in you without adding assessment or direction.
b. Notice how the emotion begins to shift and change. Is your experience expanding or contracting? (one is not better than the other – either direction is valuable.)
c. If you haven’t budged, you are likely entertaining a Counterfeit Emotion. Ask: “What am I trying so hard NOT to feel?” And open to that experience (Steps 2 & 3 can support you here.)
Closing, Grounding & Debriefing
Step Five involves practicing emotional fluency to build rapport with the flow of emotions. There is nothing to “resolve.”Sometimes, you may end a practice, and the client will still feel “charged up” with an emotion. Here are a few ways to come to an equilibrium before debriefing the experience:
a. Use your imagination. Direct the client to visualize all that energy steaming off them like a fine mist. Or they might sense the energy draining out of the bottoms of their feet and sinking into the earth.
b. Journal about the experience and intend for the journaling to bring insights (rather than reinforce stories).
As coaches, it is our job to support our clients during distress or trauma—helping them feel comfortable enough to express whatever emotions arise from those situations without fear of repercussions or judgment. To do this most effectively, we must create a safe space for our clients, validate their experience, and reflect critical points from the conversation. By utilizing these strategies, we can help our clients cope with whatever life throws at them while still maintaining connection with themselves. Ultimately, our goal as coaches should be to help each of our clients find balance within themselves so that they can confidently pursue whatever goals they may have set out for themselves.
Learn more about ACT’s Next Level Coaching Program, as well as related professional development programs through their website at: https://actleader.com/next-level/
Jeanine Mancusi and Michelle Goss at Coaching Transformation are renowned for transforming coaches into exceptional ones . They are adept at expanding students’ capabilities to work through and navigate more complex coaching topics.
Together, ACT and Coaching Transformation bring a combined level of expertise in creating depth and transformation with clients. We choose to partner with Coaching Transformation to integrate deep coaching concepts into the context of working with leaders at an advanced level.
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Excellent article! Informative and inspires much needed reflection. I hope to see more like this in the coming months.