Let’s face it, sometimes coaches don’t feel like coaching. Have you ever greeted the prospect of giving a coaching session without any enthusiasm at all, wishing it would just go away?
I’m not talking about burnout. Hopefully we’re all self-aware and self-compassionate enough to notice changes in our inner state which might indicate such problems ahead, taking action to protect ourselves from pushing ourselves too far. No, here I’m talking about those occasions when we might feel distracted – by the thousands of other things we have to do today, by not being in the mood, not quite in the right place mentally or emotionally, or having the feeling that the session might just be more taxing than we can take at that moment.
Coaches aren’t superhuman. We’ve all felt tired, disgruntled, preoccupied with our own concerns. Here I’m going to take a look at how we might think about and approach this state of affairs, and what we can do if and when we find ourselves facing it.
1. Name the problem
The first thing we need to do is accept the way we’re feeling. That’s easier said than done. Some of us might have a lot invested in believing we’re always ‘there’ for the client. We may have tendencies to perfectionism, to being ‘strong’ enough to take anything, or secretly harbour the opinion that only ‘bad’ coaches have bad days… Much of this may go on below the radar of conscious thought, but if we’ve cultivated a reflective practice, how we feel on the day should be one of the items we assess with honesty in our preparation before sessions.
Acknowledging and ‘naming’ the situation is important. If we accept the way we’re feeling, we can step into the realms of reality. If we don’t step into the realms of reality by acknowledging our own frailties, we’ll be shadow-boxing with figments of our own imaginations. We’ll be trying to match ourselves to those fabled stereotypes lurking in our psyches of the ‘perfect coach’, ‘time management guru’, ‘giver of succour to all’ which are really just self-limiting beliefs floating around our heads impeding our own sense of inner acceptance.
Much mental energy can be wasted thinking about and struggling against something that’s just ‘there’. Rather than struggle, we can try to take stock for a moment to ask ourselves what we’re really feeling right now. This is where cultivating a mindfulness practice can come into its own, giving us tools to access our inner experience in ways that thought alone fails to do. Until we can identify and accept the presence of whatever is getting in the way of our readiness to coach, we’re not going to move beyond struggling against it. Naming what is present for us helps us to begin to sense what we might to do next.
2. Identify how deep the unreadiness to coach really is
Once we’ve accepted we’re not quite in the right place to go and get on with a coaching session, we need to give ourselves space to assess how long-lasting this state of mind or emotions might be. Sometimes just identifying and naming the issue is enough for it to vanish. If despite our best plans we’ve been inundated with lots of things to take care of all of a sudden, then acknowledging our situation rather than getting frustrated is a key step in helping us assess what we can actually do. Precious time is not lost mentally battling against the ‘unfairness of it all’, and we can quickly assess whether we can re-arrange our schedule or delegate certain matters in order to free up mind and time for the coaching assignment.
It’s a key aspect of a coach’s duty to be in the ‘right place’ mentally and physically to engage in a coaching session. That doesn’t mean we can only coach when everything’s perfect, the sun is shining, and we haven’t got a care in the world. What it does mean is that we need to be honest with ourselves in deciding whether we’re in a place to deal with coaching in the moment or we’re not. If we’re not, it’s far better to admit it to ourselves and get in touch with the coachee to cancel the session, making alternative arrangements. If we sense it’s a matter of taking a little time out to reconfigure and replenish our inner resources in whichever way suits the occasion best, then we’ll be encouraged to take those steps and to continue with the planned session.
3. Take steps to shift mood and approach
If on reflection we believe our mood/inner state can shift, allowing us to carry on with the scheduled session, we need to take the necessary action. It’s always good practice to build in time before and after coaching sessions to enable a period of mental preparation or reflection anyway, so part of that time can be spent undertaking some activity which puts us in a conducive frame of mind. Here are some suggestions we can build into our regular approach to scheduling sessions which can help us get into the best coaching ‘mood’:
- Engage in a short mindfulness practice A mindfulness session can be as short or long as we need. As little as 3-5 minutes can make the world of difference to our mood and acceptance of ourselves as human beings. For example, the 3-Minute Breathing Space is ideal for allowing us to get in touch with our inner state (what thoughts are present, our emotional ‘weather patterns’, our bodily sensations in the moment) before narrowing our attention to concentrating on the breath for a minute or two. When we widen our awareness again to include our bodies, thoughts and external surroundings, on many occasions we can feel a shift in perspective because we’ve broken the thought-emotion-bodily sensation cycle to free ourselves from being caught up in fruitless rumination.
- Moving out of our own space when we coach If at all possible, it helps us to get out of our ‘everyday frame of mind’ with all its cares and concerns if we physically remove ourselves from our ‘everyday’ setting. If we’re coaching in an organisation, we might be able to reserve suitable rooms or quiet areas for the coaching which necessitate walking to the appointment. During this walk, we can concentrate on ‘travelling’ in our minds to a mental space that is conducive to coaching. If a different location isn’t possible, we can try to set up a corner in our work space devoted to coaching, so that at least we are able to change our physical position and shift perspective, using that movement to shift our mentality as well.
- Allocate time to review notes on previous sessions There’s nothing like reminding ourselves of what went before in the coaching to get the mind on track for what is to come. Making brief notes on key aspects of coaching after a session (along with reflections on our own coaching) has the benefit of giving us a way back into the ‘coaching mentality’ necessary to resuming the coaching when the next session comes around.