3 things we can do to stop feeling guilty when we can’t coach

We all know there are times when we really aren’t in the right place to give a coaching session. Perhaps we’re ill, or in the middle of a personal crisis. Or maybe we’re genuinely inundated with other things that we can’t put off or delegate to anyone else. But what if despite knowing this we’re the kind of individual that still feels guilty? What if we just can’t let go of that feeling we really ought to go ahead or we’ll be letting our coachees down?

Crying easter eggIt’s bread and butter for us to help our coachees recognise when it’s time to call a halt to something they’re fixated on needing to do. We use our coaching skills to call them out and to raise their awareness of the psychological blocks and filters which can lead to such fixations in the first place. But we may find it difficult to recognise when our own psychological blocks and filters are kicking in.

This time I’ll take a look at why we may feel guilty when we’re not in the right place to give our coaching sessions, and suggest three ways we can help ourselves to deal with this situation.

Why do we feel guilty?

Not everyone has the same psychological makeup. For example, some of us seem motivated by trying to achieve perfection, whilst others may take pride in how difficult it is to bring a task to completion. A useful framework for thinking about the differences is in terms of the common motivational drivers identified by the clinical psychologist Taibi Kahler in the 1970s. Commonly referred to as the 5 Drivers, these are derived from Transactional Analysis, consisting of five behaviours, a combination of which are behind the ways in which we as individuals approach our lives. They may well sound familiar:

  • Be Perfect
  • Be Strong
  • Hurry Up
  • Please Others
  • Try Hard

Each of these drivers has both positive and destructive aspects, which can surface depending on circumstance and the amount of pressure an individual is living under. Normally two drivers are foremost in the psychological makeup of any individual, and how she or he deals with stress and difficulty can depend on which particular combination of drivers features highest for her or him.

Stressed figure sitting at a tableWhat has this got to do with coaches feeling guilty if they aren’t in the right place to give a coaching session? Well, imagine an individual who is driven by the needs to please others and do a perfect job every time. When such an individual is under stress, it would only be expected for him or her to feel inadequate, that he or she had let the other person down, and that he or she was a failure. Helping professions such as coaching or counselling tend to attract those who are motivated by making life better for others. Therefore it would not be a surprise to find that some coaches score highly on ‘Be Perfect’ and ‘Please Others’, leading to that nagging sense of guilt if a coaching session needs to be cancelled.

3 things we can do to help ourselves

  • Take a personality assessment to recognise our motivational characteristics     Whilst personality assessments shouldn’t be taken as deterministic, as a point of departure for thinking and strategising approaches to life they can be very useful. I’ve written elsewhere about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is one of the most popular tools in the world despite the reservations of professional psychologists about its validity. Less complicated and readily available to use for free is the Drivers Questionnaire, which employs the 5 Drivers framework described above. This is an impactful tool for coaches to use with coachees during sessions, but it’s equally valuable for coaches themselves. It can help them to gain an insight into their own drivers in order to recognise when they are running into difficulty if the more destructive characteristics of their particular driver combination kick in. This insight can help us understand ourselves better and to strategise coping mechanisms when circumstances may lead to increased pressure and additional stress.
  • Taking an ‘I’m Okay, You’re Okay’ stance with ourselves     The ‘I’m Okay, You’re Okay’ stance features in another framework originating in Transactional Analysis – Franklin Ernst’s ‘OK Corral’ matrix. This is usually thought of as a tool to help individuals gain sufficient insight into self vis-à-vis others to aid understanding of how to build more constructive social relationships. I’ve written elsewhere about how useful it can be when thought of as an attitude we bring to our relationship with ourselves, as it can help us improve the quality of self-compassion and self-care we bring to our own lives as coaches. It can be revelatory to make that shift to approaching ourselves as if we were one of our own coachees, mobilising our empathy and understanding, this time directed to our own needs and our own sense of well-being rather than those of others.
  • Having a ‘thinking buddy’     It’s crucial for coaches to cultivate a reflective practice. This is how we’re enabled to identify patterns of thought, attitude and behaviour which might otherwise go unnoticed. 2 womenHowever, when we’re under stress, are ill, or are otherwise distracted, even our reflective practice may not pick up on signs that something is going wrong. I would suggest it can be helpful to have purposeful regular exchanges of views about our coaching practice and life in general with a trusted coach peer (or ‘thinking buddy’). Building such a mutually beneficial relationship with a fellow coach can be an important component in any strategy for identifying when the downsides of our drivers may be taking over our mood and perceptions. Over time our ‘thinking buddy’ will learn to recognise patterns of which we ourselves are unaware, and most importantly, have the tools to help raise our awareness to consider ways of dealing with the situation. As a supplement to formal supervision this can be particularly helpful because a supervisor is not necessarily available regularly enough to notice changes as they take shape. Conversations between ‘thinking buddies’ can provide to both parties a crucial safe, trusted, confidential space in which to identify when ‘Be Perfect’ or ‘Please Others’ drivers are taking centre stage in a negative way.

So there are my 3 top tips for how we can help ourselves if we fall into feeling guilty when we really aren’t in the right place to go ahead with our coaching sessions. I hope they will help you too…

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