Encouraging coach self-care through an “I’m OK, You’re OK” stance

This time I’m sharing a guest post I wrote not long ago concerning how coach self-care can be encouraged through a novel application of the “I’m OK, You’re OK” stance familiar from Transactional Analysis. We usually try to apply such a stance when dealing with our coachees, endeavouring to bring a non-judgemental compassion to our relationships. Yet many of us are rarely so non-judgemental or compassionate with ourselves.

Here I suggest that we can take care of ourselves better as coaches if we learn to approach ourselves as if we were someone we were coaching. By tapping into the best of what we bring to our coaching relationships, we begin to be able to non-judgmentally acknowledge and accept our own frailties, treating ourselves kindly for having tried our best.

Self care umbrella

The guest post first appeared in Coaching World in August 2018, published by the International Coach Federation (ICF). You can see the original publication here, and I’d like to point out that copyright is held by the ICF (meaning it should not be reproduced or reblogged without gaining permission from the ICF first).


Encouraging Coach Self-care through an “I’m OK, You’re OK” Stance

As coaches, our aim is to maintain a compassionate “I’m OK, You’re OK” stance with our clients. We respect their “wisdom” as well as their ability to dig deep (with our help) to find the appropriate solutions for their particular needs. We bring a non-judgmental attention to those with whom we’re working. Yet, do we bring the same compassionate stance and non-judgmental attention to ourselves?

Taking care of ourselves, both our mental and physical well-being, is one of our key responsibilities. Firstly, we owe it to ourselves as human beings. Secondly, we owe it to our clients. If we’re unable to recognize and fulfill our own needs for care, compassion and regeneration, then we’ll not be in the right place to extend these to anyone else.

For those of us who find it hard not to berate ourselves, blame ourselves for perceived failings, secretly suspect we are the worst coaches in the world, or are going through particularly difficult times, I’d like to suggest a change of perspective. We can view ourselves differently, and in doing so extend to ourselves the levels of compassion and non-judgmentalism we also deserve.

Taking an “I’m OK, You’re OK” Stance

In Transactional Analysis (TA), life positions are psychological attitudes we take towards the world and the people we encounter. From Franklin Ernst’s “OK Corral” matrix, “I’m OK, You’re OK” is a balanced, healthy life position which assumes I am OK and that you are OK as well.

This balanced view is important to coaching. It ensures we begin coaching relationships assuming that our clients are wise, knowledgeable and expert in their issues, though currently they aren’t quite as in touch with that wisdom as they’d like to be.

The “OK Corral” matrix suggests there are other less healthy life positions. Ranging from “I’m not OK, You’re OK” and “I’m not OK, You’re not OK” to “I’m OK, You’re not OK,” they can all lead to problems.

Whenever we assume we or the other person are not OK, we are taking a negative position. We are likely to allocate blame to ourselves or others, to lack compassion and patience, and to act without due care. Clearly these are not life positions to adopt with our coaching clients, and we recognize this fact by striving to avoid them.

Oftentimes even we, coaches, berate ourselves as human beings and treat ourselves without the respect we try to give others. We regard ourselves as not being “OK,” and we punish ourselves for our perceived inadequacies accordingly. We wouldn’t dream of taking such a stance with our clients. I’d like to suggest that, to take care of ourselves as we should, we need to make an effort to break this negative cycle.

Breaking the Negative Cycle

As part of our reflective practice, we can try to approach ourselves as if we were someone else, as if we were someone we are coaching. We can converse with this “other self” as we would with a client, taking an “I’m OK, You’re OK” stance.

From this stance could flow the kind of compassionate, patient supportiveness we channel in our coaching sessions. It might enable us to acknowledge and accept our own frailties, treating ourselves kindly for having tried our best.

Final Note

TA philosophy is founded on the conviction that people are OK. Everyone has worth, value and dignity. It follows that everyone should be approached with what Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard,” being accepted and respected just as they are. And that includes ourselves as much as anyone else.

By adopting an “I’m OK, You’re OK” stance towards ourselves, by treating ourselves as if we are our clients, we may access the levels of compassion and non-judgmentalism we try to bring to our coaching relationships. We may succeed in taking care of ourselves better than we otherwise might.

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