Do your coachees ever deny their right to feel the way they do about a troubling issue, situation or relationship? Have you ever done this yourself?
Many of us dismiss our underlying feelings through rationalising about how we ‘ought’ to feel. We may become frustrated that our neatly-packaged thinking is being undermined, or that the ‘guidance’ we have received from ‘advisers’ (well-intentioned or otherwise) has not shifted the ‘silly’ or ‘childish’ gut feelings we just can’t seem to magic away.
What if our coachee says, “I know I shouldn’t be feeling like this…”?
As coaches we hone our skills in observing and reflecting back the full spectrum of communication we receive from our coachees. Much of that communication is non-verbal. We note tone of voice, averted gaze, subtle changes in facial colour. We see the pain expressed in eyes welling up with tears, surprising the coachee more than it surprises us. In the non-judgemental confidential space we nurture, our coachees may feel safe enough to articulate aspects of their current experience they may never have been able to express before, even to themselves.
“I know I shouldn’t be feeling like this…” Our ears should prick up. This is often a key indicator of unfinished business below the surface which can’t be rationalised or advised away. Nor should it be. The feelings our coachee may be trying to bury are an integral part of the interrelated internal communications systems we as human beings are gifted with – the cycle of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
We feel what we feel for very good reason. As coaches we have a role in facilitating our coachees in accessing these additional communication resources as best they can in the moment, listening to those silent whispers which may shed new light on how they can move forward. In doing so we need to respect our coachees’ boundaries in terms of what is or is not bearable, what they can or can’t deal with in this time of feeling those feelings they may have buried for so long.
Coaching is forward focused, examining what is, in order to raise awareness and skilfulness in teasing out options that lead to choice in what to do next. We incorporate examining elements of the past as they naturally arise for our coachees in the moment, with the intention of understanding how this influences the ‘now’. We can facilitate a recognition of potential submerged barriers to personal growth and progression, enabling the moving beyond limitations that hold individuals back.
That said, it is not our role to lead with sharp intrusive tools the excavation of regions coachees do not want to visit. We should respect their right and ability to sense what they need in the moment. It is our coachees’ choice to leave well alone if that is what they wish, for avoidance may sometimes be a self-preservation method we disturb at their peril. It is not our place to insist on uncovering wounds which our coachees may need the support of other ‘helping professionals’ to heal.*
We can facilitate aspects which our coachees bring to awareness themselves, once liberated by the balm of being listened to and encouraged to explore. With our compassion they may reach the stage of feeling what they feel, and of expressing whatever message they need to be hearing from those feelings. Once expressed and absorbed, that message may enable them to come to a point of recognising options for what to do next, which they can consider with wisdom from a point of choice.
Acknowledged, feelings can provide important indicators for coachees of which options they are really able and willing to pursue, unencumbered by what others may have told them they ought to do. Hidden aspects of their reality will have been brought to light which for whatever reason they have been unwilling to face.
“I know I shouldn’t be feeling like this…” may stem from fear of engaging with emotional pain and discomfort. We can encourage our coachees to be compassionate with themselves in expressing their feelings, being with them, and nurturing self-care through acknowledging them.
Once expressed and acknowledged, these feelings may be transcended by our coachees as they are enabled to move into realms of self-wisdom with regard to choice, incorporating the deep non-verbal messages beyond thought which we all have the capacity to deliver to ourselves, in order that we can understand what we really need as opposed to how we ‘ought’ to feel.
* It’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes coachees may present with issues that are beyond the capacity of a coach to deal with. I’ve touched on this in a previous post looking at what coaching isn’t. Such a situation may be immediately apparent, or it may emerge during a coaching intervention. Whenever we feel we are moving into areas that are beyond our competence, we need to call a halt and help the coachee to decide what course of action to take next. Think out how best to handle such an eventuality by compiling information with which to signpost the coachee to services that they might choose to explore.
Be ready also for the possibility that a coachee may indicate that she or he is contemplating suicide. I have written elsewhere highlighting the guide and information sheet produced recently by the International Coach Federation (ICF) which helps us understand what to do when faced with such a situation. Always be aware of services you can suggest your coachee make contact with in your organisation (if you coach internally) or in the local area/region if you have your own independent practice.
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