Importance of Emotional Self Regulation in Coaching - International Coaching Federation
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Importance of Emotional Self Regulation in Coaching

Posted by Fanie Zis, PCC | June 15, 2022 | Comments (11)

Last summer, I had a client who requested some coaching around their father’s recent death after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, my own father was in hospice, with weeks to live, also from a long battle of Alzheimer’s. 

I was aware this might be challenging but made the decision to take the client. Luckily, this coaching interaction was telephonic. I had tears streaming down my face intermittently throughout the session. As I had already started the session, I did my best at the time to regulate my emotions and focus on the client.  

After the appointment I concluded that it was not ethical for me to proceed with this client. I could not be there for the client in the way that they needed at this time, nor would I be able to practice professionally. I made sure the client was safe, reported this and, because I work as a coach within an employee and family assistance program, the client was assigned to a different provider. 

I have had several clients reaching out for coaching to work on their emotional self-regulation skills. But what about our own emotional self-regulation as coaches?  

What do you do when you feel a wave of sadness? Fear? Anger? How do you manage these emotions within yourself when they come up in a session and how do you manage yourself when your client expresses emotions? 

In this article I hope to help coaches understand the importance and place of emotional self-regulation in the coaching process. We’ll discuss how to develop your emotional self-regulation skills so that there is a balance where you honour, validate and acknowledge your emotions, but do not let them interfere with the coaching process, relationship and well-being of both you and your client. 

What is emotional self-regulation and why is it Important in coaching?

Emotional self-regulation is how we manage our emotions. In order to have a coaching presence and adopt a coaching mindset, coaches need to be able to understand, process and regulate their emotions. A coach needs to support their client AND manage their own reactions to the client’s emotional expression and/or the coach’s own emotional experience. This means: 

  • Being comfortable with emotions expressed by your client and regulating your own emotional reaction and response to their emotions.  
  • Being comfortable with your own emotions that may come up for you in session and regulating your reaction and response.

Emotions, both within yourself and your client, are inevitable. You cannot control your emotions, but you can control the relationship and interaction with your emotions.  

Although emotion can drive decisions, actions and thus results, unregulated emotion and being uncomfortable with emotions can also have a negative effect on your client’s progress, the coaching process and for you as a professional coach. 

Signs you may feel uncomfortable with negative emotions with yourself and clients: 

  • You immediately reach for the Kleenex when tears are exposed 
  • You use humour to cope with uncomfortable feelings 
  • You change or deflect from the topic 
  • You ramble and do not allow silence and space 
  • Body sensations: you may start to sweat, fidget, move around 

When your client expresses emotion, the following points can help:

  • Make space for emotion. 
  • Acknowledge and validate their emotions. 
  • Do not judge the emotion. 
  • Do not assume the outward expression is what is being experienced by your client inside. 
  • Go with the agenda of the client. If processing the emotions and thoughts that come up are what a client feels is a step forward towards reaching their goal, confirm the agenda with the client and then adjust the goal of the appointment is to facilitate this. 
  • Try out co-regulating and de-escalating strategies. These can help both you and your client regulate emotions. Examples may include a deep breathing exercise, talking low and slow, grounding techniques. 
  • Refer to therapy or other healthcare professional if/as necessary. 

Self-Regulation Strategies when strong emotions come up for you as a coach 

Ideally you want to focus and work on this out of session. If you try to regulate difficult emotions as they come up during a coaching session, you become focused on yourself and not your client.  Here are five strategies to try: 

1. Continuously cultivate self-awareness.

Before regulating emotions, you need to identify, understand and process the emotion and its underlying thoughts and interpretations. What is going on for you? Keeping a Coaching Reflection journal can help.

2. Know your triggers.

Then, identify whether you are ready to cope/work with them or if you need to take a step back and address the underlying thoughts and interpretations.  

3. Be attentive to conflicts of interests.

If you feel you do not have the capacity to take on a particular client, then abide by the ethical guidelines and refer the client to another coach and/or healthcare professional 

4. Get professional help and/or support.

Make time to address your emotions outside of sessions.  

5. Keep a good self-care and well-being plan.

Emotional self-regulation is not a destination. It takes ongoing practice and conscious effort, and this requires a healthy level of stress and life balance.  

It’s OK to express and share an emotion with your client! Emotional self-regulation does not mean suppressing or stifling the emotion and acting like a robot. The role of emotions in your sessions will depend on the relationship and rapport you have with the client. This can even strengthen the level of trust, empathy, listening. What you do not want is for your emotions to become the focus and take away from the client’s experience. 

Remember, your client does not need to leave happy, they just need to leave safe. 

Headshot of Coaching World contributor Fanie Zis

Fanie Zis, PCC

Fanie Zis, PCC, CCDP, CWS, CES, CCS, comes from a background in psychology, counselling, and career development and holds a PCC Credential with the International Coaching Federation (ICF).  Fanie works as a Life Smart Coach for EFAP program through Homewood Health in the areas of career coaching, career counselling, relationship coaching, grief and loss, stress management and pre-retirement planning.   Fanie also works as a freelance Life and Career Coach working with clients by supporting them through personal and professional development and life enhancement processes in a variety of sectors in their lives depending on their situation and life goals.  You can reach Fanie at fanielifecoaching@gmail.com and through LinkedIn: LinkedIn linkedin.com/in/fanie-zis-pcc-ccdp-ccs-ces-cws-53a09432  Website:http://epifanielifecoaching.com/

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (11)

  1. Elham Mazaheri (PCC holder) says:

    Dear Fanie,
    It was very useful to read your experience and the practical strategies.
    Thank you.

  2. kaire.viil@gmail.com says:

    Thank you. I like idea that slient must feel safe in the end of session, happiness is not priority.

    • Fanie Zis says:

      Yes, I received that piece of advice once and it made a huge difference! You cannot make someone happy nor is it your job to do but ensuring safety, to the best that you can, is critical I think!:)

  3. Fanie Zis says:

    Thank you for your kind feedback Elham;)

  4. Tonya M. Sconiers says:

    Thank you! The information on self regulation was very helpful!

    • Fanie Zis says:

      You are most welcome Tonya. It is just a glimpse of what one can do but I hope the article sheds some light on the important function of self-regulation in coaching (in and out of session!)

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  8. Dan Stahl says:

    Fanie – thank you for the thought provoking article. I have a follow-up question for you.

    Under the section header – “When your client expresses emotion, the following points can help”, there is a bullet that says “Do not assume the outward expression is what is being experienced by your client inside”. Can you say more about this?

    Thank you.

    –Dan Stahl

  9. Fanie Zis says:

    Hello Dan! Thank you for reading my article:) That is a good question. What I mean by not always assuming (don’t assume, ask!) that the outward expression is related to what is going on inside for the client can be summarized by the following: a. The client may express an emotion (like laughter) related to an experience (ie thought, event, sensation) that is not funny but out of fear, sadness, anxiety. The emotion expressed may also not be related to the current issue being talked about but could be tied to a past event, a trigger (unconscious or conscious). Same goes with crying-the client may be crying out of relief, and joy. I recommend always asking the client something like, “‘I see that you are laughing, what is going on for you right now?” Or I am sensing some anger, what is happening for you right now?”. The client themselves may not understand what is going on for them and as a Coach you can help them build some awareness around this. The emotions is saying something-it just might not be expressed the way we typically associate it with i.e laughing must mean something is funny, tears must mean something is sad).I hope this helps answer your question. Just remember to never assume or judge. Let the emotion be expressed and explore it further. Emotion drives action:)

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