The Emotionally Attuned Coach
As coaches, we are not machines. I don’t believe artificial intelligence (AI) will ever be able to outperform the power of one human engaging with another through the partnership of coaching. However, showing up as humans in our coaching requires continual growth in awareness of our emotions, thinking, and intuitions. We must constantly be learning.
ICF Core Competency 2.5 states that the coach “uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients.” This is a key component of embodying a coaching mindset, and I am continually learning ways to develop this awareness.
When we are actively listening to our clients, we will experience emotions and thinking patterns that cannot be avoided and must not be ignored. When we remain distant and out – of touch with our own emotional responses, we may inadvertently create distance in the client-coach relationship. In addition, the energy that we spend suppressing our own emotions, even subconsciously, dampens our ability to help the client tap into their own internal creative process.
Neuroscientists are beginning to provide us with insight into why this is so important. Numerous studies have shown that emotions are contagious and that emotional states can synchronize, increasing our ability to understand ourselves and our clients. This automatic “tuning” facilitates a clearer mental process.
Coaches must not check their emotions and intuitions at the door, but rather bring them into each session. How do we do this, and how do we shift our thinking to see this aspect of our brain function as a set of tools?
A first step in the process is increasing our own emotional and mental awareness, or emotional literacy. What emotions are we bringing into our coaching conversation? What emotions are being “triggered” in us during our conversations? What data are they giving us? Does this data lead us away from the conversation, or does it help us lean in and be present with our client? Learning to quickly recognize and name our emotions and the thinking patterns that come from that data will help us own what is going on inside us and support us in staying clear and present with our clients. This also helps us stay in our lane, so to speak, providing knowledge about what to lay aside; and keeping us from coloring our perspective; or falling into biases that could cause us to stray from our client during the coaching conversation.
Once we can channel our emotional awareness into clarity for ourselves, we can then use this powerful and important data to benefit our clients. Sifting through our emotional data sharpens our thinking and helps us remain in control of ourselves. This not only keeps us relational, but it also keeps us from entering “fix it” mode. We stay away from our amygdala (fight, flight, freeze, or fawn), and we coach from the joyful creative center of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex. Remaining relational is a key aspect of maintaining a coaching mindset.
Here are two tools I’ve found helpful for growing in your own awareness as a coach:
- Take time to center yourself and become aware of your body and emotions before you begin the coaching session. This helps to bring you into a more present and focused state of mind. It also gives you a baseline to start from so you can become aware of changes in your mental, emotional, and physical state throughout the session.
- After each coaching session, take three minutes to decompress mentally and emotionally. Make notes of the emotions and thoughts you experienced during the session. What did you notice? Write down two things you did well in staying present and one thing you could do better next time.
According to an anonymous proverb, “Knowledge is created by the learner, not given by the teacher.” Our coaching clients are working to learn, rediscover, or unlock something, and this requires them to think about it and to “feel” their way through. As coaches, we are not teaching them anything they do not already know; often we are providing them with a sounding board to remind them of things they want or need to remember. Our own emotional and mental regulation throughout the session improves the quality and clarity of the sound we are sending back to the client.