Is Coaching a Serious Business?
If you think coaching is a business to be conducted seriously and devoid of humor, read on – you might be right, humor is serious business!
When I started my career as a coach, I was asked this question multiple times: “Now that you are a coach…it must be a serious thing?” However, for an individual with humor and laughter as her core values, I really cannot imagine holding a conversation that borders on banal or being in the space, let alone create one, that feels heavy and serious.
That’s when my exploration started. What exactly is humor? Does humor have a place in coaching? I spoke with many fellow coaches and was duly warned against using it. Opinions varied, ranging from humor being “unnecessary” to “triggering” to “gaslighting” and even “trivialising” the client’s experience. That is when I realized that humor has acquired a bad reputation.
They say, at times, to know what you really want, you must also know exactly what you do not want. Let us begin with what humor is NOT in a coaching conversations.
I have been asked to “take it easy” many times when I have pointed out people using ableist sexist, classist, racist, casteist language or patriarchal-laden jokes – that is definitely not funny! It could even be the reason why people stay away from humor or jokes in coaching, because you never know what you could be triggering. To me, humor in coaching is not about cracking jokes. And when used inappropriately, humor can become destructive and counterintuitive.
So, what is it? The ICF Core Competencies mention that a coach “Uses humor effectively to create lightness and energy.” This came as a relief to me and a cue to go deeper into what humor could mean in a coaching conversation which is a fertile ground for deep, transformative change. We know change can be messy, transformation may not be easy, and letting go of limiting beliefs or moving out of comfort zone may necessarily not be fun or funny. Then, what exactly is the role of humor in coaching?
The key is that, when artfully and empathetically executed, humor strengthens connection and trust, and allows for vulnerable expression. Awareness of self and client and a sharp sensory acuity helps elevate the session’s quality a few notches. I bring humor to a session by pacing with the client and rephrasing what they are saying, without changing the tone or tenor in which it is said. Sometimes just that is enough. At other times, note the shift in the client’s facial expression, if they are smiling or laughing, smile and laugh with them. That way you are honoring the client’s model of their world, and mirroring – not agreeing, nor disagreeing. You could also raise their awareness to any visible shifts in body language by gently asking them, “When you smile thinking/talking of this, what does that mean to you.” And listen in deeply.
Many times in coaching conversations, I have experienced clients with a range of reactions when they “see” or get an insight about the futility of their dearly-held but non-serving patterns; from silence to a reflective smile to a hearty laugh. Be in the moment and dance away.
Connection fosters humor and humor strengthens connection. Coaching is a sacred space, and all about the client. Do not make it about yourself – cracking a joke is not cool and layering up a client’s experience, however fun that may be, with a similar personal story is a no go, too. Be careful and be you. If lightness is in your being it will show up in your doing. Effortlessness comes after a lot of conscious effort, remain in awareness, flow with the client while being sensitive.
Whether using humor in coaching or in life, the rules are the same. Being sensitive never costs anything, ever. Coaching with a great sense of humor makes a coach more likeable and relatable. Learn the techniques, understand the sensibilities involved and it helps to remember that in spite of all the ups and downs in life; no one is getting out of it alive. So coach and live, love, laugh a little more.