Coaching-Friendly Emotions

As coaches, one thing we will always encounter in our coachees is their emotions. Since we are always experiencing one or more emotions, they will be there as part of the coaching conversation. In those conversations, we, the coaches, will also be in one or more emotions. Since emotions are at the root of our thoughts and actions, it makes sense that certain emotions we are experiencing will support the coaching and certain emotions may hinder it. As a long-time coach, I’ve found the following emotions to be particularly helpful in my coaching. You’ll notice that they aren’t all “good” emotions, but some of them are ones we try to deny or hide.

If we think of desire to serve as an emotion – whether we label it “desire” or “service”- it is one of the most helpful. When I put myself in the service of others, I attend to their needs before my own. I will look for ways to help them and focus my energy to that end.

Alongside service, compassion is extremely helpful. The root of compassion from Latin means “to be with another in their pain or passion”. As a coach, this means that I can maintain my own emotions (service, dignity, respect) while being present with the coachee and their challenges no matter their emotion (fear, anger, joy). I can remain a different observer and thus remain useful in the role of coach. If you take the root of compassion literally, compassion alone doesn’t compel us to act which is where service comes into the picture.

One emotion I’ve needed to learn to listen to and incorporate into my coaching is frustration. Since we generally categorize frustration as a “bad” emotion, we tend to think it isn’t appropriate in a relationship such as coaching. However, if we understand the frustration is simply telling us “this seems to be taking too long” or “this should be easier” it can prompt us to look for new paths in our conversation or to prompt the coachee to simplify or stop repeating things already said. A useful emotion to combine with frustration is respect. The way in which the coachee is seeing his/her challenges and the way they express them is the best they can. We need to respect that they are who they are but since they have asked for our help, we must support them to move ahead.

Inherent in respect is acceptance. When we say, “they see the world the way they see the world” without judgment we are accepting them as a legitimate observer and human being. One of the things that can kill a coaching relationship is passing judgment on the coachee. It is not the coach’s place to judge. By necessity, we need to make assessments, but those evaluations do not include judgment on the legitimacy of the coachee.

So far, we’ve looked at service which impels us to help others, compassion which allows us to retain our center and perspective, frustration which can help get the coaching unstuck and acceptance which creates a safe space for the coachee to share.

Probably the most important emotion for a coach to master is curiosity. It is the emotion that prompts us to ask questions and to continue doing so even when we have “an answer”.

Curiosity keeps us from stopping at the first answer and makes us look for connections and other possible answers. To be effective, curiosity needs to be combined with service so that our questions are always an attempt to serve the client and acceptance so that we don’t fall into judging the coachee. Maintaining curiosity is a practice, and we can learn to ask bigger questions in order to get bigger answers.

Finally, it is very useful to bring levity or lightness to a coaching conversation. As an emotion, gentle irreverence can be the key. It means that although I take the coachee seriously, I am also able to point out inconsistencies or ironies in their story. For a coachee, his/her breakdown is often a very serious issue. Sometimes a little lightness can help them breakthrough to see their challenge in a different light.

Given that there are more than 250 emotions this list could continue. There are many more emotions useful to coaching than I’ve listed. When I train coaches, I encourage them to find their own set of “most useful emotions” in terms of coaching. This list may be a beginning point, but I’d encourage each of you to expand the range of emotions you understand and use and to build your own best practice in this area. Good luck!

About Dan Newby

Dan Newby trains and mentors leaders and coaches, works with organizations to elevate their emotional literacy, facilitates emotions workshops and is co -author of “The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy”. His roles have included working internationally as COO and CEO of Newfield Network considered one of the premier coaching schools globally where he was also a Senior Course Leader for 8 years. He has advanced training in ONTOLOGICAL COACHING and Somatic Coaching and is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) by the International Coach Federation (ICF). He lives near Barcelona, Spain and work worldwide with individuals and organizations.

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