I’ve been reminded again of how easy it can be, to be drawn into clients’ emotional worlds – and of the need to guard against this.
Some examples: a deaf client who was very angry about how he felt about his work and employer, on whose behalf I felt a too strong sense of injustice; a neuro-diverse client trying to work through issues of motivation and time management that come with her condition, while at the same time trying to care for her neuro-diverse children, and whose account left me wanting somehow to sort out her life; a client dealing with a range of pressures at work and at home, one of which was having to come to terms with the loss some months ago of her mother, who like mine, died unexpectedly in her mid-fifties – which briefly took me back to my own loss, even though it was a very long time ago.
Risk of Distraction
In those moments I realised that there was a risk of my not serving my clients well, were I to allow these “hooks” to take hold: a risk of making assumptions about their experience, the relating of which could be the start of their own healing and change processes, through hearing themselves speak their words out loud; a risk of my intervening to rescue them and thereby taking power away from them that it would be better for them to own fully and find a way to use through their own agency; a risk of distracting the client through bringing my material into the session and taking their attention away from where it might better be placed and even perhaps leading them to want to rescue me or to lose confidence in me as their coach.
Developing a Coaching Presence
The conscious awareness of such moments as these and knowing what to do with them, is for me part of developing a coaching presence; those choices about when to be still, knowing what’s mine and what’s the client’s, judging if, when and how to disclose my own narrative in way that still leaves the client feeling seen and heard. There are moments in coaching when it is appropriate, helpful and transforming to feedback to a client along the lines of “How I’m experiencing you now is …”, “Can I share what you have just evoked in me as it may just prompt something new for you …”.
And there are moments, probably more often than not, when it’s best to do nothing, just listen and quietly be with the client.
At the heart of knowing how to respond when there is a hook hanging there for you, are I believe three things: whether you have built a strong enough relationship with the client which can allow for using your self as an instrument of the coaching; an honest and compassionate awareness in the moment of your own intention, whether you intervene or do nothing; and self-care through and around all your work, so as a coach you can come into these moments from a place of psychological well-being and resourcefulness.
As well as being an Executive Coach, Ken Smith is also a Coach Supervisor. Ken has a particular interest in supervision for internal coaches, where the impact of the wider system and the coach’s unspoken role as representing the organisation may add an extra layer of complexity to the coach-client relationship.
Read more blogs from Ken – Confessions of a Supervisee
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Coach, supervisor, facilitator, pioneer, writer, walker.