June 30, 2023

"Dealing" with emotions

The ICF competencies ask the coach to develop the ability to "regulate one's emotions". I often also read that coaches should be able to "deal with" strong emotions of their clients. The words used imply an action on behalf of the coach: they "deal with" or "regulate", they are doing something to themselves and the emotion. I am wondering if these metaphors are really helpful.

In our world today, we are very often invited to do something about "negative" emotions. At the slightest sign of a very tolerable but uncomfortable emotion, boredom, we take our cell phones and make it go away. We want to "manage" our anger and "work through" our grief. I am not so sure that the impulse to make uncomfortable emotions go away is helpful for coaches. This is especially true when it comes to the emotions of our clients.

If coaches are not comfortable in the presence of "negative" emotions that arise in themselves, they might not have enough practice to be comfortable in the presence of clients' negative emotions. Now, I have zero research to back this up and I might be completely wrong here, it just is something that feels plausible. Let me know if I am wrong. The danger is that if the coach is uncomfortable with the client's emotion, they might also want to do something in order to make it go away. They might calm a client down, try to offer solace, reframe the situation to help the client seethe positive in the negative and fail to acknowledge the client's hardship.

The worst case of such coaching behavior I have experienced was a colleague's interpretation of "karma" (really, only the colleague's interpretation, not the concept) stating that if a client was suffering, it was due to some failure in a previous life. The colleague's way of "dealing with" their discomfort around the client's suffering and the injustice of a good person experiencing hardship was to explain it away. (And again, I am not sure if the colleague was experiencing discomfort -- this is my interpretation and I might be wrong).

Instead of "regulating" or "dealing", we might "witness", "acknowledge", "learnt to be comfortable with" emotions that arise. Mindfulness practitioners have many ways of practicing noticing what is going on without immediately responding: body scans, breathing meditations etc. In any case, learning to be comfortable with one's own emotions without immediately "doing" something about them may be good practice for our coaching.

So, the next time you feel this pull of your phone and you want to open our blog page (just kidding -- it usually is social media that gives us best "anti-boredom-kicks") why not use it as a way to practice just being with boredom. See what happens, you might surprise yourself.

If you would like to not be bored together with a bunch of likeminded professionals, hang out with us or learn about our courses, why not come to our regular free meetup and exchange sessions?

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