Sometimes, whilst in the full flow of a coaching session you might start experiencing the same feelings as your coachee. Is this good or bad and more importantly should you let the coachee know how you feel? Find out my thoughts below.
Part of being a coach is embodying competencies such as active listening, presence and a high level of empathy. As a result of this, it is not uncommon that we start feeling so in-tune with our client that we truly become completely one with them.
I'll tell you a little story to explain how I felt this in my own coaching practice.
I have been working with a client who was undergoing a particularly tough time due to some personal reasons. As part of the process I supported the client to further identify and verbalise her feelings. We tried but she struggled. As the client kept discussing her feelings, in rather vague terms, I started to experience a tightness around my throat and upper chest. The feeling caught me by surprise and I found that for a short while I started concentrating more on this reaction of mine rather than what the client was saying. I forced myself to focus again on the client and I jostled for a long while with the idea of telling the client how I felt. I was torn since I did not want to be directive; the session was for the client and their benefit, and not an opportunity to explore my feelings.
So I stayed with the feeling for a few more minutes until I just had to let it out. "I'm sorry to interrupt but can I share something?" I said to the client. "I've got this feeling around my throat, this tightness..." The coachee looked at me and immediately burst out and said "Thank God you mentioned that! I could feel it too and it's all I keep thinking about!"
The client then relaxed and discussed how she felt she could not verbalise her feelings and that every word she said felt like it was "being drawn out" out of her. At this point I just asked her to sit with the feeling for a bit, explore it, understand it and not feel pressured to verbalise it. She later admitted that the feeling was clearly guilt and that she was not ready to let it go or fully admit it to herself.
I found the episode fascinating. I evidently mirrored her behavioural response without her telling me. I was also surprised at how cathartic it was for her to hear that I was feeling the same emotion. This got me thinking about how much as a coach we should disclose to our clients about our own feelings.
Prior to this client I would have probably have had a very different response to this question. I think, that as long as we ask for permission to share how we feel and ask whether it means anything to the client then it can be beneficial to the coaching relationship.
In this case my client felt that I was being genuine, present and supportive. It helped her relax and understand that I was providing her that unconditional positive regard that she required in the situation.
Have you had a similar experience before? What do you do in your coaching practice? Do your share your feelings? Let us know!
Joseph Grech, Chartered FCIPD and ICF-accredited coach is the founder of Smarter Learning Ltd. and an experienced L&D professional.