Grief and pain can have long lasting impacts on everyone they touch. People may often try to handle their pain internally and wait for time to heal them. Unfortunately, this is less likely to be a solution and clients may come to their coaches for assistance. Not every coach will have a client who is going through a crisis, however, chances are that some degree of crisis, whether professional or personal, will come up in a coaching session at some point. These clients are often scared, hurt and confused. The way to handle these situations differs from client to client, but there are some basics to keep in mind:
- Be supportive. Offer positive reinforcement and let them know they aren’t alone.
- Be understanding but not judgmental. It doesn’t matter at what stage they are in their grief, the client will be moving through at their own pace.
- Be authentic. It isn’t unusual to be at a loss for words, but don’t try to fill the gaps with platitudes.
- Don’t avoid. There doesn’t need to be an avoidance of the elephant in the room – get it out in the open and discuss patiently.
- Don’t fix it. Just listen to the client and give them the space to air out their concerns and hopefully hear themselves to discover their own solutions.
- Offer hope. The client should know there is something beyond the current darkness, but they don’t have to be there just yet.
Grief can be all encompassing and often people are so caught up in their own pain that they are unable to imagine a future past it or a way out of it. Time isn’t necessarily the best solution and despair can set in if the client is unable to share their pain. Since most coaches are not crisis counsellors, it is important to have a referral on hand for clients who may be in situations beyond the coach’s ability. There is no shame in realizing a limitation to the coaching process and recommending a client to seek further assistance with a professional, however, some clients may just need someone to listen to them and this could be an opportunity for their coach to make a difference.
Everyone has their own unique take on life and even the same situation can be seen in different ways by different people. As such, metaphors can bring an insight into how a person has perceived a situation or even their own life and goals. Metaphors can create images in the mind that tap into a person’s creativity and unlock potential they may not know they have. Knowing how to properly interpret and/or use a metaphor during coaching can make a difference in a client’s breakthrough. Every person uses metaphors unconsciously in their conversations, often up to once every 25 seconds. For instance, a client may reference “a light at the end of the tunnel” or that they are “stuck in a rut.” As a coach, it is important to develop the skills to identify the language in the metaphor and formulate the questions to help the client view the situation using their own metaphor as a roadmap. Examples would be “what does the light look like for you?” or “can you describe the rut further for me?”.
In addition, using metaphors as a coach can help the client view the situation from a completely different perspective, which could break them out of their rut and help them find a solution. Using metaphors helps the client consciously focus on the situation with imagination using a story, symbol or object to change their viewpoint. It can help activate their processes of thinking, making new links in their mind and discovering something new about their situation.
Here are some tips for using metaphors when coaching:
- Listen to the client and understand the images they try to convey through their use of metaphors.
- Use their metaphors to help them delve into the situations they discuss. For example, if the client has “hit a wall”, have them explain what the wall looks like, how tall it is, what it is made of and how they feel they might get to the other side of it.
- If the client does not come up with a metaphor, try to provide one that could give insight into their mindset. For instance, talk about their situation in terms of being a ship on the ocean. Get them to describe visually what that looks like for them. What are the obstacles, what does the ship look like, what does their destination look like, etc.
- Once they have a perspective on the metaphor, try to move forward to get to an action using the metaphor.
Although it takes some intuition from the coach to effectively use metaphors to move their clients along, it can be a learned skill. Practice using metaphors often and have a list of ones to use whenever required to change up the client’s perspective on their situation. It can help make the difference between being “stuck in a rut” and being “set free from the chains”.
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There are times in coaching when a client may have some emotional baggage that is preventing them from moving forward or making progress in their coaching. These instances may cause a client to overreact, lash out or spend entirely too much time obsessing at the expense of being productive. Although a coach is not a therapist, it may be helpful to have some skills specifically for situations like this. It may also be tempting to ignore these emotions and guide clients away from triggers, but this stance may prove ineffective for the client.
If emotional issues aren’t dealt with, they can prevent a client from being able to solve their situations and cause a continuous loop of behaviour that the client cannot see a way out of. It is worth noting that not all strong emotions are negative and some can be productive to processing events or issues the client has dealt with or is dealing with. The following steps may be useful in helping a client work through their emotional issues:
- Be aware of the client’s emotional state. Ask “what” questions when they begin to exhibit increased emotions, such as “What feelings do you have right now?”.
- Validate their feelings in a non-judgmental way. Acknowledge what they have said and follow up with other “what” questions, such as “what does that feel like for you?”.
- Allow them to feel their emotions. Obviously there is a point where enough time has been spent on the topic and moving on is necessary. This is likely a gut instinct of the coach and unlikely to be a process of an overly emotional client. Once the client has had time to actually process, hopefully they will be able to move forward. Simple questions about how they are feeling now or how that experience impacted them, may be needed to move forward.
- Don’t try to interrupt their process, especially if they become visibly upset. This may be the safe space they need to process their pain and interrupting or trying to fix their problems immediately will prevent their progress.
- Understand the line between being the coach and being a therapist. If a client has trauma or abuse, is stuck in their issue even after attempts to move on have been made or they become emotionally fragile, they should be referred to a therapist or counsellor. This is beyond the ability of a coach to deal with and takes a professional to get involved.
The ultimate goal is that the client will get through their emotional issues and have a moment of clarity where they can realize the causes and how to proceed from there. Being able to coach the client through to this point is an encouraging and empowering experience that every coach should be able to experience.
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Humour can be an important tool in building a relationship with clients; it can help diffuse a situation, lighten a mood and bring a sense of companionship to a new relationship. However, if it isn’t done appropriately, humour can be destructive in a coaching setting as well. No client wants to feel made fun of or like their opinions aren’t important. Learning to use humour effectively in coaching is a skill every coach needs to develop. Occasionally a session can be quite intense and humour can help provided a needed break or chance to wind down or in some cases, provide the client with a different avenue of approach to their train of thought.
The ability to use humour effectively typically stems from the ability to read people. Some clients won’t appreciate the same type of humour (or even any at all), that others would. Also, tone is especially important so that the other person understands when something is said in a joking manner rather than a serious point, especially if the conversation is taking a serious turn. Without reading people and using appropriate tones to communicate, humour can be seen as undermining or alienating. Alternatively, humour can build bonds, address sensitive issues and encourage creativity and deeper conversation.
Humour doesn’t have to be the telling of jokes, in fact, jokes may not be all that useful in the coaching realm. Typically funny anecdotes, observations or metaphors can be far more likely to elicit clients to respond positively. That isn’t to say that occasionally a well-timed joke might not elicit the same response.
Understanding humour from the perspective of a coach may also help with relating to clients who use humour to cope or deflect. Oftentimes, people with well developed senses of humour have been cultivating them since childhood as a mechanism for dealing with school or home life trouble early on. They cope with stress or anxiety differently by cracking jokes and making light of situations. This could be crucial to a coach’s ability to relate to that client and interact in their language. It may also be helpful to learn more about them and possibly help with more serious topics they would otherwise avoid.
Coaching with a sense of humour does not make one less professional, in fact, it can open up new possibilities and make a coach more relatable. Don’t avoid the chance to learn appropriate humour techniques and practice them on family and friends to get a better sense of responses. As always, proceed cautiously to better gauge each client’s reactions to the use of humour in dialogue, but the positive outcome of these conversations may be surprising.
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Trusting oneself can be a great skill, learned over years of practice in self awareness and listening to intuitive insights. For some coaches, the ability to trust themselves to coach effectively may not come as easy as others. This may be due to the fact that these coaches were in completely different industries and are switching careers to follow their dreams, leading them to second guess a lot of their decisions and processes. Every coach has the ability to be great, just like every client can find the answers they need if they just focus in the right directions.
- Intuition is important. Body language, dialogue and facial expressions can give off subtle indicators about the client. As long as the coach is coming from a place of non-judgment, intuition can pick up on these indicators and help guide the coach to use appropriate questions for the situation.
- Practice builds trust. It is said that to become an expert at something takes 10,000 hours of practice. The more a coach practices their skills, the better they develop. This practice, even if it is on family or friends to start with, can help a coach build a trust in their processes, skills and intuition.
- Give it time. No one expects perfection from a new recruit and a coach should never expect perfection from themselves. Even if hours of practice were involved previous, chances are, there will be some mistakes. These are normal and should never detour anyone from achieving their dreams.
- Take time to relax and review. When a coach is able to understand their own motivations, reactions and decisions, even after a session has ended, they can better analyze how things can improve in the future.
- Always keep learning. New techniques and skills may help alleviate some concerns a coach has about their abilities. It also broadens their knowledge and allows them to assist clients further. This can bolster extra confidence in the coach and the clients.
Being a coach can be a meaningful and fulfilling career but the skills take time to develop. Coaches rely on trusting themselves and their clients to move forward in their careers and help their clients move forward as well.
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