In this article, we take a closer look at competency 5: Maintains Presence. ICF defines this competency as “Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.” The second two markers that show the coach is competent in maintaining coaching presence are:
- Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client
- Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process
Contrary to popular belief, there is crying in coaching. There is also a wide range of other emotions that show up, like fear, anger, frustration, joy, anticipation, hurt, excitement, etc. Coaching focuses on the whole person, not just the parts that are rational and logical. Learning to stay present with the client and allow them the space to process their emotions is critical if we are going to go beneath the surface and get to the root of faulty thinking. As coaches, it is important for us to provide a safe and supportive space for our clients to process what they are thinking and feeling, so they can move to the next stages. If we are not comfortable and confident with the client when strong emotion comes up we will side step, or try to move their emotions into a place that’s more comfortable to us. What the client needs when they start crying is to have space to experience the emotion, not a box of tissues. Eventually they will process through the emotion and will be ready for a tissue. However, to hand them one at the first sign of tears sends the message, “I’m not comfortable with your tears, dry them up.”
When clients are angry or frustrated about something happening they don’t need us to calm them down. They need us to give them space to vent their frustrations, so they can experience them and then partner with them asking questions and making observations that enable them to process those feelings and gain from them. In short, when working with client emotions we need to be fully in command of our own emotions. We need to understand what emotions we are uncomfortable with and build a tolerance for witnessing these emotions from a neutral yet empathetic position where we can create a safe place for the client.
This said, remember that coaching is not therapy. There is a difference between incidental emotion and deep wounds from the past that need healing if the client is to move forward. Deep wounds, brokenness, ongoing depression, etc might need to be referred to a different helping profession. As a matter of ethics, coaches are responsible for making proper referrals rather than attempting to heal deep wounds they are not properly equipped to handle.