Home Concepts Schools of Coaching Appreciative “I feel you!”—The Role of Emotions in Coaching

“I feel you!”—The Role of Emotions in Coaching

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Recently, I overheard someone say, “Every time you feel a negative emotion, it is a little trauma that your body stores and carries with you for life.” This comment was interesting to me because it is evidence of two distinct, but related phenomena.

First, it offers proof that people hold strong opinions about emotions. Unlike topics in other professional fields, psychological concepts are the domain of the masses. You don’t hear people chatting about their pet theories of light refraction, the formation of galaxies or the tensile strength of polymers. People do, however, offer opinions about all things psychological. They weigh in on relationships, behavior, stress, rumination and—yes—feelings.

Second, this statement illustrates one example—albeit an extreme one—of the way that many people harbor explicit prejudices against so?called negative emotions. Historically, there has long been a prejudice against emotions in general. They have been seen as misguided, illogical and—gasp—feminine. In modern times, this prejudice has emerged especially around negative emotions. Complaints, frustration, sadness and similar feelings are occasionally seen as a failure to uphold cultural dictates for happiness.

These two points are important because both of them are centrally concerned with coaching. Regardless of where a coach is trained or the specific coaching model he or she uses, all coaches deal with feelings every time they interact with their clients. Emotions influence what clients remember, how optimistic they are concerning their own goals, and the degree to which they feel ready to take action, among other things. Similarly, coach and client beliefs about feelings inform the direction of coaching sessions and the overall arc of the coaching relationship.

To illustrate these points, let’s take the example of a single emotion: anger. Anger is the Severus Snape of feelings. Like the apparent villain in the Harry Potter novels, it is dark and brooding but largely misunderstood. It turns out people’s beliefs about the nature of anger influence how they experience and express it. Many people have a standoff?ish relationship with anger because they believe:
1) It will directly cause harm through actions such as harsh words or violence
2) It will overpower a person and lead them to act in ways in which they might normally be inhibited
3) It will cause people to get stuck—experiencing anger for long periods of time
4) It is painful and unpleasant
5) It has a negative impact on health

I do not fault anyone for harboring these types of beliefs. It is possible to find evidence for any of them through anecdotal experience or on the internet. Even so, I would encourage coaches to turn to more formal research to gain insights into anger. Here is a smattering of anger related research findings that may be counterintuitive:

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