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Coaching for Emotional Intelligence

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Intelligence in Practice

The ICF Core Competencies call on coaches to help our clients create awareness—of themselves, of others and of the situations they encounter. Awareness is also the foundation of S+EI, with self-awareness as the starting point. After all, we can’t be aware of the emotions others might be experiencing if we don’t have the ability to be aware of what we are experiencing; we also can’t manage our emotional responses without this awareness and understanding.

In their daily lives, all three of the clients introduced at the beginning of this article displayed a lack of self-awareness; as such, this needed to be the first area of coaching intervention. One way to increase clients’ self-awareness is by showing them how they’re seen by others. Soliciting direct feedback is one way to gather this information; this is how Jan learned about clients’ negative perceptions. A 360-degree-feedback assessment can also be used to collect this information. This approach proved useful for Steve, yielding feedback that helped him see how his frequent blowups impacted his subordinates, peers and supervisors.

One activity recommended across the board for fostering emotional self-awareness is emotional tracking. The coach can provide clients with a comprehensive list of emotions and request that they track what they’re feeling throughout each day for a week. This kind of steady, sustained self-reflection helps clients become more aware of what they’re experiencing in the moment. It also expands their emotional vocabulary, giving them a better understanding of and language for the nuances of what they’re feeling. For example, are they feeling anxious, or apprehensive? There’s a difference. Are they feeling enthusiastic or exhilarated? Again, there’s a difference.

Jan and Steve initially pushed back on the idea of tracking their emotions, saying they were too busy, but with encouragement each gave it a try. Not surprisingly, Richard said yes immediately when presented with the idea.

Jan came to her next coaching session, spreadsheet in hand, saying she was surprised by the exercise. “I didn’t think I even had emotions!” she exclaimed. The exercise helped her identify moments when she’d become defensive (when a client questioned her data analysis, for example), and her interpersonal communication skills improved as she tuned in to this reaction. Over time, she developed the ability to read her clients, and discovered that what she heard as criticism was in fact clients’ confusion about details of her reports. She became better able to respond in a helpful manner and a pleasant tone of voice to their lack of understanding when she realized it was about them, not her.

Although Steve wasn’t as thorough as Jan, he completed the exercise with enough frequency to discover a pattern to his anxiety and frustration—those moments and situations when he was most likely to blow up at the people around him. Steve’s coach asked him to think about these emotional triggers and consider his usual reaction, as well as the impact this reaction had on people around him. (The 360 assessment provided useful context here.) Steve observed that his frustration first showed up in his body, with a tensing of the shoulders followed by a clenching of fists, and he was able to come up with several new, more constructive ways of responding to his triggers.

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