Handling emotion in a coaching session

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching Skills for Managers

Handling emotion in a coaching session

Handling emotion in a coaching session

You can never legislate for what might happen once we sit people down and start exploring coaching questions. It’s quite possible that difficulties outside work may surface and that things get a little emotional. This is perfectly normal and can be taken as a sign that your coaching – and your own coaching style – is proving effective. It’s unlikely that your coaches would disclose unsettling information if they didn’t trust in your ability to help them handle it.

It’s important though to make sure that you’re both comfortable in moving forward if coaching goes from simple task related issues, into emotional territory such as anger, fear, sadness, shame or jealousy. If you are very uncomfortable in dealing with such topics you’d be best advised to gently end the coaching session by explaining that you feel things have moved outside the boundaries of coaching and work with your coachee in finding other forms of support. If you feel comfortable then you can continue coaching, but it’s wise to seek the coachee’s ‘permission’ by saying something along the lines of ‘We appear to be getting into emotional elements here, are you happy to continue?’ If you have experience of the same emotions it can be useful to disclose this to the coachee and it often strengthens trust. Remember though that their own experience is unique.

You can raise awareness by challenging what you think might be ‘false’ emotions. A senior manager may be very ‘hurt’ but describe her feelings as ‘angry’ as this sounds less vulnerable. It is also useful to reflect the emotions you observe. This may mean saying ‘I notice that when we talk about the merger, your posture changes and your voice quietens. I’m guessing you’re very upset by all this’ Doing this signals that an emotional reaction is perfectly normal and allows the coachee to challenge your assumptions: ‘Not I’m not upset at all; it’s just that…..’ This raises their awareness and deepens their focus.


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