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Coaching to Flourish #082: Harnessing Emotion as Fuel

August 01, 2023 by Coach Training EDU

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Raj Anderson and guest experts answer your coaching questions each week!

In Coaching to Flourish #082, host Raj Anderson and CTEDU founder John Andrew Williams discuss the role that emotions play in coaching - how to use emotions as fuel, differences between coaching and counseling, and practical insights for different types of clients.

Powerful question takeaway: What is my unintended impact on others when I show up in a certain way? 

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[Raj Anderson] Welcome everyone, to the Coaching to Flourish podcast. And I'm your host, Raj Anderson, executive life coach and Coach Assessor. And I'm here with John Andrew Williams, the founder of Coach Training EDU. How are you, John? 

[John Andrew Williams] Doing well, it's been a good week. And the sun is out, it's not too hot here in the northwest yet, but we'll see. How are you Raj? How are things? 

[Raj Anderson] I'm good. I'm really good actually. I feel peaceful, I was listening to you talking about growing new things and planting things. And it feels like there's some just peace in the air. This time of year for me, I do start to look at strategy, and what's next year gonna look like? And I start planning ahead. This year feels different. I feel more at peace with things. So maybe I have evolved in some way. 

[John Andrew Williams] I feel it too. I think there's a certain peacefulness of knowing who you are and what you're up to in this world, and I feel like, I'm just feeling more and more of that lately too. I agree. 

[Raj Anderson] That's the key, isn't it? Knowing who you are. So I could talk about that a lot, yet I have some themes to explore with you today, John. And some of the themes are around emotions, client emotions, and the deeper agenda. And I know that there can be some myths or fears, especially with new coaches who might be concerned about, oh, do I need to stay away from emotions in a coaching session? What would you say to those coaches? 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah, I never understood that completely. I think where it comes from, like the idea, let's avoid emotion, comes from this idea that coaching is different from counseling, counseling deals with emotion, counselors are trained to deal with emotion. So if counselors are trained to deal with emotion, then that must be, you know, mutually exclusive, so coaches should not deal with emotion. I think that's where it comes from maybe. 

But from a coaching standpoint, emotion is what really drives the show. It's what really makes it work. It'd be similar to thinking that professional athletes should not have emotion, cause they're, just somehow be automatons or something. But emotion is central to this. And I think what a coach is really adept at, what we're trained to do, is listen to the emotion and stay curious about the emotion.

What a counselor's trained to do is listen to the emotion, and fit it to a pattern that they have learned, and then give advice or suggestions on best practice and next steps. Both are useful things to do. Both have a lot of use to them. They're just different paths, different modalities, different methods. And a lot of counseling - counselors will use coaching, will listen to emotions, stay in curiosity. They're not mutually exclusive completely, but those are the main differences between those two approaches. And I think that's where it comes from. So, coaches and emotions, it’s central to the practice.

[Raj Anderson] Thank you for clarifying that, John. So what role would you say that exploring emotions plays in coaching?

[John Andrew Williams] I was talking to a coach yesterday, and the way I described it was, as a coach, we're not listening with only our ears or whatever the sound is. I feel like I'm listening with my whole body, like I'm listening more of the energy of the room. What it - it's hard to explain. How would you explain it, Raj? 

When you're listening to emotion it feels like it's a total picture. It's like you are operating in the person's worldview, the person's world, and the person has their emotion. And then when you're operating that level two empathetic listening, and you are actively imagining you are the other person, I am also aware of how my emotion is being - what's happening in my emotion. And as a coach, I am making up whatever's happening in my emotion is about the story of my client. So then I can ask a question about what I'm hearing from my client's emotion, or I can ask a question, what I'm hearing from my emotion as if it's about the client. I hope that's clear. I feel like I need like a whiteboard or something, you know, markers going back - going old school on it. 

But the idea of when you're trained to listen to somebody, and you have an awareness of your own filters, your own default perspectives, your own natural question sets, or ideas that you might have with what perspective you're in, your clients in - are you coaching the best version of your client? Are you coaching the problem? Are you coaching a different perspective? Are you coaching for an insight, or for an action step? 

Once you have an awareness of all those things, and you know you're listening to the most brilliant client self, and you know that you're an empty vessel, you can trust your own emotion to give you an insight on a useful place to go for your client. That is a brilliant thing, and I feel like it's one of the main differences of what a master coach has learned to do, versus a professional coach. It's using your own emotion as an instrument and a tool for the sake of your client. And when you know that with confidence, that to me is one of the markers of a master coach. 

[Raj Anderson] Yeah. I love what you're saying there, John. You're experiencing, it's not just the words, is it? It’s not just the words that the client is saying. Because they might not even be recognizing the emotion that they're experiencing themselves, they're so in it. 

I guess some of the things we're looking out for as well is their energy, it could be their tonality. I listen out for what, as you said, what's happening in their body. You can hear it sometimes in the way people are breathing, or the sighs, sometimes there's heaviness. I have clients who can be really fast, executive clients. Really fast. There's like a sense of urgency or pressure. And I'm always curious about what's taking place for them, when they are showing up like that. What are your thoughts on that?

[John Andrew Williams] When a lot of executives get into the coaching space, they are often coming from a frenetic pace. Their time is so valuable that they're so used to, okay, this is like, what needs to happen? What's the objective? Where are we at? And there's a certain kind of impetuousness that comes up. So I feel like in the executive coaching that I did, I would match it. You have to match it or else it feels like there's too much of an incongruence. But then eventually, every executive gets down to a point of like, what is my unintended impact on my people?

And if executives and executive coaching can get there, it is just an incredibly powerful experience for them. And that sometimes they have to slow down a little bit and get there. But if executives are mindful of their energy and open to it, it's amazing what happens. 

[Raj Anderson] That was such a powerful question. I'm just gonna, ‘what is my unintended impact on my people?’ Or I have asked myself, what is my unintended impact on others when I show up in a certain way? 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah. I have ideas in mind. I have, you know - you get the feedback, you get into it. It's a powerful question. It's a scary question. It's a question that you can look at with a coach, and feel empowered coming out on the other side. Yeah. Can go into that. 

[Raj Anderson] And since we're on this, it's made me think that emotions can get a bit of a bad rap in the executive world. You know, I run a lot of women in leadership programs and often I hear women say, oh, well women are deemed to be too emotional, or I don't want to show emotion at work. And I'm always fascinated by that. Why do you think emotions get such a bad rap in that world, or anywhere else there can be a fear of it? 

[John Andrew Williams] This goes back to the stoics. I mean, even the ancient Romans looked at emotion as something to be avoided because it feels like their idea was - and this is where they get the word passion, the idea of something as suffering. Because it seems that if they are attached to the emotion, then the emotion is running the show. The emotion is the thing that is in control of them. And I think it's the fundamental perspective shift of looking at emotion as a tool, rather than looking at emotion as some sort of place of stuckness.

And I think, you know, not all emotion is equally useful. Sometimes when people do feel like they are overwhelmed with something, they think that they're too angry or they're too sad, or they're, you know, furious, that's information. That's coming from someplace. And a coaching session is an amazing place to look at that in a way where you can check out, is this emotion something that I need to pay attention to? Is it valid? Is this a valid thing that I need to take action on? Or is it something that, nope, I have an edge here. I need to look within my myself, and it's an opportunity for me to have some sort of inner healing. Or what is the combination of both? 

There was, something came up in a meeting a couple weeks ago, where I came outta the meeting absolutely furious. I felt like there was someone in my team who was disrespected by someone else. I was absolutely furious. I called up a coach, a dear friend.

She says, oh, trust your emotion. That emotion is right on. I gave her a little bit of the situation. She goes, yeah, that would've infuriate me as well. Checked out. You know what I mean? Then it's like, okay, valid. Checked, valid. Now move into action. Go. And it can be that kind of, that's what coaching allows you. It can be that kind of quick - it's almost like a lifeline. Like, I need your coaching friend, where are we at? I'm feeling this. 

And it would be unhealthy for me to - maybe this is an idea of toxic positivity. Be like, you know what, I'm not really feeling this fury. I can let this person misbehave and do what they're gonna do. And oh okay, you can just make it okay, and deal with that. 

And it's also fascinating when the fury and anger turns inward, like when people are mad at themselves. And this is Brene Brown's definition of shame, the idea of anger inward, you know, directed inward, like where you're angry at yourself for doing something. It's a toxic, it's a really intense emotion. And what a coach allows is, allows for that judgment to go away, and really starts asking curious questions around, okay, so what if we take the judgment out of it? If there's fury here, what is the fury about? How do you want to use it? 

What coaching does not do, it does not say, she does not go, okay, so what was your relationship like with your mom or your dad? Or, you know, how did that go down, what healing do you need to do in the past? Like, those are lovely questions. That's amazing work, but it's not necessarily the work of a coach. 

And so I think this is where people get confused in the coaching world, of if you have this intense emotion. We're not asking questions about the past like this. We're asking more questions, we're asking utilitarian, practical questions. How do you wanna use it? Why is it here? What's your instincts say? What's your gut say? My gut said no. My gut said absolutely - no. And I trust it. And am I happy I took action? Absolutely, a hundred percent yes. Would I do it again? A hundred percent, yes. Are there maybe negative consequences, perhaps. But are they worth it? Yes. And, do I feel clean and bright afterwards? Absolutely, a hundred percent. And I feel like that's what you feel like after you go through some something - you make a difficult decision, you trust your emotion, you trust the place. You just feel lighter. You feel like, whew, okay, I did it. 

But I think what, going back to the stoic thing, there was in that kind of sense, it would be, okay, there's emotion, there's fury. I need to become like literally a stoic and allow that to, like detach from the emotion.

But then you look at Marcus Aurelius, he talks about this inner fire, like this idea of having an internal combustion so powerful, that when there is an obstacle, the fire burns the obstacle up. So this is where, you know, ‘the obstacle becomes the way.’ This is where this comes from. The idea that an obstacle, if we have that internal fire, then it's fuel. Fires need fuel. But too much puts the fire out. And this is a stoic. It's a stoic. 

And so the idea is, I think where it comes from is, in this space, the trust in our own internal energy becomes so intense that when there is an obstacle, there is some things placed in that, we know that we can handle it, and use the obstacle as fuel to keep us going - faster. And what this looks like from a practical standpoint is, let's say you're out there in the world, someone does something that's pretty ignorant and you're thinking, oh my goodness. You can go into fury. I can go into fury, I can get mad, I can get all those things. Or I can say, you know what, I'm gonna use this as fuel. I'll use fuel to live excellently, to push harder to do the thing, to, to push it. And I'll push it. I will push myself as an instrument to limits. 

[Raj Anderson] So many great questions there.

[John Andrew Williams] I'm fired up today, right? I've been slaying dragons the last couple weeks. 

[Raj Anderson] I can hear it. I've got so many questions for you, but I'm gonna stop a minute because I just love everything that you shared. This is the coaching in us, isn't it? I was like, oh, I've got a question around that. I just wanna encourage anyone who's listening, there was so many wonderful questions there. I'm probably gonna listen back and pause this. So listen back, pause it, and you might wanna reflect on those questions. You might wanna journal on those questions.

I was fascinated, John, when you were talking about using the emotion as a tool, using it as information. Or, how might it be fueling you? I know that there have been so many times where I've had emotions that could be seen as negative or not useful. Anger for me, I am a fire element anyway, so - it takes a lot, but when I do get angry, there is always a reason or an ask of me, that anger is asking something of me. It reminds me, Tony Robbins always says, all emotions are a call to action. So I always think, what is this asking of me? Or what have I been missing? Or often, where am I neglecting myself? Those are some of the things that can come up for me.

So, what is the benefit then for a coach to go deeper with this, in a coaching session? 

[John Andrew Williams] Well, I think a lot of coaching sessions, what I try to do is almost heighten the emotion. When someone's having a challenge I don't try to solve the challenge immediately, or give advice or try to shut it down. But really, to help my client go back to the place, or even imagine a future time, when they will feel that emotion. Or this is a time when it's in that space. Heightened emotion opens up cracks in our usual veneer of what we try to present to the world. And there's insight there. Insights are easier to find when emotion's big. 

There's something I've also been playing with that I did not realize until I had little ones. And how much our society teaches us to shut down emotion, or teaches us to not feel a certain emotion because it's inconvenient for people around them. So what I've been practicing, which is new for me, with little ones, is when they're feeling big emotion, to not tell them not to feel it. But to acknowledge the emotion. Like, you're feeling big emotion. I get it. You want the other shoes, not the blue ones. You want the tan ones. And you're like, okay. And the emotion's big, you know. And I'm running a little bit behind and I gotta make a call, Dad has got to get on a call here. 

You know, you're looking at this thinking, all right. What's the meta message? What's the message behind the message? And I think that's a lot of what emotion is about, it's here for a reason. Let's stay curious. Let's not shut it down right away. Feel it.

There's a place too that I think is really useful, and I think what the stoics talked about. Where there is a place where, it is in ourselves to find that place where we can create - let's call that over the rainbow. Where you find like a happy place filled with gratitude, and it's a refuge. It's a shelter from all of the things that we find. I think spirituality offers that, religion offers that, faith offers that. There's a place where you can go, gratitude offers that. I know my own world, in my own life, having a space like that, a very sacred space is essential to being able to go out and do this big work, and to take on the injuries of trying to do something big. 

That to me feels like - I just wanna put that in the space too. Like, that we're not on the passive side of emotion receiving. That we can actively structure and create these places for ourselves. I've been thinking - the word in my mind is ‘over the rainbow’ place. This idea where, where you know, you get there every day. Can you get to your over the rainbow place on a daily basis? 

[Raj Anderson] Over the rainbow place. And, I know for me is, emotion is what has also driven my life's work. I noted that you said, you know, there were times in my life where I did regulate a lot of my emotions, because they did feel like an inconvenience for others. Especially around the diversity and inclusion agenda, women in leadership agenda. And I know there were times when I reigned it in perhaps too much, because I was afraid of how that would be responded to by others. Yet there is something that I'm passionate about. It's what drives me to want to make change, and it's aligned to my values. So also connecting that passion and that emotion around values, or which of my values have got triggered in this moment? And sometimes it could be a value around integrity, or a value around fairness and justice, for example. 

So, I know we're on time, John. 

[John Andrew Williams] These are big things. 

[Raj Anderson] What message do you want to leave us with, around over the rainbow thinking? 

[John Andrew Williams] Looking at going over the rainbow, over the rainbow is a - it's a powerful space. And I feel like it's a space that can. it's worth exploring. It's worth asking yourself, how do you get there? How do you get there? And then when do you get there, how do you get there? When do you leave? What do you take with you? What do you leave behind? There's a whole, you know, we could do a whole six hours on that. And that is an idea I've been playing with. 

The other idea I've been playing with very recently is the one from Marcus Aurelius, where the obstacle becomes the way. The fire, that inner - there've been a couple things that have come up. And asking, okay, it's here. What's mine? What is mine to use, what is mine to use as fuel and what isn't mine? What is the thing that's not for me? And just asking these questions to ourselves as we're going through this process is enough. Letting your brilliant, beautiful self answer whatever comes up. 

[Raj Anderson] Thank you, John. Thank you for those beautiful questions and beautiful insight. And I'm definitely taking away that thought around the obstacle becomes the way. And you have no idea how much I needed to hear that today, so thank you for the gift. I'm grateful to you. 

[John Andrew Williams] Yeah, it's a beautiful passage too. Aurelius throws it down. There's some really, there's some good stuff. And the whole idea - I can get into it. But yeah. Thank you Raj. This is an amazing energy, amazing space. I love the questions. I love just riffing. You're a fun person to riff with. And here we are. So yeah, thanks for watching everyone. Super fun. 

[Raj Anderson] Thank you everyone. Thanks John. Send us your questions and we'll see you next week. Bye.

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