As human beings, the people we work with impact us and we need to feel their energy field to do our work. But we also need to be detached. It’s like we need to be on the dance floor with our clients, and also on the balcony observing the pattern of their dance.
Coaches develop an acute awareness of what is their own experience and what is that of the client or the client’s system. You will have had that occasion when you were looking forward to the next session with a client, only to enter the room with them and notice your excitement is replaced with another emotion that seems out of context for you. That is you feeling into the field of your client and taking on their energy.
One of the unexpected energetic waves we can experience is what is known as the deference threshold. It’s very likely you have experienced this even if you didn’t call it this. Deference threshold is so subtle and sudden you will fall into it without realising. Think back to any interactions you’ve had where you know you aren’t operating as your full creative, and resourceful self. That was probably a moment of deference.
I had an experience of this in a team coaching session. The team was in a crunchy place and I felt conflict was brewing and that the CEO might instigate it. His face was tight, and angry. I froze like a terrified penguin on an arctic landscape avoiding the gaze of a polar bear. My triggered response was to freeze and hope the danger went away. The danger did pass but I wasn’t in service of my clients as I energetically disappeared for several moments.
The old stories this triggered in me was around being around conflict in my family system, and particularly my father raising his voice. As a child, I developed an understandable response to keep very still or freeze to avoid getting the adult attention. His anger was never directed at me, but little me didn’t know that. But here I am in my 40s, and it was not serving my client or me.
This was a profound learning experience for me about the circumstances that can trigger me (potential conflict), and my response (freeze).
Life presented me with another opportunity to face this fear of mine with this client. The CEO asked for individual coaching. I experienced this person as unbelievably NASA-smart (a trigger), on the edge of shouting (although he never has in my company) and emotionally distant (another trigger). He is also kind, funny and hugely loyal to his people. When it came to our initial session, I took a breath and named what had happened in the team coaching. I owned that I found it difficult to challenge him for fear of conflict and I needed help from him around some agreement that would support our work together. Without hesitation, he showed a great degree of self-awareness in saying that he often spoke without thinking and his first words would not be what he really thought and that I had permission to challenge him.
The Rubicon had been crossed.
From then on, I leant into that agreement with this client to be able to find my voice at times when I was on a path to defer.
Who you are is how you coach. Our job is to stay curious, open and to find the time to explore and reflect on our experiences. I am in awe of the great work we do as coaches and the world needs more of it. We need to attend to ourselves in order to be the best coach we can be.
Stay grounded, breathe and move your feet if you get stuck.