It’s common for coaches to be so concerned about the well-being of their clients that they become oblivious to their own. Coaching, when done well, is frequently emotionally draining and intellectually demanding.

Every now and then, there are comments in the coaching social media about how coaches (and especially those working by telephone) can earn more by cramming more clients into a day. All it takes is some personal discipline and effective client management. It’s hard not to cringe at this self-serving myopia. The reality is that coaching all day, with multiple candidates, (and especially telephone coaching, with its relatively lean communication environment) is poor practice and damaging to both coach and client, for the following reasons:

  1. The human brain has a limited capacity for concentration. Our ability to attend fully to the client wanes as the brain loses energy — then we need time to recuperate. If we try to pack in too many sessions across a day, we become less attentive and less caring (neuroscience research suggests that the areas of the brain related to empathy actually shrink over time when people don’t moderate the intensity of their intellectual concentration). Creativity, productivity and the quality of our intuition all suffer when our brains are tired.
  2. When we deal with lots of clients, their individuality tends to blur in our minds, increasing the likelihood that we will objectify them (that is, they become more clients and less human beings). A consequence of this process in health care is that nurses and therapists can become desensitised to the feelings and needs of patients.
  3. An effective coach experiences, through Gestalt, the powerful emotions felt by clients. If those emotions connect with traumatic experiences, which the coach has met in his or her own life, the impact is even greater. We need time between coaching sessions to confront our own demons — to acknowledge our feelings (both our own and those felt vicariously) and purposefully let them go. Saving them up for the next supervision is not adequate, because it gives too much time for them to fester.
  4. Sitting down too long isn’t good for our physical health. It’s not something our bodies were designed for. Standing up activity (preferably reasonable vigorous to get the blood pumping) helps with our thinking and speeds up the process of topping up blood sugar in our brain.
  5. Our sense of ethicality suffers, too, when we are not fully refreshed. We are more likely to go along with ethically dubious opinions or assumptions by the client, and less able to distinguish our agenda from theirs.

So what can the coach with a heavy caseload do differently? Here are 10 practical steps:

  1. Manage your caseload so that you have frequent gaps of at least 45 minutes to reflect, refresh and take notes between each session
  2. If possible, create a coaching environment where you can walk about, or at least stand — but make sure you do so in a way that does not distract the client
  3. Plan how you will conserve your mental and physical energy across the day
  4. Take your “emotional temperature” regularly — build into your day a few moments of self-honesty
  5. Ensure you have opportunities to laugh (laughter is a powerful energy restorer)
  6. Meditate for a few minutes before and after each coaching session
  7. Select your clients, where possible, for their diversity — variety helps maintain your curiosity
  8. Let go of the need to help the client find a solution — it’s usually your need, not theirs and it leads you to focus on the goal, instead of on the client. Have confidence that solutions will emerge when the client is ready for them! Letting go in this way greatly reduces the stress that comes from worrying whether you are being helpful enough.
  9. Be grateful to your clients for the learning you acquire from them and tell them this the case. Gratitude is yet another energy restorer!
  10. Monitor your coaching sessions in terms of positive and negative stress. (Positive stress is energising; negative stress is energy sapping.) Use these insights to adapt the way you coach.

The bottom line is that, if we aim to be client-centred, we need to look first to ourselves and how fit we are in body, mind and soul for the coaching dialogue.

© David Clutterbuck

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