In his biography, Albert Einstein describes how some of his greatest discoveries first came from his body in the form of a tingling and other enlivening physical sensations that then informed the images and insights that led him to his greatest discoveries.
This has profound and practical implications for coaching—small nuances in a client’s speech or body language contain keys to transformation. Recognizing and responding to them intuitively can uncover life-changing insights. Silence and attention to physical sensations and emotions is the doorway to discovery.
At the start of a recent session, I heard two distinct voices in my client. One was a pioneer of consciousness and creativity. The other one dismissed this brilliance in her. I was excited about what could unfold by using the Coaching for Transformation pathway of Embracing the Shadow, facilitating client awareness through hearing each voice.
When I asked if she was game to using this method, she said, “yes.”
I paused, and said I sensed tightness in her “yes.” Here is how that dialogue proceeded.
Client: Tightness. Yeah I am frustrated that doing what someone else thinks is a good idea is not helpful. And I do that all the time! One of the reasons I am on this call is to work through this.
Coach: Then let’s not go in that direction just because I suggested it.
Client: I’d like to be able to focus less on letting people down in my life. That keeps me stuck.
Coach: What part of you is that coming from?
Client: A scared part … I’m feeling sadness for that part.
Coach: What is the part that is feeling sadness for that part?
(We shifted from embodying the parts to paying attention to what the client was noticing).
Client: A wiser caring part. But, I want to do what’s being asked of me!
Coach: You are not letting people down if you are following your instincts.
Client: It’s a trap. I feel like I will only grow so far if I keep telling myself I have to please other people. It’s stopping things.
Coach: What is it stopping?
Client: The next evolution of my life. Yet, this (pleasing people) is who I know myself to be! It’s stopping me from shedding that layer of skin. I have this instinct that I have a greater capacity for connection and love.
I ask people to take care of me instead of co-creating in the moment.
Coach: Where does that come from?
Client: Myself as a young person.
(The client appears to be going into the past. However, that past is what is most present in this moment).
Coach: What do you see?
Client: A ballet class and great love for people.
I loved my teacher so much, it was easy to do everything I possibly could to be someone she would like, love.
I’m not surprised that this is what we are talking about because it’s coming up everywhere. (Client pauses).
If I can think of the situations where I am stuck now as coming up so I can learn from them and move on, then there is so much space.
I am seeing I have appeared to be vulnerable so people to tell me that I’m ok.
Coach: The impact?
Client: I just never admitted that or said it out loud. Feels like a relief to be honest.
I don’t think I ever really realized it because it felt like an act of love. Up until this moment I felt this is how I show someone I love them.
Coach: This moment is love of another kind.
Client: It’s really eye opening. I’ve been under the false assumption that this is how I can be the best person for someone else, and it’s actually holding both of us back from something deeper.
Thank you for noticing that moment. (The hesitancy in her “yes,” early in the session)
Responding to that subtle disconnection between my client’s “words” and the intonation and crack in her voice made the difference. Naming what was happening in that moment, my client got more in touch with herself.
She went on to say that everything had softened during the session and these long held beliefs loosened their grip. She felt more present and judgment free. We then created steps to keep this realization alive and growing.
It’s natural to notice these subtle cues. It’s also easy to avoid taking the risk to express our intuition. Doing so increases our trust and develops our skillfulness in accessing the messages of the body and emotions.
Experiment with the following practices in your next coaching session:
Pay attention to physical sensations and feelings, in you and your client, and let them guide your responses in the moment.
Extend Silent Listening
What does the body and emotions have to reveal when the client is in the midst of positive or negative feelings?
Notice Your Own Body’s Sensations
What’s the impact of your feelings on the way your client hears theirs?
Awareness of the body and emotions, and the practice of self-managing feelings that take us out of the moment, can open a world of effectiveness, satisfaction and mastery in our coaching.
About the author:
Richard Michaels, MCC, CPCC, is a Master Certified Coach, Gestalt Therapist and artist. He is a visionary co-founder and director of Coaching for Transformation, and has been creating and leading workshops on personal, professional, and spiritual development for 40 years. He was a founding member of Kripalu Center in 1972, where he was a teacher, trustee and fundraiser. Richard is an author of Coaching for Transformation: Igniting Personal and Social Change and Moments on Canvas: Paintings by Richard Michaels.
Tap into body-emotion awareness in Richard’s Leading Edge Coach Series. His four-part teleclass, “Igniting Transformation with Body-Emotional Awareness: Expanding The Palette of Coaching Tools,” runs from November 12 – December 3 on Thursdays at 12 noon Eastern Time (U.S.). Details and Registration