I have to say, it feels pretty much taboo uttering the words love and fear in the same sentence as coaching. In erecting modern-day boundaries around our work, we coaches do our best to observe these to safeguard the rights and protection of all participants. But attending Robin Shohet’s talk on Love and Fear in Coaching challenged me: it was like having the contents of my Mary Poppins’ coaching kitbag tipped out and audited to a third of its original contents. Here I am, with the realisation that my work and my clients are almost overprotected. Seems I may’ve been over-cautious, you know. As though I’ve been wearing latex gloves for shaking hands at networking events…
So what am I going to do differently?
To start with, I’m changing the terms I use during and about my coaching work. This goes for internal and external dialogue. I’m going to bear in mind that coaching slides along a love-fear continuum. The trouble is that when you’ve been brought in on a problem-solving, solutions-focussed, personal development contract, it’s pretty much a ‘reflex’ not to mention love and fear because if you do, it kind of feels like a breach of contract. For a coach to share both their availability and vulnerability is not assumed as part of the package, yet naming these ‘nasties’ can stop them lurking in the coaching shadows where their power takes hold.
Then I’m going to loosen my expectations of coaching. Yes, it seems to fly in the face of coaching’s core mantra ‘it’s all about the client’, but I’m going to ‘free myself up’. for the benefit of the client and me! From now on, coaching has to satisfy me too. Key to this will be ridding myself of the coaching assumption that when the coaching wheels ain’t turning that the responsibility for this inadequacy is mine, as the coach, to own. It isn’t. Nor is the driver to ‘do good coaching’, which in itself restricts, even jeopardises the coaching.
Finally, I’m going to acknowledge and name any feeling that I experience in the coaching space. For two reasons: to boost any therapeutic benefits of the work by clearing the path to progress, and to open the door to ‘fantastic data’, as Shohet named it, that will feed the work further. Even if it is fear, naming it and talking about it is telling me, the coach, some story. To prove this point, Robin asked us to write down (with no intention of eventual disclosure) ‘what I would least like my supervisor to know about my work’ eg ‘I didn’t use the right technique’. Then he asked us to give a reason why we didn’t want our coach to know this eg ‘because it wouldn’t meet their expectations’. By allowing the fear to take hold of the content and prevent disclosure of the feeling, it can wreck the therapeutic process. Removal of honesty – a vital component of coaching – ironically, means the individual actually doesn’t meet the coach’s expectations, their original fear.
So my mission is to stay firmly on the side of love and curiosity; in the space where growth can happen. Isn’t that, after all, what my coaching space and I are all about?