Creating Intimacy in Coaching: Lessons from My Love Life
As coaches, we know how important trust and intimacy are for a powerful coaching relationship, and not only because of our familiarity with ICF Core Competency #3. It’s the foundation for open, reflective, insightful coaching, and it is vital for our clients to create the deeper shifts, which make lasting impacts on their lives.
And yet, while we talk a lot about trust, intimacy sometimes gets a little forgotten. Because what do we even mean by intimacy outside a romantic relationship? Even the definition isn’t very helpful:
Intimacy / ɪntɪməsi – the state of having a close personal relationship with somebody
Over the last 18 months, I learned for myself just how intentional we can be around relationship, as I fell in love for the first time. What I didn’t see coming was the impact on my coaching—that once I learned how to create a deep, trusting, intimate relationship in one part of my life, it started showing up everywhere.
How Much Do You Love Yourself?
The thing that first shifted was my relationship to myself. I’ve spent a lot of my life not liking myself very much, meaning I spent a lot of time and effort trying to hide the parts of me that I didn’t think were OK. The parts I didn’t think anybody else could ever love. A huge shift in my romantic relationship was when I stopped trying to hide and started loving myself more. I allowed myself to be fully seen and trusted that I was lovable.
When we show up with a mask on, or our defenses up, it has a huge impact on relationship—and on intimacy. It can be counterintuitive as a coach, especially when we get taught not to bring our “stuff” into the coaching conversation. But sometimes that means we don’t bring our authentic selves either. We hide behind “being a coach” and never let ourselves be seen or be vulnerable with our clients.
What I discovered was when I started to believe I was lovable in one part of my life, it had an impact on my coaching. I could just be me; I could trust the relationship—and that took the focus from me to my clients and created breakthrough results. Where is the place you can grow the love for yourself?
Are You Willing to be Uncomfortable—Really Uncomfortable?
I also learned that intimacy in romantic relationships can be pretty uncomfortable. The Hollywood idea of everything being rosy isn’t quite how it goes in real life! It takes courage at every stage to grow a relationship—to ask for what we need, to express our feelings, to introduce a partner to our loved ones, to say “I love you.” And all the while the inner voice in our heads is usually telling us not to say the thing, and that can be pretty persuasive when we are scared.
I realized that trust and intimacy in relationships is always a choice. It means taking a risk, saying something first, asking a question without knowing the answer, trusting that it will be OK without any evidence or certainty.
Intimacy is saying the thing and being with the consequences. That’s uncomfortable.
It’s as true in a coaching relationship as it is in any other. When we are willing to be uncomfortable, really uncomfortable, there is a space to choose intimacy. And what a difference that makes for our clients, when we are willing to go to places in conversation that will make a difference.
So, What Now?
From everything I’ve learned, I’ve distilled out several ways we can practice intimacy in our coaching and professional relationships:
- Stop waiting!
There will never be a time it feels comfortable, so just say it. Blurt. Be with the discomfort
- Drop the significance
Usually we make uncomfortable experiences a lot more significant than they really are, practice dropping that and learn to laugh at yourself
- Learn to love “messy”
There’s no mess you can make in a conversation that you can’t also clear up in a conversation, in a relationship. So, go and make messes
- Practice choosing intimacy
Remember it’s always a choice
- Speak and be known
Relationship happens in conversation, and so does intimacy. If in doubt, speak up
And above all, in the wonderful words of Jen Sincero, “Love yourself. Fiercely, loyally, unapologetically.”
Sarah Langslow, PCC, will be exploring this topic more in-depth at ICF Converge 2019, which is taking place October 23-26 in Prague, Czech Republic. Join her session “How I Became a Better Coach After Falling in Love” in the Practice content group on Friday, October 25 at 3:00 p.m. (local time). By attending this session, you can earn 0.25 CC/0.25 RD in Continuing Coach Education units.