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Mindfulness as a Coaching Tool?

Posted by Alison Newby | January 25, 2018 | Comments (0)

What’s a coaching tool to you? Something you pull out of your “toolbox” and “apply” to a client? Like MBTI? The GROW Model? Or, a perspective on coaching that provides a whole variety of questions and approaches?

I’d like to suggest something else. What if we ourselves are the most subtle, dynamic tool? And what if there are ways of reducing the human tendencies to lose concentration and to ”drift” in coaching sessions?

For me, deep active listening is the core of successfully using the whole of one’s experience in the here and now to concentrate on clients and help them move forward. But it’s no easy task. Mindfulness practice can enable coaches to deepen self-insight, while bringing their whole “selves” to coaching sessions—and staying there.

What do I mean? Mindfulness isn’t something you can just plug in and switch on like a hairdryer. No. It’s about a different way of relating to yourself and the world in the present moment—nonjudgmentally and with compassion. It involves learning to just “be” rather than “do,” giving up on trying to achieve or plan. Mindfulness seeps into the consciousness over time, and with patience. So why call it a tool and suggest coaches can use it in coaching sessions?

It’s been said that a state of mindfulness is “falling awake”—a heightened awareness of the here and now, bringing into relief thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations simultaneously with the ability to sit back and observe them float by like clouds. I’d agree with that. It’s this quality of engaged awareness, combined with detachment, that I’m suggesting can be so valuable to coaches, and I’m going to focus on two aspects of this.

Thoughts, Emotions and Distractions as Clouds that Pass

Over time, a mindfulness practice can increase the capacity to sit back calmly and observe thoughts and emotions as passing phenomena, like clouds crossing the sky. In a state of “doing,” the mind engages thoughts as truths to be pursued, explained and solved. In a mindful state of “being,” the mind allows these thoughts and emotions to exist, observes them, and lets them go.

Try concentrating your attention on the flow of the breath through your body by feeling the belly rise and fall as you breathe. Whenever your attention wanders (and it will!), gently coax it back. Focus slowly moves to the direct experience of the present moment.

With patient practice, the capacity to be “present” rather than engaged with thoughts, emotions or distractions is strengthened, while kindly curious observation of those thoughts, emotions or distractions helps them to be identified, acknowledged, and allowed to pass.

How could this help a coach? It becomes possible to coexist with distracting thoughts or feelings in such a way that, if need be, they can be screened out to allow concentration on something else—in this case, the client. The coach can nonjudgmentally disengage and be left to the task at hand.

Identification of What’s Really Going on Emotionally

Sometimes coaches can experience troubling, difficult-to-identify emotions in or after sessions. Screening them out may help at the time, but a period of mindfulness later can tease out what’s really going on. Getting “close” to those emotions in a kindly, welcoming way can encourage insight into what they really represent.

Maybe several emotions are entangled, with only one being the heart of the issue. And, it might not be the one “thinking mode” identifies at first!

Consider this. We can become angry, frustrated or despondent and even blame a particular person or event. However, if we take time out to mindfully examine our inner landscape, we can sometimes realize that the underlying cause is something completely different, often related to our own inner dialogue.

Blaming something else may be covering emotions or feelings that point to deeper anxieties or worries. When the deeper anxieties or worries are named, gently approached, and “listened to” in “being” mode, the troubling emotions may gradually fade away.

Now, this is not necessarily of very much help to a coach while a session’s ongoing, but enlightenment can be catalyzed during periods of reflection afterwards. Those difficult-to-identify emotions are trying to give us a message. Allowing that message to be heard and understood enhances our coaching capability, as well as the quality of the service we can offer our clients.

These are a couple of the benefits of mindfulness. Leave a comment if you find them useful, too.

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Alison Newby

Alison Newby, Ph.D., is an Institute of Leadership Management qualified coach and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. She currently specializes in coaching staff and researchers at all levels, as well as producing history-based materials for both public and academic engagement. Coaching and people development are her passions. She blogs on coaching topics, and you can follow her on Twitter @NewbyCoachLive.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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