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The deep dive: Exploring Emotions and Suspending Assumptions

May 04, 2021

As a coach, do you wonder how are you able to be with strong emotions that arise within your clients during coaching conversations?

At Empower World, we believe being able to support clients to process and understand their emotions can enable them to create powerful awareness about their current situation and what can be done differently to achieve the results they want.

Many of us assume we know what someone is ‘feeling” or experiencing because of the way a person looks or moves their body or creates a facial movement. We can perhaps believe when we see a particular emotional response in someone’s face it means something specifically about what they are feeling. But how do we know this to be true?

If someone is frowning, can we take this as a fact they are upset? In reality, a person’s facial expressions may not reflect their true emotions, nor might they match the beliefs created by our own emotional experiences and expressions.

Lisa Feldman Barret, author of How Emotions Are Made, suggests we do not simply emotionally react to situations, but rather, we predict what we see in someone’s expressions and make sense of that visual based on our own past experiences. And this may be different from our client’s experience.

Our brains are ‘meaning-making machines’ designed to continuously make guesses about what is happening in our world to protect and keep us safe. The brain is on alert and judges situations and patterns based on past experiences to allow for quicker processing and self protection.

Therefore If we see someone frowning, we may assume they are sad because this is what we do when we ourselves are sad, when in fact they might be feeling something different – like curiosity. As coaches it is part of our work to leave our assumptions ‘outside the coaching conversation’ and instead “double click” and reflect back what we are noticing and use questions to uncover what the client is actually experiencing so they can create new conscious awareness about their experiences.

Suspending judgement about how our client might be feeling and having the courage to stay with them and support them to get curious about what's happening for the client when they are demonstrating signs of strong emotions – or not - can support them to understand themselves. This can reveal beliefs that clients recognise they have made up in the past which they may recognise are false and/or holding them back from what they want to achieve.

Asking questions like ‘What are you making up?’, ‘What are you predicting?’ and ‘Is this supporting you to be your best or keeping you small?’ may encourage clients to retrain their brains to predict and experience something else much more supportive. For example, the feeling of anxiety and excitement are the same physiologically, but it is the context that makes us believe they are different. So supporting our clients to reframe and choose an empowering belief when they experience sensations or feelings in their body can open up new possibilities for our clients.

Working at the unconscious level is where the greatest shift happens, and making our clients aware of their ability to change these predictions is the key. Our role as a coach is to support our clients to create motivating ways forward with skills such as deep listening and refraining from making assumptions and getting curious by asking thought provoking questions.

Be empowered!

In Empower World's Coaching and Leadership Podcast Episode 157 Marie and Jeanine share how there is much research and our own experiences which supports how we all express our emotions in unique and different ways through our physiology and the words we use

- which means when we make assumptions about someone's experience using our own personal experiences - we can be off track with what our client or the person we are communicating with is attempting to convey.

Episode-157 can be found here:
Direct Linkhttps://bit.ly/38Zkzr3

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