Susan David1Psychologist. Harvard Medical School. TED Speaker. Author of the #1 WSJ bestseller Emotional Agility. Co-Founder of Institute of Coaching. https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanadavidphd/ mentioned in a recent Instagram Post an idea that resonates a lot in my mind: “Learning to label emotions with a more nuanced vocabulary can be absolutely transformative.” 2Source: Susan David’s Instagram post from May 2022 – https://www.instagram.com/p/CdLxf9fFjcO/. Inspired in the author’s book: “Emotional Agility – Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life”, Avery/ Penguim Random House, 2016The PhD author is a trend setter and follower in a current movement of discussing and advocating the benefits and transformational power of correctly labelling and naming Emotions as a first step for individual conscious transformation. Sharing this research journey with others like Brené Brown, António Damásio, Adam Grant, Daniel Pink and similar authors and scholars, all of them underline the fact that emotions are data and should be considered in our journeys of transformation and in the way we are looking at themes with a different perspective3As Susan David states: “I encourage people to see their emotions as data, not directives. Think of them as one data point among many to consider as you move forward.” Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/recognizing-your-emotions-data-directives-susan-david-ph-d-/ .
During our ACTP Certification Program and when discussing the ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) Markers, my personal reflection tended to travel through and focus on Competency 7 – Evokes Awareness – and the powerful questions to make when challenging the client to explore current way of thinking, feeling, values, needs, wants, beliefs or behaviour.
The major milestone of my personal learning and development in this context was focused on how to make powerful questions to clients, to cover the emotions management side of their transitions. I truly believe in William Bridges’ theory presented in Managing Transitions4Source: Book “Managing Transitions – Making the most of Change”. William Bridges, PhD with Susan Bridges; Publisher / Label: John Murray Press, 2017, where the author discusses the need to manage, identify and cope with emotions to pass through the 3 phases of Transitions (Ending / Neutral Zone/ New Beginning) and thus better manage the Transformation in place. But I was also sceptical or (at least) not confident enough with the fact that a Coach will get a clear and direct answer from the Client on the fundamental question: “How are you feeling at this moment on this issue?”
My impression (maybe a limiting belief?) was that to the question “How do you feel about…”, Clients tend to answer things like fine, ok, so so… To the question “How are you today”, Clients tend to answer I am anxious, I am happy… And the fact that we all tend to answer in this way took me to explore the work of these authors and look for a guideline on the polarity I find on this issue – Clients want/ need to express their feelings and emotions but are also very uncomfortable or even reluctant in talking about them because this communication is very different from the one, we all are used to have – a rational and facts based language.
During my reflection process on this polarity, I first started to call it a problem to challenge and ended up concluding this was not a problem (in the sense it was not an issue with a best solution). It was a polarity for Clients (and for all humans maybe…), in the same context CCL Vice President David Dinwoodie explains it: “A polarity is a pair of interdependent opposites. If you focus on one of those to the neglect or exclusion of the other, at some point in time, you dip into negative unintended consequences. The trick isn’t to solve a polarity or to make a choice and move on. You handle a polarity by first, recognizing what it is, and second, learning how to, mentally and practically, move through the ebbs and flows a polarity presents.”5Source: Book “Becoming a Strategic Leader”, Richard L. Hughes, Katherine Colarelli Beatty, and David L. Dinwoodie, Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL), 2014
It was at this moment of my learning journey, I reached the following question to answer: Even if Clients need and want to talk about emotions, as a 1st step for Transformation, the language we commonly use and are educated to, does not successfully support this communication. So how can Coaches provoke the client to better translate feelings and emotions, to better label them, if the issue goes up to the point that the Client’s language may also need to be transformed and integrated as part of self-awareness?
Brené Brown’s work, which during 2022 I followed and read, seen, and heard intensely, opened the way for my unravelling of this polarity. In her recent Atlas of the Heart,6Source: Book “Atlas of the Heart – Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience”, Brené Brown, Penguim Random House, 2021 & HBO Max Series/ Documentary (https://play.hbomax.com/ ) the author conveys
2 structural messages for my reflection:
- “Without understanding how our feelings, thoughts, and behaviours work together, it’s almost impossible to find our way back to ourselves and each other. (…)
- Language is our portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning and self-awareness. Having access to the right words can open up entire universes.”
The same way, Susan David’s prerogative that “you are not your feelings”, completed this reflection with a third very important conclusion. As a powerful tool to better transform, Clients should be able to resonate to the fact that their emotions do not define who they are7Example in Susan David’s Instagram post from November 2020 – https://www.instagram.com/p/CHGC_pyD–K/ . Thus, it is fundamental to translate in very clear concepts and language the Client’s emotions related with the ending of the current situation and with the new beginning the transition will bring. This means that besides facilitating the Client’s process of labelling emotions with a thought provoking and adequate questioning, Coaches also need to be prepared to challenge the client to create space between the individual and their emotions and feelings. And here is where the going gets tough, considering this challenge also demands the Coach to step up to Maintain Presence and Listen Actively, reinforcing the use of some of the most structural ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) Markers.
As per my development journey as a Coach, the corollary of this reflection was: what should, then, be the most relevant steps and associated tools Coaches may use to foster the Emotions Management side of Transitions, when Evoking Awareness with the Client? As a Coach with a purpose to Inspire Client’s Development Journeys, by challenging transformations with different colours, I have been thinking on a way to translate this framework or structure to bring to the Coaching Sessions and support the Client’s Emotions Management and Evoking Awareness…
- The Client Transition process may profit from (among other themes) a very vibrant momentum of Emotion Labelling. This exercise of Emotions clarification/ definition may be as powerful as the definition of the Client’s Values.
- The language the Client uses in this Emotion Labelling is a portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning and self-awareness, as for the words of Brené Brown.
- Questions on this Language and how the Client is connecting to emotions and it’s meaning and creating self-awareness, supports the self-disclosure and acceptance of feelings and emotions.
- Connection and acceptance of Emotions is Emotional Management, leading to Emotional Agility. It is this moment that enables the Client to recognize Emotions as Teachers and incorporate the insights and lessons that the information drawn from the Emotions Labelling and analysis may bring to the Client’s transformation.
- Finally, if the client learns, the Client transforms. By gaining insight and consolidating self-Knowledge, the Client is even more prepared to Manage Own Development, as per my Coaching Model framework – PRISM_A.8https://epicoaching.academy/prism_a-coaching-model/
Besides this structure, it was possible, supported by this reflection, for me to delve with 2 questions I consider super relevant for my own development as a Coach.
1. How am I, as Coach, going to make good questions to Clients to Evoke Awareness on Emotions Management, when even for me it is very hard to translate Emotions and Feelings into clear language?9I believed my own challenges in this context could endanger the correct use of a marker, for example, as the ICF Evokes Awareness 7.5 – Coach shares—with no attachment—observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts, or feelings, and invites the client’s exploration through verbal or tonal invitation.
At the tipping point of my reflection, I was reassured that Coaches have at their disposal the best questions to ask in this context, supported by the academic and powerful work of several authors. Also, there are already available in the market Emotions Dictionaries and Glossaries useful to enrich the questions and support the client in the process of Emotions labelling. Two good examples are the magical Atlas of the Heart, where Brené Brown takes us to a journey of language discovery and grounding on Emotions, or even the Wholehearted Inventory10https://brenebrown.com/wholeheartedinventory/ , the assessment Brené Brown worked around her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”.11Source: “The Gifts of Imperfection – Let Go of Who you think you’re supposed to Be and embrace Who you Are”, Brené Brown, Hazelden Publishing, 2010
My development as a Coach was also reinforced by the fact that gaining conscience on my own challenges on the language of Emotions, brings me the need to continuously reinforce and consolidate the Actively Listening and the Maintaining Presence as major pillars of powerful questioning to the Client. In a Coaching Session, the Client may communicate Emotions through many different languages or even through silence and it’s up to me as a Coach (while listening in a wholehearted way), to identify the many, (most of times) veiled signals I am receiving, and use them in new questions to challenge the Client.
If I believe Coaching is a transformation process, how can I, as Coach, support the client when dealing with the normal negative Emotions of transitions, namely when they are relative to the ending (past) situation?
As an illustrative scenario, Image 1, adapted from William Bridges book, “Managing Transitions – Making the most of Change”, provides us a very good example of my own personal feeling in this context. Dealing with the Ending Situation when in the Change Management process, is mainly managing negative emotions and that may compromise a successful change transition, considering Coaching is a process towards a New Beginning.
During my readings and discovering of the mentioned authors, I also believe to have found lights and guidelines. Susan David’s article12https://medium.com/thrive-global/how-writing-about-negative-experiences-helps-you-move-past-them-da604db246f3 on How writing about negative Experiences Helps you move past them, points out the most important lesson in my perspective “the writers who thrived the most began to develop insight, using phrases such as “I have learned,” “It struck me that,” “the reason that,” “I now realize,” and “I understand.” In the process of writing, they were able to create the distance between the thinker and the thought, the feeler and the feeling, that allowed them to gain a new perspective, unhook, and move forward.”
And Daniel Pink’s book, The Power of Regret13Source: Book “The Power of Regret – How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward”, Daniel Pink, Riverhead Books, 2022, took me to my own liberation regarding the completion of my Coaching Certification. As Daniel states it:
- “The sequence of self-disclosure, self-compassion, and self-distancing offers a simple, yet systematic way to transform regret into a powerful force for stability, achievement, and purpose.”
- “If we think about regret like this—looking backward to move forward, seizing what we can control and putting aside what we cannot, crafting our own redemption stories—it can be liberating.”
- 1Psychologist. Harvard Medical School. TED Speaker. Author of the #1 WSJ bestseller Emotional Agility. Co-Founder of Institute of Coaching. https://www.linkedin.com/in/susanadavidphd/
- 2Source: Susan David’s Instagram post from May 2022 – https://www.instagram.com/p/CdLxf9fFjcO/. Inspired in the author’s book: “Emotional Agility – Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life”, Avery/ Penguim Random House, 2016
- 3As Susan David states: “I encourage people to see their emotions as data, not directives. Think of them as one data point among many to consider as you move forward.” Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/recognizing-your-emotions-data-directives-susan-david-ph-d-/
- 4Source: Book “Managing Transitions – Making the most of Change”. William Bridges, PhD with Susan Bridges; Publisher / Label: John Murray Press, 2017
- 5Source: Book “Becoming a Strategic Leader”, Richard L. Hughes, Katherine Colarelli Beatty, and David L. Dinwoodie, Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL), 2014
- 6Source: Book “Atlas of the Heart – Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience”, Brené Brown, Penguim Random House, 2021 & HBO Max Series/ Documentary (https://play.hbomax.com/ )
- 7Example in Susan David’s Instagram post from November 2020 – https://www.instagram.com/p/CHGC_pyD–K/
- 9I believed my own challenges in this context could endanger the correct use of a marker, for example, as the ICF Evokes Awareness 7.5 – Coach shares—with no attachment—observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts, or feelings, and invites the client’s exploration through verbal or tonal invitation.
- 11Source: “The Gifts of Imperfection – Let Go of Who you think you’re supposed to Be and embrace Who you Are”, Brené Brown, Hazelden Publishing, 2010
- 13Source: Book “The Power of Regret – How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward”, Daniel Pink, Riverhead Books, 2022