Fears and Anxieties of a Coach (Part 2)

Due to its complexity, the article is divided into two parts.
Read Part 1

The first part of this article considers some of the flaws we experience while coaching.

  1. Lack of consistency
  2. Self-deception

Experience is a journey to mastery, but also to assumptions that can damage our coaching performance. This is a valid point for all knowledge and skills we learn.

As coaches, we serve other individuals. Our mission is to help them improve in ways they haven’t figured out yet. We aim to bring clarity and solutions. If we get tangled in only one of these two aspects, there will be an overbalance between the skills we are conscious of, and tacit knowledge.

In summary, in the first part of this article, we learned how our flaws depend on the approach and the mindset we generally have on learning. Critical moments make waver our certainties as professionals. At times, we can feel inadequate for the client we are facing. We may feel mired because the conversations are getting nowhere.

We experience self-doubt – but of the unhealthy kind. We are frustrated because we want to succeed – forgetting that goals and journeys must be enjoyed equally. That we are incompetent, no matter how much we honed our skills so far.

There are two more root causes for our anxieties that we must consider. All four are usually interconnected with one another. Understanding them can help us to begin with a healthy form of self-doubt, one where we don’t let ourselves down or punish ourselves. So, we can welcome doubt as a form of learning rather than live it as a form of stress.

Root Cause #3 – Lacking backbone

Imagine we are a performance coach. We are conversating about our client’s professional matters and triggers for motivations. Suddenly, we touch a sensitive chord, and the client explodes in an emotional outburst. Violent anger, or sad cry. In the shoes of the coach, this can be unexpected and uncomfortable to deal with. Some of us may decide to ignore and continue as if nothing happened.

As the unexpected cracks into our coaching persona, anxiety raises from the human’s common fear of the unknown. There is little difference between a regular conversation and an unexpected event: they are both unpredictable. The difference is that we are accustomed to the form of the conversation in a way. Basically, we realize how little we know in that instant, and this shakes our focus on the conversation, for we begin to look inward to ask: “what can I do?”

There is also an opposite situation, where we know well how things are going. We know we are getting our coachee nowhere, but we are afraid to address the point.

Perhaps, something touched our nerve wrong, and we don’t want to admit it to ourselves.

These are three scenarios where we prefer to look somewhere else than at reality. The thing is, sometimes we don’t know when we are lying to ourselves (self-deception), and sometimes we do. We know we should do something, but we prefer not to. Aren’t we brave enough?

Courage is an attribute needed for a coach to perform well. Let’s define it:

Emotional and cognitive process that precipitates brave actions …, The ability to confront a client, knowing and clearly stating your position, whether it is popular or not.

Woods, 2021

Lacking this kind of firmness leaves both the coach and the coachee underdeveloped. Because we decide not to challenge our client, because we are unwilling to take that risk, we stagnate the conversation. We don’t want to provoke in a bad way, for fear of breaking the relationship. But our coaching becomes unproductive and redundant because we don’t stimulate the coachee enough to bring in him a clash with his own assumptions.

By lacking backbone and not taking risks we also refuse to understand when our job is done, for fear of losing a source of income.

In a way, courage is needed for the health of the self, to be decisive about dos and donts when establishing the relationship with the client. Also, to remark our professional ethics with an inner agreement. This also means fighting against our personal pressures while coaching, especially when the trusted relationship with the coachee seems to become too personal, miscarrying judgment.

Root-Cause #4 – Missing the sense of mastery

Because we feel inadequate, we begin to think that our skills aren’t enough. Out of the context of the conversation, our anxieties make us ruminate about our abilities. New coaches can feel stretched behind the framework they learned, so they crave more tools. Experienced coaches can experience how relying on the same skillset too long develops a false sense of control.

The dichotomy of the self (referencing the previous part) is, once again, put into discussion. We cannot rely only on experience or theories. They are two parts of the whole.

Whatever the case is, we can feel a blunt hit on our self-confidence and start worrying about the fact we haven’t achieved a suitable level of expertise. We build skills out of universal knowledge, in the form of theory, and situational knowledge, in the form of practice.

This is, however, a different problem. It relates more to the way we use knowledge than the one we see it. It is more practical because knowledge can be acquired, understood, and passed on – regardless of our approach. Think of how many styles of Karate exist in the world: the learner will make a different use and specialize in something different, depending on if he is more interested in sheer fighting or pure technique.

But even though we got that, we still might look for validation. We want our peers and our clients to acknowledge our greatness. We seek feedback to improve ourselves. But more than that, some of us look for recognition. Too much recognition for too less work might make us overconfident. At the first critical event, we can get into the imposter syndrome.

Furthermore, too low recognition is frustrating. If we don’t feel enough appreciated by our clients, if we don’t see results from our exercise, we begin to doubt if we are doing all wrong. Then we think we should do more than we do. Again, we focus on how much we should do rather than how good we do what we can.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10 000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10 000 times.”

Bruce Lee

As beginners, we need to understand that mastery cannot be achieved in a night. In the first years, we focus on stable main knowledge to practice.

As experts, we may realize that there is no end to the journey. If we continuously revise our performances, we can every time find something we can do better; but also, find our own limitations.

How to work out courage and achieve true mastery?

How does courage play in coaching? It develops self-awareness in the coach as well as the skills needed to do coaching. Being courageous to dare and try out something that seems risky, but beneficial to our client. It means: daring to give critical feedback, admitting when we are stagnating, to ask for suggestions from the coachee.

Acting with courage, we will recognize when we are standing at a crossroad, thus deciding if it’s time to take the jump and risk for the coachee’s sake, or turn back to seek alternatives. Taking the jump and failing will be a light-heart learning opportunity that the regret of not trying cannot fill. This way we can find authenticity as the person behind the coach and perform with a clear mind.

Make good use of retrospection-introspection cycles. It is something that I am about to describe as “Critical Hub”: a moment between two coaching sessions where we take time to look at the subtle cognitive layer of the conversation.

The first part of this exercise is retrospective and it looks at what went well, and what did not during the session, in terms of facts. This way, we can point out what we can do better with our client the next time.

The second part is instead an introspective activity of reflection: here we look at our performance and the way we feel. Did we abide by our rules? Was there a moment we felt something weird or wrong? Were we brave enough?
Putting our knowledge of coaching to use in a specific context through practice is what we seek.

To achieve mastery, we need to embrace the various opportunities life gives us, preferring an eclectic approach that combines holistic knowledge (the “artistic” part) with the technical one (the “scientific” part).

Conclusion

  • Coaching is a form of Transformative Learning. Both parties involved in the conversation can grow and become a better version of themselves. The coach can learn by having a positive approach to the profession and the learning experience beneath.
  • Several factors can contribute to our anxieties, and affect our performance as a coach and our mental wellbeing: inner ethical conflict, self-deception, lack of backbone, missing mastery.
  • Dealing with one or more of these factors over time can derail us to unhealthy practices, ruining performances, overworking, losing purpose, and dropping.
  • We can cope with inner self-doubt by accepting it and being flexible with our personal rules. This way we can solve our ethical conflict.
  • We need to listen to others to get a different perspective, be open to critics, and work on our areas of improvement.
  • Courage is needed to coach well: we need to overcome our fear of failure when we are at a crossroads with our coachee and take a jump to move forward.
  • Acknowledging “mastery” as a journey rather than a goal is a way to live better our anxiety by trying of doing better rather than more. Repeated retrospective-introspective reflection moments can help us detach from the sources of fear and build contextual knowledge for future uses.

A final note. I have been inspired to write about this topic from many readings and several conversations with some of my clients. For instance, one of them is pushing me against my fears of failing in audio-blog, my self-deceptive attitude towards my far-from-perfect English accent, and lacking courage in trying it earlier. I wanted to honor his motivational speech by dedicating this blog to him.

End of Part 2 >>> Back to Part 1

References*:

  • Bachkirova, Tatiana. “The Self of the Coach: Conceptualization, Issues, and Opportunities for Practitioner Development.” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, vol. 68, no. 2, 2016, pp. 143–156., doi:10.1037/cpb0000055.
  • De Haan, Erik. “I Doubt Therefore I Coach: Critical Moments in Coaching Practice.” Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, vol. 60, no. 1, 2008, pp. 91–105., doi:10.1037/1065-9293.60.1.91.
  • Dirkx, John M., et al. “Musings and Reflections on the Meaning, Context, and Process of Transformative Learning.” Journal of Transformative Education, vol. 4, no. 2, 2006, pp. 123–139., doi:10.1177/1541344606287503.
  • Drake, David B. “What Do Coaches Need to Know? Using the Mastery Window to Assess and Develop Expertise.” Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, vol. 4, no. 2, 2011, pp. 138–155., doi:10.1080/17521882.2011.596486.
  • Westland, Sandra, and Pnina Shinebourne. “Self-Deception and the Therapist: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the Experiences and Understandings of Therapists Working with Clients They Describe as Self-Deceptive.” Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, vol. 82, no. 4, 2009, pp. 385–401., doi:10.1348/147608309×450508.

*References apply to this and all other parts of the article.

Published by Andrea Paviglianiti

I practice coaching, I love reading, and I work as a data scientist. I also recharge my batteries with meditation, martial arts, and video games. I perform career and skills coaching – thus I define myself as a “cognitive” coach: I help people improve their learning experience to succeed where they want. My method is based on behavioral analysis, psychology of learning, philosophy of dialogue, and classic literature. I write about how to get better at learning, the best books I read, and my personal philosophy of coaching. And I will not lie to you – I can get verbose at times! I’d be happy if you stick around and read more of what I have to share!

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