This article was originally written by Michael Hall - gently edited by The Coaching Room
If you have taken your Meta-Coach training in the past year, then you know that if there’s any really dangerous question that we repeatedly warn about, it is “the emotion question.” Now we therapists are the worst with this one. Given our training in psychotherapy, all you have to do is show up and we automatically say, “And how do you feel about that?” It’s as if we are on automatic and the simplest of triggers will evoke this question.
Now, true enough, on the surface this question seems caring and compassion. Yet it can just as easily operate as a cruel invitation to needless pain. Unless properly used, it will undermine your coaching and shift you into the role of a therapist or mother (or father) and you might just find yourself caught up in a co-dependent relationship with your client. Generally speaking, you can count on this, that is, asking “How do you feel about that?” is as irrelevant as it leads in the wrong direction.
Why? The answer is simple: Emotions are symptoms. How you or any other person feels about anything is the result of your or their frames (belief frames, understanding frames, decision frames, identity frames, etc.). So when a person is talking about something and you ask about their feelings, the only information you will receive will be symptomatic information, information that you can usually guess about. After all, we feel according to how we frame things.
The feeling question is also a big clue that the person coaching is a novice coach. It is what those who get lost and don’t know what they’re doing default to. “And how do you feel about that?” In fact, the frequency of the emotion question tends to be a sign of wimpy and ineffective coaching. The more you ask it, the wimpier your coaching!
During the last year, when I hear the question at the beginning of coaching sessions— even before a well-formed specific outcome has been identified— I step in, interrupt the process, and ask,
“What are you seeking to discover by asking that question? And how is that going to serve this client identifying her desired outcome?”
This isn’t to say that you should never ask the feeling question. Not at all. Asking the emotion question can be powerful and life-changing when asked at the right time. Yet you have to know when to ask it as well as how to ask it. So when is it best to ask this question and how do we ask it with power?
1) Ask it when it’s important for you and them to identify their current state.
You coach from state to state, so you need to always be calibrating to your client’s state. If you don’t know the state your client is in, ask. “What are you feeling as you say that?” “How much are you in that feeling state?” “Is that helping or hindering you?” “Is this state the problem or the solution or neither?” The key here is to make sure your client is in the best state for the coaching. The quality of your coaching will be governed to a great extent by your client’s state.
2) Ask it when you want to create aversion to the client’s current pathway.
But only ask it after you have asked at least three outcome questions. “What results are you getting now? What current impacts are occurring? If you keep doing this and getting these results, what will happen in six months? In a year’s time? And from those results, what will then happen?” Once you have facilitated this consequential thinking in your client, then ask, “And when you consider all of these results, what do you feel?” “Is that enough to get you to take action now to avoid those consequences?” “What more do you need to consider to change your course?” Here you are using the feeling question to facilitate enough away-from energy to change the course of life.
3) Ask to create enough positive energy to propel your client forward.
First you have to ask several questions about the client’s desired outcomes. “What do you really want to create in your life? And when you create that, what will result from that?
And when you get that fully and completely in the way you want it, what will you feel then?” The feeling question here enables you to facilitate in your client sufficient positive emotional energy to take the require actions to make a change. You induce the forward propelling state so that there’s energy for transformation.
4) Ask to heighten the client’s resolve to take action.
Set up the emotion question here by first asking about what the client already knows that has to happen to bring his or her ideal outcome into reality. “What will you do to actualise this? If you say yes to this, what will you have to say no to? How much do you really want this? As you consider this, what benefits will this offer for you? How do you feel about that?” The feeling question here facilitates a decisive-energy state— a state that will turn thought into action.
Asking the emotion question without a strategic purpose means you will be evoking emotions, without putting that emotional energy into gear. It may evoke nice feelings, but the feelings will not be connected with any purposeful action. Or worse, the client may confuse those feelings with the resolution of the problem!
When I listen to a coaching conversation during Coaching Mastery and the coach repeatedly uses the feeling question so that the client makes his or her outcome to “feel” something, I typically will interrupt. “Can you feel that now?” And almost always the answer is “Yes.” “Yes I can feel courage now, confidence now, humour now, self-valuing now, etc.” To which I then respond, “Great. Done! Give me my money!” Or, “Done! What is your next outcome for this coaching session?”
The point in this? Don’t cheapen your coaching by over-using the feeling question. Ask it intentionally and strategically. Ask it to generate the energy for the change that your client is seeking and that will call forth the action that creates a new pathway for your client. Here’s to the boldness of your coaching!