A Coaching Power Tool Created by Louise Parry Gathercole
(Success Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
Human Beings are emotional creatures. The role of emotion in our relationships, communications and decision making is increasingly being recognised and analysed. Advertising plays on our emotions to persuade us to buy things. We have emotional responses to the world around us, our co-workers, friends, families and this impacts on our communication and on our thinking. In business, concepts such as emotional intelligence are making headway in ideas about leadership. Sheryl Sandberg suggests that the expression of emotion in the workplace would be a positive outcome where people could be genuinely themselves and not a forced ‘professional’ front.
As Edward de Bono says
in the end all thinking is emotional . . . . the purpose of thinking is to so arrange the world so that the application of our emotions and values will give an effective and acceptable outcome.
Feelings and thoughts interact and overlap. Negative feelings can get in the way of clear thinking and negative thoughts can lead to unhelpful feelings. Equally, positive thoughts can lift the mood and positive feelings can spur you on to decision and action and the ability to think clearly.
When considering a situation, an event or a decision we have both thoughts and feelings about it, but it is sometimes difficult to work out which is driving our response and whether it is helpful or not. This power tool seeks to bring a clearer perspective and an awareness about what are thoughts and what are feelings and how they can be used to best effect. The process is to take a past event, a current situation, a decision, a plan and to talk through the client’s feelings and then to talk through their thoughts with a clear emphasis on the separation of the two in the first instance and then an examination of them together. The aim of this power tool is to allow the client to identify what is a feeling and what is a thought, how they overlap and where they are in conflict. The shift in perspective comes when they are able to identify whether they are being driven by a feeling that is clouding their ability to think rationally, or alternatively whether they are analysing something so much that the important feelings they have about it are being pushed out. The shift is to a more balanced view.
This is an incredibly useful tool to use on oneself, either as a way of examining a situation or as an ‘in-the-moment’ tool to gain control and awareness in a stressful situation. Just stop for a moment and ask yourself ‘how am I feeling/did I feel about this? What other feelings am I noticing/can I remember?’ Then when you have fully explored the feelings move onto ‘What am/was I thinking? What thoughts are/were going through my mind? How do my thoughts relate to the feelings I have just identified?’
In a moment of stress, this can be a very good way to gain control, stay calm and think before acting.
It is also very powerful to use on clients who are stuck in a loop of thoughts and feelings interacting in an unhelpful way.
Case Study 1
Jane is a person who gets very nervous in job interviews and selection panels and feels that this prevents her from showing her true potential. After a particularly unpleasant experience in a role play assessment exercise, she talked through the events with her coach.
First she described what had happened in the assessment where she had to quickly assimilate information about her role and her objective in the assessment exercise and then argue her case for funding with other candidates. She described her panic, her sense of being overwhelmed, her need to say something towards the end of the exercise. She used phrases like “I knew it was going to be awful,” and “I couldn’t think straight.”
She then talked through the event again, but this time, the coach asked her to focus only on the feelings she had and to ignore the thoughts as much as possible. Every time she strayed into ‘I think’ the coach gently reminded her that she was exploring her feelings at the moment and there would be time to explore the thoughts later. The questioning process went deeply into Jane’s feelings with open questions such as ‘how else did you feel?’ ‘how did you feel when that happened?’ ‘thinking back, are there any other feelings you can identify at that moment?’ After she had finished describing the event, the coach continued to draw out her feelings. ‘Were there any other feelings that you remember?’ ‘How do you feel about that now?’
Jane was able to identify that it was primarily her feelings that she remembered of the event and that her feelings were what had triggered the statements she blurted out at the end, for which she received negative feedback.
She then described the event for a third time, focussing on what she was thinking at each point, separating it from the feelings. Her coach kept her focussed on her thoughts. ‘What were your thoughts at that moment?’ ‘What were you thinking whilst that was going on?’. When she strayed into the use of emotional language, her coach would refocus on thoughts. At the end of talking it through, her coach continued to ask questions about thinking. ‘Were there any other thoughts that you had during that event? What thoughts are you having now?’
Whilst doing this, Jane identified that her thoughts before the event had contributed to her negative and panicky feelings. She also realised that in spite of the adrenalin rush she had experienced at the start of the session, leading to a feeling that she could “not think straight”, she had in fact assimilated all the information given to her and once she had been able to calm her feelings, she had all the facts at hand and had presented a good argument. It also became clear to her that at the end of the session, her verbal interventions had not been the result of clear thought, but of emotion and a sense of panic. Examining the event through the prism of her thoughts, and removing the negative emotions that she had attached to it gave her a more balanced perspective on her performance and she was able to acknowledge the times where she had performed well.
Throughout this process, Jane was able to identify where her thinking was creating unhelpful feelings. She could also see that being able to identify where her responses were to a feeling rather than a thought could help her in similar situations in the future. She was then able to move on to working out strategies to cool down her sense of panic as soon as possible and to think in a way that created positive feelings and freed her mind to think clearly.
Case Study 2
Lara had an assignment to write. She was very stuck and unable to get started on it. Before discussing how she could get past the block her coach asked her to break down her response to the assignment into her feelings and her thoughts about it. Firstly she identified that she was feeling angry and frustrated about having to do it. Then she stated that she was thinking that she didn’t see the point in doing it as she couldn’t see how it was helpful. She could see that this was leading to the feelings of anger and frustrating. Her coach then asked her what doing the assignment would do for her and she was able to think through how it could be useful, and how she could get going on it. This change in thinking changed her feelings about it to more positive ones and she was able to get over the block she had been feeling and take action.
This power tool can be used in a number of ways – to get over a block, to move forward in making a decision, to analyse a past event, a relationship or a situation. The questions therefore will depend on the particular situation, but some examples are:
- Tell me about your feelings.
- How does/did that make you feel?
- What emotions does thinking about that bring up for you?
- How are/were you feeling about that?
- What other feelings do/did you have?
- Moving on from your feelings for a moment, what are your thoughts?
- Can you remember what you were thinking at the time?
- What do you think will move you forward here?
- What other thoughts do you have about that?
Clients will have a tendency to switch between their thoughts and feelings in a discussion as they are so interlinked. The important thing for the coach to do to enable the client to gain clarity is to keep the focus on just the one area – either thoughts or feelings.
- We'll move onto your thoughts in a moment, but can you tell me a little more about your feelings?
- Are there any other emotions you would like to examine before we move onto how you are thinking about this situation?
- You seem to be talking about some of your feelings again. Shall we finish examining your thoughts before we move back to talking about your feelings?
Once the client is happy that they have drawn out all of their feelings and thoughts the coach can create a space for the client to explore how the two relate and where their thoughts are helping their feelings and vice versa and where they are getting in the way.
I have found that this power tool is a powerful way for a client to gain clarity over their response to a situation or a decision and experience a perspective shift to one of balance.