A Coaching Power Tool Created by Marichelle Ciniglio
(Transformational Coach, UNITED STATES)
Have you ever heard people saying: ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’. Imagine this image for a moment, one placing oneself in other’s shoes. For people who are in the helping professions, it is imperative that empathy is one of their qualifications. The ability to put oneself in other person’s situation, this empathy, allows for understanding of what are they going through at any given moment. It also creates a connection, and the professional sets up a space that is safe for a client. Empathy seems so personal, so how people can just turn it on and off just like that? Think for a moment, what is your definition of empathy? According to the dictionary is basically to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. However, it is possible that the word empathy has been colloquially and professionally used in the wrong sense.
There is nowhere in the definition of Empathy:
One has to suffer for another person
One must take the pain away,
One must safe the person in pain.
One did not do enough in the last session
One should have said….
Also, empathy is mostly used in terms of negative emotions, such as pain, sorrow, grief, and even anger.
And because of these misconceptions, we often find burnout in the helping professions.
What is about Empathy that is so tricky? In order for Empathy to be used in the helping profession effectively, follow these steps:
Steps for Empathy
- Listen to the person speak.
- Put yourself in their situation.
- Experience the emotion as they feel it without judgment.
- From a place of strength, help the person find his/her own power/force with the resources at his/her disposal.
- Put yourself out of their situation.
- Envision them as a strong person capable of handling the situation.
People in the helping professions can easily switch to empathy mode. They usually pick this profession because it has been second nature to them to feel for others. Often, during their training, they learn to build “the wall” so it doesn’t get to them. But how can one just build a wall? That is just denying the gift. How can one step in someone else’s shoes and have a wall? How can one feel someone’s pain of the loss of a loved one with a wall?
What happens when one doesn’t step out of the other’s situation? Does one feel responsible to help the client/person, to safe client/person? What if client/person doesn’t do what one think is right? Does one feel drained? These are signs that one is absorbing what does not belong to oneself. Absorption is the main cause of burnout.
When is it dangerous? When it is not empathy anymore? Where does empathy end and absorption begin? Absorption is the perceived ability to absorb someone else’s pain to minimize it.
In the helping professions there are always cases of clients/persons whom trigger absorption in us: the events are similar something you experienced or are experiencing, the events are similar to something you experience but you have not dealt with it, they remind you of someone who with you are emotionally compromised, and transference/counter-transference.
Lets go back to basics, Empathy works both ways. Just as we experience the pain, frustration, anxiety, sorrow and grief someone else is living, we can experience the love, acceptance, determination, energy, drive, strength, and desire to change. As health professionals look at the areas of concern, they also look at the resources the clients have at their disposal. In some cases, some clients may not have much of the needed resources available to them to make it through. However, they are other available professional help that can be assigned to these clients to empower them.
Strategies to take yourself out of Absorption mode:
- Return to your present.
- Close your eyes and whatever you kept from your client, imagine returning it to him/her including his/her strengths as well.
- Close your eyes and imaging standing tall in your own shoes, being mindful of what surrounds you.
- Take care of yourself. If there is a topic that resonated with you, acknowledge it and look within for resolution, if it is not possible, you can always be coached.
- Check your blind spots.
- What of “my life” I am bringing into the session?
- Can you feel empathy for the client’s strengths too?
- Do you feel empathy when the client is excited of his/her accomplishments?
- What steps do you have to follow in order to take care of yourself?
- What steps to you need to follow in order to be present with your client?
- When you absorb, whose agenda is that?
- What purpose is serving you to absorb?
- What beliefs are you activating when you absorb?
- Can you see the client/person powerless or powerful?
- Can you identify your blind spots?
- How often do you put yourself in your own shoes?
Since we are born, our most important goal in life if to make lasting connections with others. As we grow, we learn to interact with others to create friendships, business relationships, loving relationships, parent-child relationships. Through our social interactions, we learn to connect. We continuously improve as we continue to interact with others and we probably learn that empathy is an important quality to have in any relationship.
As coaches, we encounter many topics, and probably the most common is relationships.
One cannot master how to build relationships, it is the learning curve for everyone. Through interactions with others, we learn about ourselves and how we interact with others says a lot about ourselves.
Many times clients are in absorption mode in regards to others. They often describe it as a draining feeling.
Powerful coaching questions
- What effects have you experienced by helping this person?
- How do you feel after speaking to this person?
- In what way this person is different/similar to you?
- What is it about thinking about this person’s pain gives you?
- Who does this person remind you of?
- Did you have a similar experience/pain?
- What is it about this person’s pain that occupies your thoughts?
- What would happen if you didn’t feel this person’s pain anymore?
- How responsible are you for this person’s pain?
- What is empathy for you? What is not?