Coaching With Emotional Intelligence

Joan had a good job in HR that she felt she had pretty much mastered. As such, she was starting to feel a sameness that was eating away at her. The demands were considerable at home, as well, so a promotion with more hours wasn’t appealing at this time. Maybe her situation wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t for the sense of sameness to her days that felt so, so empty. This emptiness is what brought her to coaching.

After doing some values work, she and her coach uncovered that it wasn’t where she was working that was the problem. She liked the company and what it stood for. It was more about her role. She would love to take on something new and had her eye on a new employee development program. So, her coach challenged her to speak up for what she wanted, to go and ask her boss for the work she wanted. She said she would consider that and get back to her coach before next session.

And she didn’t get back.

She did, however, show up for the next call with a very different presentation. “I couldn’t do it,” she confessed. “Not that I didn’t want to. I COULDN’T.” She sounded deflated and defeated.

After creating the space she needed to clear, it became obvious that the emotions around this ran very deep indeed.

“Whenever I think about walking up to my supervisor’s office to tell her I want to apply for this position, I literally start to shake and feel like I am paralyzed. It freaks me out so much that I choose, consciously, not to. The reaction here is so strong, so physical, that I cannot go through with it. What is wrong with me?”

Her coach helped her see that those physical reactions were actually messages from a powerful part of her, messages from her emotional mind.

“When we have strong emotional reactions to something or someone, our emotional mind is the first to react,” her coach explained. Then he continued, “In fact, it does so much faster than our rational or thinking mind. What kind of thoughts were you thinking?”

Joan replied, “I was afraid. I don’t know why. I literally couldn’t think of any good reason not to go in there. I guess it’s just easier to stay comfortable.”

Her coach asked, “So have you always played it safe? When have you taken risks before?”

Joan immediately replied, “The first time I started rock climbing, I remember feeling a little bit like this, but I had already committed to my boyfriend, who is now my husband, that I would do it. He was supportive; I did it, and now, it’s one of our favorite hobbies to do together!”

Her coach acknowledged her. “That’s terrific. Rock climbing is something I have always wanted to do and couldn’t bring myself to do it. You really are courageous. So you mean to tell me that you can scale a mountain but not the distance to your boss’ office to apply for what you want?”

Joan admitted, “Silly isn’t it? But what can I do about what I feel when I go to do it?” Her coach replied, “This feeling is often called an emotional hijack. And there are some techniques you can practice that will help you recover from the physical effects of it. You see, our emotional mind, or amygdale, responds first. It causes a chemical release into the rest of our body that has a tremendous impact. These chemicals stay in our bloodstream for up to three or four hours. We can have things like our heart speeding up or feeling shaky as a result. And our rational mind, or neo-cortex, literally gets flooded as part of this process. That’s why it can feel like we can’t think during a hijack!”

“Wow,” Joan replied. “That makes sense. I don’t feel so weird after all. But what can I do about it?”
“You probably have had someone in your past recommend taking a few deep breaths when you are upset,” her coach submitted. “That actually makes sense from a physiological perspective. Changing our breathing pattern sends a different message to the brain and is the beginning of reversing the hijack process.”

Joan admitted, “Yes, I remember doing that some of the earliest times in my climbing when I reached new heights!”

“What a great metaphor,” her coach observed. “You are certainly going for new heights in what you are up to by applying for this position. Something else that helps reverse the effects of a hijack is connecting with an emotion that counters the fear. One that has been shown to be particularly effective is gratitude. What is something you can think of that might do this for you?”

“Well, I think what we have talked about today would be terrific. Every time I go up and see those beautiful scenic vistas with my husband I am so thankful for conquering my initial fears around climbing. I’ll do that when I start to feel the fear of walking in and applying for that position.” Joan felt confident and grounded.

“Great work, Joan,” her coach acknowledged. “It is really helpful to practice this before doing it. Imagine yourself getting ready to walk into that office, take some deep breaths and connect with a beautiful vista from a climb. You sound ready to scale new heights at work! And don’t forget, you can use this in any area of your life when you feel that strong emotion might be holding you back.”

“Thanks coach. I am going to practice this and then go do it. The next time we talk, I intend to have that position!”

The coach was delighted when Joan sent her an e-mail the following week with the great news that she had indeed gotten the project lead and was looking forward to setting more goals with him on their next call.

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