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Coaching with Emotional Assertiveness

Coaching is an advanced form of communication. The Institute of Coaching Studiesdefines coaching in this way, – coaching is a collaborative process supported by the coach who creates a safe space for exploration; and led by the client who shares what is of importance to them to create positive, sustainable change.

An important part of this definition is ‘the process is collaborative and involves the creation of a safe place’. Coaching is a professional application of communication skills, however the important aspects, communication, collaboration, and safety, are central to all healthy human interaction.

For humans emotions were our first language, babies, and caretakers, communicate and form attachments through emotional channels. Long before the development of speech, it was body language that counted, emotional intelligence.

Research shows that adult communication comprises approximately 90% emotions in the form of body language including tone of voice, and the words or content, only 10%. True, the words convey information, data, requests and so on, but how we say the words has a huge impact upon how we receive and process the data.

Cooperation is achieved through the formation of interpersonal bonds of attachment, something we are less aware of, and yet is the core of human existence. We succeeded as a species because we learned to cooperate. Our ancestors’ formed family and tribal groups, with attachment and bonding as the glue that holds these groups together. It is simply a fact, when we are successful at communication, our human endeavours are more effective, and this means forming bonds.

Coach training often focussed upon logic, data, questioning and discovery, i.e. the content. Such training is very helpful and often more than good enough. However, at ‘stuck times’ when the client seems to be blocked and logic fails, it is the emotional content that can lead to the breakthrough. Blocks to creativity and productivity are often not about the client’s lack of skill or knowledge, but self-doubt, and self-limiting ‘inner speak’. Unconscious, processes, most often underpinned by some emotionally charged, restricting belief systems.

Therefore, in the coaching relationship, our awareness and application of emotional connections are an essential tool.

Inner Tennis: Timothy Gallwey wrote that the best approach to improve performance is not to focus on technique and practice, but rather to understand that “every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game”

  • The outer game is facing an opponent in a match, which all sports coaches focused on. (In corporate terms, skills, knowledge, logic, etc.)
  • The inner game is internal: competing self-doubt, lack of confidence or concentration, anxiety, etc. (The emotional content; quite often unconscious)

The Power of Emotional Assertiveness.

Two types of self-limiting Thoughts and Emotions: In my early research, I discovered that clients fell broadly into two clusters, those who when under stress used rationalisation as a defence, and those who avoided thinking and became overwhelmed by their emotions. I therefore, developed strategies to help both sorts, bring their thinking and emotions together. As they did this, they would quickly discover their patterns and achieve awareness and therapeutic movement. I wrote my MSc thesis on the model I created and have used it successfully ever since, refining it along the way.

The Emotional Assertiveness Model, (TEAM) is based upon the principle that there are only four primary emotions, Happiness, Anger, Sadness and Fear. We also assert that there are no negative emotions, it is not the emotion that is positive or negative, rather it is how we express the emotion. That is, all four emotions can be expressed either positively, as problem solving tools, or negatively as self-defeating, negative pattern reinforcing unconscious strategies.

When emotions are expressed positively, they serve to assist us to forge cooperative bonds with others, when expressed negatively they are destructive. Often, we do not express emotions negatively as a conscious process, but rather unconsciously due to patterns learned in childhood, incorporated as defence mechanisms, but that lead to repeating negative scenarios.

Because emotions are integral to human communication, when someone displays an emotion, we have a concomitant emotional response. If the emotion is expressed negatively or positively, our experience of it, gives us information about the emotional state of the other. With careful consideration, we can gain an understanding of where communication blocks have their origins. In a coaching session our most valuable too is ourselves.  By Identifying the emotion, we have the key to removing the roadblocks, taking us forward in the coaching process.  In other words, we use our emotions and our thinking to avoid reinforcing our clients’ negative patters, and through disrupting them, help the client to see their process. I call this using joined up thinking and feeling.

Brief example: A client answers the coaches’ question saying, “I don’t know.” The coach notices at the time of the question, their client briefly shows anxiety on their face. Coach responds, “When I asked the question, I noticed that you showed some emotion; what did you feel then?” Reply, “Yes, I did feel a little anxious.” Coach, “Will you take a moment and ask yourself, what was scary about that question.” As the client begins to unravel what their anxiety was about, they are stepping back and reviewing how they are preventing themselves from thinking clearly. They can account for their anxiety, discover resources to deal with their fears and move forward.

If you found this article interesting, or it raises questions for you, you will find a deeper and more comprehensive description of my model and the tools in my book, Fore-play, Fair-play and Foul-play, available from the Great British book shop via a link on the home page of my web page or you can email me on  I am always willing to answer questions.