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The Key to Coaching Lies in Emotional Intelligence

What coaches believe and understand about emotional intelligence will directly influence the way they use it in their coaching sessions. It’s a crucial skill for any coach – in fact, it is an important skill for anybody to harness, both professionally and personally.
January 23, 2020
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two black human profiles

What is emotional intelligence? It means expressing and managing one’s emotions in a healthy way; being self-aware, while also having sensitivity for the people with whom one is interacting; and employing impulse control in order to let the immediate emotional reaction pass while developing a more mature response.

At the ICF Québec Breakfast Conference on Coaching, a monthly breakfast hosted in collaboration with the John Molson Executive Centre, Dave Carey, ACC presented and facilitated a discussion that helped to break down and define emotional intelligence. “It’s not about not feeling,” he said. “It’s about feeling deeply, but learning how to express how we feel in a way that is appropriate and meaningful.” 

As we take ourselves into relationships, our challenge in those relationships is to understand the other. But the ability to accept the other depends largely on the ability to accept ourselves.

There are several models used to help describe emotional intelligence, but the one Carey used consists of the following five parts:  

Self-perception 

This branch embraces positive self-regard, self-actualization and self-awareness. It explores questions like, “How do we view ourselves?” and “What do we understand about ourselves?” and focuses on the understanding of hopes and ambitions – what does each of us want, and for coaches: how can we help our clients to achieve those ambitions? This section also begs the question: What makes you unique? As a coach, as a leader, or whatever hat you’re wearing. What is the one thing that makes whatever you do different from everybody else? The simple answer is: you.  

 “As we take ourselves into relationships, our challenge in those relationships is to understand the other. But the ability to accept the other depends largely on the ability to accept ourselves,” Carey explained. Self-perception significantly influences success. 

This is not touchy-feely. This hits the bottom line. If you’re empathetic and your absenteeism goes down, that’s money in your pocket.

Self-expression

How do you typically express your emotions? “We all feel emotions extremely deeply, but we express them in very different ways,” Carey said. Coaches can’t wear their hearts on their sleeves – if something a client says gives them a strong emotional reaction, they can’t openly act surprised or show any emotion that might come across as judgemental. Developing self-expression in terms of emotional intelligence means understanding one’s own emotional triggers and challenging them. 

Self-expression is also defined by independence and assertiveness. What personal beliefs and guidelines each individual follows that makes them unique. “We have an opportunity to make sure that it’s us that are moving into relationships, not a series of trainings or policies,” was the way Carey explained it. He called it “respectful independence.” In other words, it’s not about sticking it to the man and not following policies and trainings, but it is about having one’s own unique ideas, thoughts, and understanding of them. 

Interpersonal 

Building relationships is extremely significant, especially in terms of coaching relationships. A key component in building relationships is empathy, which gets a bit of a bad rap for being too touchy-feely, and is often dismissed as not being important. The fact is, however that empathy can translate directly into cash. “This is not touchy-feely. This hits the bottom line. If you’re empathetic and your absenteeism goes down, that’s money in your pocket,” Carey said. “If your sales people are inspired by you to get out there and they feel confident, your sales go up.”

One of the biggest tasks when it comes to empathy both in coaches and in leaders is recognizing that the people who are coming into work – including the coach, the leader and all the other employees – those people have a life outside of work too. They’ve got emotional baggage, and it’s impossible to leave that completely at the door. 

If there is nobody to check our assumptions we end up taking the wrong actions based on those assumptions.

Decision making

The Coach often serves as a powerful sounding board for leaders who are faced with complex problems.  As the old adage goes, it’s lonely at the top! 

Coaches must have a firm grasp on decision making and understand reality testing. This is about checking assumptions. “We get into patterns, develop certain attitudes and approaches that we develop blind spots and we make assumptions,” Carey explained. In any given situation, assumptions are either a barrier or a bridge. “If there is nobody to check our assumptions we end up taking the wrong actions based on those assumptions,” Carey said. “We need people in our lives who will challenge our assumptions at the very base of what they are so that we can make informed decisions based on reality and not on what we feel.”

Stress management

Flexibility, stress tolerance, and optimism are all sub-branches of stress management in emotional intelligence. Moreover, these characteristics are key to remaining relevant in this fast-paced world, and understanding that is crucial to business success. “What worked yesterday may not work today,” Carey said. 

How does this relate to coaching? 

On a broader scale, coaches who can tap into their own emotional intelligence, and inspire their clients to do the same are able to increase the success of their communication exponentially. It is also interesting, however, to compare the five branches of emotional intelligence with the 11 core competencies laid out by the ICF. For example, the self-awareness branch alone ties into direct communication (#7) and creating awareness (#8). 

Emotional intelligence is a core part of what coaches work with each day, and understanding it and embracing it is a key to success. 

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