How to Coach a Client When They Become Emotional

There are times in coaching when a client may have some emotional baggage that is preventing them from moving forward or making progress in their coaching. These instances may cause a client to overreact, lash out or spend entirely too much time obsessing at the expense of being productive. Although a coach is not a therapist, it may be helpful to have some skills specifically for situations like this. It may also be tempting to ignore these emotions and guide clients away from triggers, but this stance may prove ineffective for the client.

If emotional issues aren’t dealt with, they can prevent a client from being able to solve their situations and cause a continuous loop of behaviour that the client cannot see a way out of. It is worth noting that not all strong emotions are negative and some can be productive to processing events or issues the client has dealt with or is dealing with. The following steps may be useful in helping a client work through their emotional issues:

  1. Be aware of the client’s emotional state. Ask “what” questions when they begin to exhibit increased emotions, such as “What feelings do you have right now?”.
  2. Validate their feelings in a non-judgmental way. Acknowledge what they have said and follow up with other “what” questions, such as “what does that feel like for you?”.
  3. Allow them to feel their emotions. Obviously there is a point where enough time has been spent on the topic and moving on is necessary. This is likely a gut instinct of the coach and unlikely to be a process of an overly emotional client. Once the client has had time to actually process, hopefully they will be able to move forward. Simple questions about how they are feeling now or how that experience impacted them, may be needed to move forward.
  4. Don’t try to interrupt their process, especially if they become visibly upset. This may be the safe space they need to process their pain and interrupting or trying to fix their problems immediately will prevent their progress.
  5. Understand the line between being the coach and being a therapist. If a client has trauma or abuse, is stuck in their issue even after attempts to move on have been made or they become emotionally fragile, they should be referred to a therapist or counsellor. This is beyond the ability of a coach to deal with and takes a professional to get involved.

The ultimate goal is that the client will get through their emotional issues and have a moment of clarity where they can realize the causes and how to proceed from there. Being able to coach the client through to this point is an encouraging and empowering experience that every coach should be able to experience.

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