One of the core coaching competencies as defined by the ICF (International Coach Federation) is “coaching presence”. The way I assess myself as a coach for that competency is the degree of compassion I am able to have and demonstrate to the client. My definition of compassion has also changed over the years. According to Wikipedia, “compassion is a profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering.” I have learned to place my vigor not in alleviating another’s suffering, but in understanding and facilitating the client’s understanding of their suffering. Once they recognize that they are suffering and that they are choosing to suffer, it is up to them to not experience it anymore. I’d like to share the path that has brought me to this place because I believe this is one of my greatest gifts as a coach.
I used to think that compassion is what most people naturally have and if you don’t, then you must be insensitive. That was back in my judgmental days. These days, I’ve tried to better understand what makes me compassionate, when am I compassionate and when am I not, because I have learned that there are degrees of compassion and we can easily fall out of compassion if we are not careful as coaches. When I step back and look at the grand picture, I realize that the road to compassion is paved with what I refer to as: heart-centered curiosity.
Wikipedia again states that, “strong curiosity is the main motivation of many scientists. In fact, in its development as wonder or admiration, it is generally curiosity that makes a human being want to become an expert in a field of knowledge.” So, in the case of coaching if we can stay in the curious mood, we are in wonder, admiration and satisfying our desire to know. Satisfying a desire to know can bring us satisfaction in attaining some knowledge, which is what curiosity is about. I’d like to take this a step further, which is why I refer to it as heart-centered curiosity. What if our premise of this desire to understand was not just for seeking knowledge, but also to feel what it is all about. So in the case of coaching: I am curious to understand what the client is feeling and I do this by feeling my way to the place where the client is. It is as if we are going beyond the intellect into an intimate place with the client. This willingness to go there and our ability to demonstrate that we are there, is the case for the power of coaching through creating safe space. No matter what the client is experiencing, when they know that you are there with them, without your own agenda or judgment, you are there only because they are there, is when miracles take place.
Heart-centered curiosity is when you need to understand both mentally and emotionally. In other words, you seek to understand the whole person in front of you and you can only do this, if you are employing your whole self in the process. Some call this active listening. Listening with every cell in your body, but I like to go further, it is also understanding with your whole being fully integrated. We can only achieve this level of understanding, if we are wholly present. It sounds simple, but it is not easy. There are so many distractions, worse of all being the coach’s own judgments, doubts, stories, etc. Being wholly present means that we as the listener have to be accepting of ourselves and where we are on our own journey.
This is precisely why I choose to be a coach. Coaching provides me the opportunity to be kind, patient, accepting and loving towards myself. If I am not kind, patient, accepting, and loving towards myself, I cannot be a highly effective coach. Highly effective coaches are compassionate towards their clients through every turn of the road. They are not busy trying to fix the client or come up with solutions, they are merely holding the space and joining the client on their journey. True compassion, an ingredient necessary for effective “coaching presence” comes from heart-centered curiosity and being present every step of the way.