Great coaches have two kinds of empathy. The first is with people’s actual situation; the second is with people’s aspirations.
Empathy is being able to see, feel and experience the world from another person’s point of view. Fine coaches connect with people, but they also raise people’s sights.
They encourage them to revisit their strengths and successful patterns. People can then translate these into a realistic picture of success.
Great coaches enable individuals, teams and organisations to make the transition between their actual situation and their longer-term aspirations. Let’s explore how to make this happen.
You can employ the first empathy
Imagine you are coaching somebody who has experienced a setback. The ‘classical’ approach is to spend considerable time showing the person you understand their situation. But the key point is: For how long?
If you move-on too quickly, the person may feel you have not respected their feelings. If you linger too long, you give the problem too much power. Your aim is to enable a person to take control of their life, rather than to become a victim.
Great coaches only need a few minutes to make a person feel welcome and tune into their world. They then encourage the person to choose whether they want:
To dwell on their difficulties.
To direct their future.
Certainly they accept the authenticity of the person’s feelings. When appropriate, however, they help them to explore their future options.
Imagine you are coaching somebody who has experienced a setback. How can you connect with the person, but also be ready to help them to move forward?
Good counsellors often ask survivors to describe the traumatic events in detail. They get people to recall what happened on a factual level, whilst also enabling them to express their feelings.
They help people to piece together what took place by asking questions such as: “What happened next?” Whilst done in a feeling way, it enables survivors to build up a solid picture of what has happened.
Moving from ‘facts’ to ‘feelings’, people talk about their emotions as they go through the change curve. They move through the stages of denial, paralysis, anger, hurt, healing, new strength, new goals, hard work, success and self-confidence. Survivors often use the experience to help themselves and others to become stronger in the future.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. First, describe the specific situation where you want to demonstrate the first empathy. Second, describe the specific things that you can do to show people you understand their actual situation. Try completing the following sentences.
You can employ the second empathy
Somebody who has suffered a setback may need time in a sanctuary to lick their wounds. Gaining strength, they then emerge to shape their future.
Great coaches then use the second empathy. They enable people to focus on their aspirations. But there is one key point.
People must believe they can achieve the potential goals. They must feel this in their guts. People must be able to make a connection between where they are now and where they can be in the future. How to make this happen?
One method is to use the organic approach. It is to invite people to go within and explore their positive history. Looking back on their life, when have they managed a similar situation successfully? What did they do right then? How can they follow similar principles in the future?
The organic approach engenders belief. People can build on what they know works. They can build on their strengths and follow their successful patterns. They can express these to set and reach stimulating goals.
Imagine you are meeting somebody who has had a setback. You will probably encourage them to focus on two kinds of aspirations.
Their short-term aspirations.
You can encourage them to take charge of the ‘practical things’. These may include getting an income, getting a new job or whatever. People want to feel in control, so you can help them to ‘control the controllables’.
They can take charge of their feelings, finances and future. People can set short-term goals, translate these in action plans and get an early success. You can then move onto the next stage.
Their long-term aspirations.
Good coaches encourage people to lift their sights. People need a sense of meaning. This often comes from taking care of the ‘psychological things’. They need to see how what they are doing each day contributes towards achieving their long-term aims.
People can choose from the many exercises available for setting life-goals. You can work with them on clarifying their picture of success. They can then make short, medium and long-term action plans.
One key point. As mentioned above, they need to see how their daily actions connect with their overall aims. People then get positive energy as they follow their inner life-compass.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Imagine you are coaching somebody who has experienced a setback. Describe how you can move on to the second empathy. Describe how you can connect with people’s strengths and help them to create a believable goal. Try completing the following sentence.
You can enable people to fulfil their aspirations
Good coaches enable people to shape their future. They encourage people build on they strengths – where they deliver As, rather than Bs or Cs.
They also provide practical tools that people can use to manage the consequences of their weaknesses. This is vital. Otherwise people may continue to get into difficulties.
“People set goals all the time,” somebody may say, ‘but then comes the hard part. They have to do the work. How can you ensure that people develop good habits? How can you feel confident they will work hard and actually reach their goals?”
Appreciative Inquiry has much to teach us in this area. AI starts by inviting people, teams and organisations to recall when they have performed brilliantly. Revisiting these successful principles, people are then invited to express these in setting a specific goal.
They then do what they know works. People develop good habits, work hard and frequently reach their chosen goal.
Appreciative Inquiry was founded by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney in the 1980s. Since then it has had a remarkable track record of success. It contains many elements of the ‘second empathy’.
It invites people to go through the stages of Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. The final stage is also sometimes called Delivery.
Discovery. People discover the principles they followed when they performed brilliantly.
Dream. People express these principles in a specific picture of success.
Design. People design the strategies they can follow to achieve success.
Destiny (Delivery). People follow the principles, translate these into practice and deliver the picture of success.
AI is different from most ‘visioning’ approaches in a crucial way. It builds on the stories, strengths and successful principles that have already emerged. People are then doing several things.
First, they are building on what they already know works. They are building on the organic soul of the organisation.
Second, they are then more confident about extrapolating these principles into the future – seeing how these might be expressed in the picture of perfection.
People may be dreaming, but believe they can deliver. This is because they have ‘started from within’. They know what works: something which is rooted in both their intellect and intuition.
AI’s language may sound ‘soft’: but the model delivers ‘hard’ results. This approach works superbly with people who want to shape their futures. You can discover more about it at the Appreciative Inquiry Commons.
Good Leaders and Coaches
use The Second Empathy
Good leaders sometimes use a similar approach. They remind people of what they can achieve and translate this into a specific goal. They often reach into people’s hearts by saying things like:
“We shall overcome … We have a dream … We have been tested before and shown we can succeed … We are being tested now and we will succeed.”
But they are also immensely practical. Great leaders move from the concept to the concrete.
They show people how they can put the philosophy into practice. This makes the message much more believable.
Good coaches use a similar approach. They encourage people to move from awareness to action to achievement. They educate them to find and follow their successful patterns.
People express these in specific goals. They translate these into daily actions, keep working hard and achieve their picture of success.
Try tackling the exercise on this theme. Describe the specific things you can do to help people to fulfil their aspirations. Great coaches enable people to take charge of shaping their futures. They often do this by demonstrating both the first and second empathies. Try completing the following sentences.