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When You Encounter an Emotion – The Coaching Room

This article was originally written by Michael Hall – gently edited by The Coaching Room


As a coach, and especially as a Meta-Coach, you frequently (like just about every time) encounter strong emotions in your clients. It’s inevitable. They are humans! The only exception is if you are coaching some other species. But if it is a human being sitting in your coaching chair, then you can anticipate and expect that you will have to deal with emotions on a regular basis.


To that end, we devote the morning of Day 3 in ACMC training to “state” — and especially to emotions. We define an emotion using the two NLP definitions and then using the two Neuro- Semantic definitions. Remember? We then spend some time on how to approach an emotion in your clients, especially tabooed emotions— those which have been prohibited. To that end, we use the permission frame and typically, we do a demonstration on the morning of Day 3 to show the power of the permission frame and how to use it. Why? Because when you know that, you have the key to emotional intelligence and how to coach for E.Q. with individuals and/or groups.


How does a Meta-Coach address, handle, and coach emotions, including “strong” emotions, even strong negative emotions? Given that emotions are just emotions— just signals about your thinking and your body, signals about the relationship between your meanings (maps) and the territory, and expressions of your meaning-constructions— just accept them for what they are.

They are not bad. They are not demons. They are not commands from heaven. They are not actions. They are just emotions— motions that are designed to move you out from where you are.


Acceptance is first. Let that be your first response— just acknowledge the emotion. Notice it, observe it, and seek to understand it on its terms. Acceptance is the state that allows you to then explore it for the information it contains. And how do you do that? What do you ask?

  • About what? First ask, “What is the emotion about?” Emotions are always about something. If it is fear— you are afraid of what? Joy— what are you joyful about? Anger— What are you angry about? Don’t assume. The emotion may be entirely off-base and wrong. This is where content does count. People can get into a strong negative emotional state about things and that emotional state not only does not help them, but makes their lives much, much worse. “Thank you for sharing your anger. Now for me to more fully understand you, it is about what?”
  • How much? Next ask, “How much are you feeling that emotion?” “How strong is it?” “If you were to gauge it from 0 to 10, what is its intensity?” Emotions are not only about some specific context and action, every emotion has a degree of intensity and that intensity oscillates over time. It will come and go. It will oscillate in terms of degree of power. So ask about the intensity and scale it.
  • Appropriate or inappropriate? Once you know the context and content (about what) and its intensity, ask the ecology question: “Is the emotion you’re experiencing appropriate or not?” An emotion could be the right emotion to feel given your mental map and skills, but inappropriate in the context that you’re experiencing it. It could be that it is just not the right time or place and so inappropriate.
  • What is its quality? Emotions come in logical levels, just as do intentions, beliefs, decisions, etc. This is the insight of the Meta-States Model which enables you to check a person’s reflexive self-consciousness. So ask, “What is the quality of your emotion?” If it is anger, “What is the quality of your anger?” “What is the quality of your love?” This question will help you identify the meaning-frame/s that you have embedded your understanding about your emotion. Do you like your emotion? Fear it?  Shame yourself for it? More important than the emotion is the emotion-about-the-emotion. Fear-of-fear is much worse than fear. Angering-at-your-fear turns your emotional energies against you, your mind, your body, your very self.
  • How will you express it? Finally, given the energy of an e-motion, how will you express it? Since an emotion is not an action, but only an action-tendency, you do act from your emotions. How you decide to use an emotion is yet another aspect of emotional intelligence? Will you express the emotion behaviourally and act it out? Will you speak it out? Will you think and write it out? What effect will the expressions then have on your health, your relationships, and even on the emotion itself?


You can now use this basic format when you encounter an emotion. The emotion indicates that something is significant or meaningful within the person’s matrix and, as such, offers you a door into that person’s inner world. Here’s to your excellence in meta-coaching.


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