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Emotions for beginners: talking about fluffy stuff

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I’m Irish. That means I have access to the full range of two emotions: “Grand” and “Ah, sure, ya know yerself”.

The idea of “knowing yourself” is deeply suspect in Ireland. It’s not illegal, but decidedly dubious, and possibly American. If you are confronted by this phrase, by the way, the correct response is to focus on the weather as the source of all the evils. How could anyone be happy in this rain? Or sun. We accept that we are all miserable from a common external cause, easily resolved by emigrating.

So I emigrated. To the UK. That didn’t solve the weather problem. But on the positive side, no-one expected me to talk about my emotions here, too. The UK is not famous for its emotional fluency, or for its weather. It is even more famous than Ireland for talking about the weather. So I got along just grand.

Until recently. 

The Coaching Connection

I decided about a year ago to move into coaching. I’d been doing it intermittently for some years, and deeply enjoyed what I’d learned and done. So, decided to get credentialed and move into it as a full time role.

I liked that it was practical, focused on improving behaviours and actions – in a way that psychology-based approaches often doesn’t seem to be. And I liked that it was psychology based, as a change from my consultant-ey background. Instead of defining problems and prescribing solutions, I’d discovered that Just Asking Questions is actually far, far more useful than giving answers. Anyway: coaching was looking grand. So, decided on a Post Graduate Certificate course in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching (and the University of Chester) as part of the credentialing.

And guess what? It turns out there are more emotions than “grand” and “ah, sure….”! Lots of them! They have names, and everything! 

Yeah, I mighn’t have been the most in-touch-with-my-emotions person on the course. 

Breaking down the problems

So. Here’s how the course broadly works:

  • Tutor teaching on a topic – usually involving some tool or technique, sometimes with a demo
  • Students break out in twos or threes to try using this on each other 
  • One person acts as coachee, the other as coach; then swap roles

Here’s the fun bit: as a coachee, you have to bring a problem to the table – and discuss it for a full 30 minutes. Without being able to talk about the weather instead, or joke, or change the subject, or make a coffee – or any of my usual evasion tactics. 

When you’re selecting a problem, you’re meant to look for a mid range problem. “If ‘1’ is deciding what to have for dinner, and ‘10’ is bereavement or divorce – look for something that’s about a ‘5’”. 

This meant I had to find things that I’d merrily bypassed as ‘grand’; acknowledge to myself that they were not, in fact, grand, and weigh them up in the emotional scales to check that they’re suitable to bring in. 

The fun bit

Having to acknowledge that things were not, in fact, grand, can be a surprisingly difficult exercise. And after a lifetime of not talking about any slightly negative emotions, I found they burst out in a frankly uncomfortable way. 

Small things that I knew were trivial – emotionally as well as logically – could have me close to tears, just by dint of expressing any negative emotion at all. Apprehensiveness about having to do sales. Annoyance at a friend’s joke-not-joke. Memories of trivia from distant past jobs. All the stuff that was grand, turned out to be a bit less so if you dragged it out of me, kicking and screaming.

For even more fun, you’ll find that what you thought was a nice little 5 – “the presenting problem” – actually isn’t. “The actual problem” underlying it might be far higher on the scale. So, a fairly practical problem around setting up a new business turned into a conversation about my underlying fears, covering the whole baggage of success, confidence and abilities. Dammit. 


I learned. And I spoke. And discovered that it’s not so bad. Getting stuff out there and into words – and having more questions asked that pull out deeper answers after the first glib ones – leaves you feeling lighter and clearer. So that’s what the Americans have been doing for all these years!

And I discovered that the messy bits about emotions are where the magic happens as a coach. One coachee was having issues with a difficult person. Choosing a single word – rejected – to define the feelings I was picking up from them, suddenly crystallized things in a different direction, beyond their anger and frustration. Or another coachee was describing what they were doing as ‘drifting’. I picked up on this so they found ‘exploring’ as the replacement word – and this made a difference. Would I have picked up on those things before doing this course? Probably not. They would probably have been perfectly decent, useful coaching sessions without – but much better with.


So, for any readers who were considering doing a coaching course and are feeling worried you’ll have to talk about all the fluffy stuff that you, too, have been ignoring – do it anyway. You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. I did, because I wanted to – yes, it was overdue time. But you’ll learn a lot if you do.

And for those who are considering coaching with me but are now worried I’ll spend all my time dragging the emotional stuff out instead of the practical stuff – don’t be. It’s always the coachee’s choice as to where a coaching conversation goes – and it will go where you need it to. You can find out more about how I work and book a free intro if you want.

So, anyway, it turns out you have to know-yourself to really be grand – and not-grand, and all the shades in between.

And you can be a perfectly successful practical coach without emotional articulacy. But with it, you can be a transformational coach. Occasionally, at least.