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Updated: Feb 11, 2022

So how do you deal with the empathy question?

Last year I went along to a Coaching Supervision day at a corporate client. Interesting day, this particular global company have taken the time to train Coaches. Within their coaching bank they have many senior people who are available as coaches for the staff.

Listening to them discuss their experiences over the last few months was a beautiful demonstration of how we took the information in through our filters to be able to understand what was said. As we discussed various topics they were all agreeing with each other whilst having different beliefs and meanings to what was being discussed and yet didn’t seem to hear the differences.

One of the things discussed was empathy, and the basic consensus from the group was that empathy was essential to be a good coach. Even though they all seemed to have a different meaning to what they thought empathy was.

Most thought that empathy meant feeling what their client felt.

Many who have trained with Steve Crabb and I will know that we don’t do empathy and some of our students have said that’s very hard. They are also surprised when they hear us explain our take on being empathetic. My reason for this, is if I am empathetic and feel what they feel, I can’t help them as much as I can when disassociated from their event.

Empathy is said to be “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another”.

Now as NLPers/Coaches and Hypnotherapists we find the need to teach our clients how to disassociate from negative thoughts/feelings to help them make the changes they desire; so how does associating into their problems help them?

And as we can never really know what another person is feeling, doesn’t this mean we are just mind reading and adding our own perception. Our thoughts on what they are feeling could be worse or maybe not as bad as they think.

One of the coaches, had some great results with her clients and as they were sharing these with the group, she was brought to tears. Not only did they think they had to associate with their clients feelings, they were also reliving them for them after the sessions.

This person loved coaching and found that it exhausted her so much emotionally that she was thinking of stopping. A few years ago a very successful coach found that his empathy affected his health negatively; he was constantly exhausted and caught every bug going. His exhaustion lowered his immune system.

Most people when empathising get so caught up in the emotions of their clients they don’t actually notice the information being given by the client. As they delve into what they think the client could be feelings, they can miss so much useful information.

I find that the best process that works for me, is to hold my client in positive regard acknowledge they are stuck/have problems etc and do what Steve and I call compassionate indifference. Then listen to their words find out the strategy they are using to create their problem, create a new strategy for them and install. It’s much more important to have your full attention on your client and hear what they are and are not saying than to focus on being empathetic.

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