Coaching – Letting the cat out of the bag

The unexamined life is not worth living

– Socrates

The more I experience coaching, the more Socrates seems wiser. Even coaching is ripe for a thorough examination. Every field that has canonical principles and prescriptive guidelines actually is.

A certified coach enters coaching with a deliberate structure and an expected flow. The coach may feel like being in control. Life’s glorious spontaneity almost always shakes the coach out of a reverie.

I was coaching an enterprising working professional the other day. We had arrived at a clear coaching goal. I was balancing head and heart in continuing the dialogue. The path seemed straightforward – in my mind. The heart was at ease..

And then, suddenly, things changed! My coachee became emotional and wasn’t in a good place. As coaches, we are taught to be prepared with our plan. In that moment, I realized one has to be prepared to let go of the plan as well. And so, I did. A silence, a prayerful silence enveloped our conversation and brought in a recovering pause.

Initially, silence holds the thread of togetherness beautifully. And then slowly withdraws its succour, leaving behind a lingering grace. As that happens, what is a coach to do? A part of you wishes for the silence to restore everything! And there is another part which is keen on respecting the emotional fragility of the coachee. It roots for the safer option of stopping the coaching. And there is another part – a more vulnerable part. It wants to disregard safety. This part sees the heightened emotional energy as a crucible moment, a time where something new can be born.

What makes the vulnerable part win is courage. The courage to risk failure and go down the abyss.  My vulnerable part somehow found the courage! I let the new, the unplanned be born.

And what came forth?

Image courtesy –

With a silent prayer for continued connection and gentle healing, I found myself asking my coachee about the cats that she lives with! She had always spoken about them with a cheerful spirit. They meant a lot to her. The love and positive energy you feel for your pets  is delightfully free of complications that we create when it comes to our feelings for a fellow human-being! My coachee started speaking about her cats and was soon feeling light.

Her coaching goal was about physical separation from loved ones due to an unavoidable imperative.  Cats are not known for being affectionate, for being expressive, for being attached; the way say,dogs are. And I had cats to work with. So, I did! I asked her how much she knows about cats in general. I then invited her to research ten interesting facts about cats and share them with me in the next session.

What made me do that? I felt my coachee could study cats and find something useful about how they handle intimacy and attachment. Perhaps, there was inspiration in how cats are so self-contained, so full of themselves to bother about anybody else! So I thought – to myself. My coachee liked the idea of knowing more about cats! And we parted with a lightness of being that came to us by the end of the session.

Was the cat assignment of any help? Well, it wasn’t a masterstroke, far from it.  There was no breakthrough insight (that a hopeful coach prays for!) either. My coachee enjoyed the research and shared her findings. The cats did not engineer a breakthrough. But, the cats held it all together at a delicate juncture. And they were seeded as a part of the solution, though the seeds didn’t sprout. No harm done.

The learning for me as a coach is simple.

Be ready to drop your plan and be in state of limbo.

Dig deep and find the courage that will point the way forward.

More often than not, our concerns for the emotional safety of the client are well-intended, but also hide our underlying fear – fear of our own coaching competence being tested and found wanting.

It’s wonderful to examine that concern and our fear as well!

(Rahul coaches individuals and leaders to help them succeed and win. As a life-coach, he works on belief-systems, values, mindset. As a leadership coach, he adds the alignment between individual purpose and organizational imperative to the mix. And awareness about polarity management, systems-thinking and more.)

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