Importance of Emotional Self Regulation in Coaching

Last summer, I had a client who requested some coaching around their father’s recent death after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, my own father was in hospice, with weeks to live, also from a long battle of Alzheimer’s. 

I was aware this might be challenging but made the decision to take the client. Luckily, this coaching interaction was telephonic. I had tears streaming down my face intermittently throughout the session. As I had already started the session, I did my best at the time to regulate my emotions and focus on the client.  

After the appointment I concluded that it was not ethical for me to proceed with this client. I could not be there for the client in the way that they needed at this time, nor would I be able to practice professionally. I made sure the client was safe, reported this and, because I work as a coach within an employee and family assistance program, the client was assigned to a different provider. 

I have had several clients reaching out for coaching to work on their emotional self-regulation skills. But what about our own emotional self-regulation as coaches?  

What do you do when you feel a wave of sadness? Fear? Anger? How do you manage these emotions within yourself when they come up in a session and how do you manage yourself when your client expresses emotions? 

In this article I hope to help coaches understand the importance and place of emotional self-regulation in the coaching process. We’ll discuss how to develop your emotional self-regulation skills so that there is a balance where you honour, validate and acknowledge your emotions, but do not let them interfere with the coaching process, relationship and well-being of both you and your client. 

What is emotional self-regulation and why is it Important in coaching?

Emotional self-regulation is how we manage our emotions. In order to have a coaching presence and adopt a coaching mindset, coaches need to be able to understand, process and regulate their emotions. A coach needs to support their client AND manage their own reactions to the client’s emotional expression and/or the coach’s own emotional experience. This means: 

  • Being comfortable with emotions expressed by your client and regulating your own emotional reaction and response to their emotions.  
  • Being comfortable with your own emotions that may come up for you in session and regulating your reaction and response.

Emotions, both within yourself and your client, are inevitable. You cannot control your emotions, but you can control the relationship and interaction with your emotions.  

Although emotion can drive decisions, actions and thus results, unregulated emotion and being uncomfortable with emotions can also have a negative effect on your client’s progress, the coaching process and for you as a professional coach. 

Signs you may feel uncomfortable with negative emotions with yourself and clients: 

  • You immediately reach for the Kleenex when tears are exposed 
  • You use humour to cope with uncomfortable feelings 
  • You change or deflect from the topic 
  • You ramble and do not allow silence and space 
  • Body sensations: you may start to sweat, fidget, move around 

When your client expresses emotion, the following points can help:

  • Make space for emotion. 
  • Acknowledge and validate their emotions. 
  • Do not judge the emotion. 
  • Do not assume the outward expression is what is being experienced by your client inside. 
  • Go with the agenda of the client. If processing the emotions and thoughts that come up are what a client feels is a step forward towards reaching their goal, confirm the agenda with the client and then adjust the goal of the appointment is to facilitate this. 
  • Try out co-regulating and de-escalating strategies. These can help both you and your client regulate emotions. Examples may include a deep breathing exercise, talking low and slow, grounding techniques. 
  • Refer to therapy or other healthcare professional if/as necessary. 

Self-Regulation Strategies when strong emotions come up for you as a coach 

Ideally you want to focus and work on this out of session. If you try to regulate difficult emotions as they come up during a coaching session, you become focused on yourself and not your client.  Here are five strategies to try: 

1. Continuously cultivate self-awareness.

Before regulating emotions, you need to identify, understand and process the emotion and its underlying thoughts and interpretations. What is going on for you? Keeping a Coaching Reflection journal can help.

2. Know your triggers.

Then, identify whether you are ready to cope/work with them or if you need to take a step back and address the underlying thoughts and interpretations.  

3. Be attentive to conflicts of interests.

If you feel you do not have the capacity to take on a particular client, then abide by the ethical guidelines and refer the client to another coach and/or healthcare professional 

4. Get professional help and/or support.

Make time to address your emotions outside of sessions.  

5. Keep a good self-care and well-being plan.

Emotional self-regulation is not a destination. It takes ongoing practice and conscious effort, and this requires a healthy level of stress and life balance.  

It’s OK to express and share an emotion with your client! Emotional self-regulation does not mean suppressing or stifling the emotion and acting like a robot. The role of emotions in your sessions will depend on the relationship and rapport you have with the client. This can even strengthen the level of trust, empathy, listening. What you do not want is for your emotions to become the focus and take away from the client’s experience. 

Remember, your client does not need to leave happy, they just need to leave safe. 


Posted by Fanie Zis, PCC on