Mindfulness at the heart of coaching

Kate Mathers, IECL’s Principal Mindfulness Trainer reflects on how mindfulness can enrich coaching engagements and the coach’s ability to manage themselves, their emotional state and their responses and reactions to their counterpart.

Being present allows us to dance in the moment, just this moment… To ‘dance in the moment’ is to be very present to what is happening right now and to respond to that stimulus rather than to a master plan” (Kimsey-House et al, 2011).

Deepening and refining the skill of paying close attention in the present moment is at the heart of mindfulness training, and this in turn is at the heart of presence. True presence is also considered to be at the heart of coaching with ‘coaching presence’ identified as one of the ICF’s core competencies.

More research and business articles are also starting to explore the benefits of mindfulness training in relationship to coaching, including this HBR article on how mindfulness practices improve coaching when used side by side.

From my own experience and reflecting on the thought-provoking chapter titled ‘Mindfulness in Coaching: Philosophy, psychology, or just a useful skill?’, by Michael J Cavanagh and Gordon B Spence, I have concluded that on a meta level, mindfulness facilitates the coach’s ability to manage themselves, their emotional state and their responses and reactions to their counterpart. Through vigorous mindfulness training like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the coach’s self-knowledge, self-awareness and ability to maintain rapport is enhanced – even when the counterpart’s state is impaired.

Two leading coaching authorities, Cavanagh and Spence posit “that mindfulness has important contributions to make to coaching efficacy at the level of the coach, the coachee, and the coaching relationship itself.”  The authors discuss five reflective spaces of the coaching engagement as:

  1. First Reflective Space: The Internal Conversation of the Coachee.
  2. Second Reflective Space: The Conversation Between the Coachee and their World.
  3. Third Reflective Space: The Internal Conversation of the Coach.
  4. Fourth Reflective Space: The Coach’s Conversation with their World.
  5. Fifth Reflective Space: The Shared Conversation of Coach and Coachee.

Mindfulness training on the part of the coach can profoundly influence all five spaces mentioned above.

Their chapter concludes:

While we might live in a time that encourages mindlessness, we also live in a time that, like no other time before, needs mindful leaders. The complex challenges that face our organisations, societies and planet require us to be alive to the ever-changing dynamic at play within us and between us – and within and between the systems in which we live. The question facing us as coaches is: “How well are we preparing ourselves and our clients to face those challenges and respond in intentional, thoughtful and creative ways?”.

I leave you to reflect on how mindfulness training helps your coaching presence.

Kate Mathers is IECL’s Principal Mindfulness Trainer. She believes that offering coaches professional development programs of the depth and rigour of MBSR significantly furthers their ability to help prepare both themselves and their coaching clients to respond to the challenges outlined above in intentional, thoughtful and creative ways. Kate will be running a course on ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Optimal Performance and Wellbeing’ in Sydney from October to December 2017.