Coaching Emotions

Jun 30, 2021

This article is part of the No Holds Barred weekly column by Ram Ramanathan. It’s based on questions we receive during our weekly webinars.

Jennifer: How do I explore emotions when the client doesn’t open up?

Bindu Mendonsa: I want to know what to do if the client is unable to open up and express true emotions & feelings

Rajesh Gangwani: How does one handle a client who is not comfortable dealing with emotions?


Dear Bindu, Rajesh, Gayathri
My own experience is this. The coach cannot adequately inquire and explore which prevents the client from opening up. The 1001 blogs that plague social media as Powerful Questions have no clue how to do this. They are useless.

Exploring clients to express emotions is an art, not a competency framework. A client comes to a coach disempowered with current reality. The goal is to be empowered in one way or other. Any option to this lies in exploring emotions.

Emotions are deeply stored memories in the unconscious mind, which surface at inconvenient times consciously and block us, like a deer frozen in the headlight. Exploring them is not a rational process. Neuroscience tells us that the first impression of what we receive as sensory inputs are stored in the limbic brain of the hypothalamus and processed by the amygdala as emotional inputs, then stored in the hippocampus as emotional memories, often visual and kinaesthetic, not merely auditory. Much later under trauma and stress, they awaken and are processed by the frontal cortex as thoughts.

Scholars argue about which came first, thoughts or emotions. No need to argue. Emotions arise first. More importantly, being a rational process cognitive thoughts can mislead based on perceptional interpretation. Emotions cannot mislead. They tell it as is. Even more powerful are the kinaesthetic sensations stored in the mind as well as body cells. They cannot lie at all.

The best way to explore emotions is a process Coacharya uses as LASI /SET. Request the client to experience and relive the incident/s that disempower the client to which the client seeks the coach’s help to resolve. As the client visualizes and relives that incident, request the client to share as much in detail as possible.

L: Listen generatively to and observe verbal and non-verbal cues of the client with unconditional positive regard and no judgment. Peripheral vision of the client is better than staring intently at the client, which makes most clients uncomfortable. Watch the body. Pay attention to voice. The combination of words, body, and voice provides the coach an understanding of the client’s energy. Coaches are not evolved
saints who can see through with Xray eyes the chakras and energies of another. No one can.

A: Acknowledge appreciatively by repeating the powerful emotive words verbally or signs expressed by the client through body language or voice tone so that client can agree or disagree with what you observed. Do not use your words. Use words client language and words, if possible client’s tone. If you’re able to breathe in synchronicity and mirror the client’s body language, it is wonderful empathy.

S: Share what you sense nonjudgmentally, placing yourself in the client’s shoes to the extent possible. You don’t need to feel the client’s emotions of grief, anger, or frustration. You shouldn’t do that. Merely share what you observed as a witness. Be authentic. Express with permission, respectfully, seeking confirmation.

I: Inquire and explore curiously, spontaneously, authentically, empathetically, generatively, depending on the context and stage of coaching you both are at

  • What is happening in the client’s mind as the client relives the experience
    that’s disempowering?
  • What needs to happen to move into an empowering state?
  • What options can the client think of?
  • What insights is the client getting?
  • What steps can the client take? (this towards the end)

Use SET, Sensations in the Body, Emotions, and Thoughts to explore. As the client
expresses what client experiences, ask curiously,

-As you are reliving the experience how do you feel in your body? Where do you feel it?
-Can you label what you sense in the body as an emotion?
-What does this mean to you?

This is a very powerful process anyone with no psychology experience and expertise can use. All that the coach is doing is to get the client to open up through the body, mind, and words. The client is opening up in trust and safety in the coach’s presence. It’s in the coach’s hands to create trust, safety, and presence to evoke client awareness.

This blog may help

This is a process we get learners to practice from Day 1 at Coacharya and apply to themselves through visualization of reliving their own traumatic experiences.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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