SET to Impact Others With What You Intend

Nov 15, 2019

More often than not what we intend to convey is not what we say. The attempt and the outcome can be poles apart. In fact, the difference can cause cataclysmic disasters.

At one level, many of us are not congruent with thoughts, emotions, speech, and action. Apart from changing the impact of what we intend to convey, this also miscommunicates.  Even when results are benign, people may leave with the impression that we are hypocrites who are saying one thing and doing another.

How do we learn to correct this? This is particularly critical to coaches. Some coaches tend to ramble, and where they end is often quite different from where they started. Apart from being confused, they also confuse the client. This does not help anyone.

We need to verify with the listener (client) how they understand what we say. At the simplest level, this allows us to evidence whether the impact is as we intend. If not, we must course correct.

Another more elegant way, especially in group situations, is to elicit feedback on how clients sense, feel and think about what we say. This process of feedback can be simply called SET, for sensations in the body, emotions in the limbic brain and thoughts in the prefrontal cortex.

Some elementary questions can be:

  • As you listened to me what came up as sensations for you? Where in your body did you feel them?
  • How would you like to label this as an emotion?
  • What are the thoughts you have about me, and what I said, based on the sensation and emotions?

The SET process is very powerful in a group environment amongst people who do not know each other. One never knows how our personality, body language, facial expressions, words and style of language affects another from a diverse background and culture. To be inclusive, and to create a sense of psychological safety that’s critically important and often difficult in a group setting, the SET process can be very effective.

In a group setting with people I had not met before, all much younger and from other nationalities, faiths, professions, genders, and personalities, I deliberately sat outside the circle to be unobtrusive. Within 5 minutes, one person interpreted this as arrogance and taunted me. From then on, it went downhill till the facilitator suggested I use the SET process to share what I experienced and then seek feedback on what I had said. The results were miraculous.

We now teach the SET process as a critical element in coaching, both individually and systemically. The sensations, emotions, and thoughts can be about the state of the client’s mind as coaching session begins.

Often, this would be a disempowered state since the client would have come with an issue to resolve. This can help the coach to segue to the desired outcome state, which too can be represented as sensations, emotions, and thoughts.

This process can be repeated at other stages of exploration to move the client forward. The coach can also share non-judgmentally what the coach intuits as sensations, emotions, and thoughts, and inquire how this may help the client. This process enhances safety and presence, creates generative listening, curious exploration and evokes awareness in the client.

Try this when you coach next time; then journal, reflect and refine.

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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