In the International Coaching Psychology Review journal September 2014, I read an interesting study by Carston C. Schermuly into the negative effects of coaching on coaches. Do you connect with these?
Carston pointed out a number of studies into the negative effect of coaching on coachees, but few looking at the impact on the coaches themselves. He referred to work undertaken looking at the impact on psychotherapists and counsellors that found that they experienced high levels of emotional exhaustion. Carston stated that, “Similar to psychotherapists, coaches have intense interpersonal contact to their coachees.” Carston sited a previous study that found that “socio-emotional demands in a relationship between a professional and a client can result in negative effects like emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced accomplishment.”
In this study negative effects were defined as “all harmful or unwanted results for coaches directly caused by coaching that occur in parallel to or after coaching”. In this study of 650 german coaches, it was found that 94% had experienced at least one negative effect. Over their career 99% of coaches experienced this, with on average with 14.7 different negative effects occurring.
The findings of this study showed that the following were the highest negative effects, more are listed in the article (the first percentage figure listed relates to the last coaching assignment, and second figure relates to over a coaching career):
- I felt insecure (last coaching assignment 38%, over career 80%)
- Not observe long-term influences of the coaching (45%, 77%)
- Personally affected by topics discussed, having a direct relation to own life (44%, 78%)
- Scared that I would not fulfil my role as a coach (40%, 71%)
- Frustrated that the problems the coachee was facing could not be resolved (36%, 70%)
- I felt underpaid (36%, 69%)
- Found it difficult to be an effective communicator (35%, 62%)
- Felt under pressure as a result of high expectations (29%, 68%)
- I was scared to do something wrong (28%, 71%)
- I felt emotionally exhausted (26%, 74%)
I can relate to these findings, and it is interesting to share these, as they are clearly common feelings. I had not necessarily considered what caused me to feel exhausted after a difficult week, but reading the list above provides an awareness of the triggers. Until now, when working independently and in isolation, I sometimes believe that feelings such as the ones above only relate to me; I assumed it was something about me that created these feelings (there’s my insecurity for you!). But in a way I feel reassured that it is not just me, and that these views are shared by others, and so it is something about the nature of the role of a coach.
Coaching someone is a very challenging activity. In Challenging Coaching we refer to tension and the Yerkes Dodson curve. During or after sessions I often feel high levels of tension, but, mostly I would describe this as exhilarating, and not a harmful or unwanted result. However, there have been times when this tension has been high and exceeds my desired level. It is interesting to consider how this challenge can be balanced by support. When challenge and support are in balance this leads to optimal peak performance. So how can we as coaches balance our own levels of support and challenge? Carston’s study also found that the more supervision a coach receives the less negative the effect. Again this is certainly a finding I can relate to, whether this is co-coaching or supervision, ‘off-loading’ of some kind is hugely beneficial.
I’m not sure that I can avoid the things that trigger the negative effects as this goes with the territory of interpersonal interactions and the work of a coach. However, I find that awareness of potential triggers is very important. Through this awareness I can put in place steps to balance the challenge of being a coach with support necessary to be at my best.
What are the ways you look after yourself to balance your own challenge and support levels?