The Quiet Coach- 11

April 5, 2023

Becoming naturally therapeutic

Decided to do something different for this week and do a review of this lovely little book (the title of this blog) by Jacquelyn Small. It’s not for therapists alone but for anyone who’s in a position where they’re responding to another in difficulty – in coaching and even in personal relationships. I loved this blurb by Ram Dass, a Buddhism teacher I admire “this book beautifully demonstrates the simplicity of true wisdom…the wisdom of the heart”.

The goal of the book is to outline ten traits that all people in a helping profession would benefit from. We’ll break them down and cover these ten over a couple of posts.

She introduces these traits by talking about the concept of “working from the Heart”. This has so much resonance with what we’ve all learnt about the attitude of being a coach. When we are working with others from the heart we are:

– Living in the truth of the moment with no hidden agendas about what ought to be
– Putting aside our own issues for a while to be there for another
– Operating from zero expectation about the outcome
– Willing to be ourselves completely, paying attention to our whole selves as we interact with the other

So what are these ten traits? We’ll start with three this time.


We all know the definition – the quality that enables us to perceive another’s experience and then to communicate that perception back to the individual. Here’s an example from the book:

Client (head down, arms crossed, squeezing her chest in a constricted fashion). I just can’t…(sighs)…can’t seem to take it. They all want me to….oh, I don’t see how I can.
Counselor I hear your pain. It’s as though your family is strangling you…some sort of struggle for breath is what I’m sensing. I see you looking sad and desperate, with your fists clenched…and your breath seems constricted as you talk about it. Am I hearing you correctly?

(note: I’ve used counsellor when the example is directly from the book because that’s the language she uses; substitute it with coach and it works just as well).

Empathy here is when the coach is able to get out of their own head and be fully present with the client. Here the coach has listened to the whole person, within the context of her unique existence rather than listening only to her words. He has integrated what he’s picking up from her non-verbals and shares what he’s sensing in a tentative manner (with a clear question to check out if he has got it right).

What I find fascinating about empathy is that even when the coach is wrong in what he/she picks up, as long as there is respect and tentativeness, one of two things will happen:

  1. The client will not respond to what the coach has said
  2. They will appreciate the attempt and go on to explain themselves further.

What’s important here is the intense involvement – when we empathise like this, we’re saying “I’m here, I’m fully listening and I’m very interested”.


She defines it as the characteristic that allows us to be freely ourselves – we’re authentic, not playing a role.

This can seem really difficult at the beginning of learning to be a coach.

Many beginner coaches struggle with the process of coaching because it seems like it’s taking away from authenticity but once you learn to flow through the process you recognize how it is not a barrier. The process is like the bed of a river – it’s there, it provides structure and solidity. The river moves fluidly over it; and that’s your authentic self as a coach. What a lovely metaphor no? I thought so too 😃.

Here’s an example from the book

Client (fighting back tears) I’m just not going to think about this loss any more…it’s just useless to think about it
Counselor (with gentleness) I’m feeling very sad too about what happened to you…and seeing your deep, deep hurt
Client (breaks down and cries)
Counselor quietly shares the moment, responding non-verbally

In this case, while the client was pretending to be tough, the counsellor ignored that and moved in as a human being. She responded with her real feelings in the moment in a way that kept the client in touch with his real feelings.

Some coaches believe that we should stay in a professional role when working with a client. While maintaining professional boundaries is important (eg in terms of your interactions outside of the coaching relationship), being professional is sometimes misunderstood as staying with the intellectual or the cognitive. A coach operating in this manner may have responded to this client with “I understand you’re sad; what would you like to talk about today”.


No definition required. I think often of my colleague Deepa, whom many of you have spoken with – once another colleague was giving her a compliment and said “I can hear the smile in her voice when she’s talking to me on the phone”. Deepa is supremely and naturally good at warmth – it doesn’t mean being happy all the time but showing clients that we genuinely care about them.

Sometimes if a coach has their own injunctions against showing feelings, It can be difficult to them to be nurturing. Sometimes it can be seen as adopting a “professional” attitude of emotional non-involvement.

We could instead intellectualise “It’s natural that you’d feel anxious about losing your job. Can you tell me how long you’ve felt this way?” It can also take the form of rescuing “I know you’re feeling sad but let’s look on the bright side – what else in going well with your life?”

Self-disclosure? I’ve struggled with this trait quite a bit but have got better with practise. For example, I knew that one of my clients had a really important confrontation at work and I sent her a picture of my new potted plants (she’s an indoor plant enthusiast too) saying “my plants and I wish you the best for your meeting”.

I found this piece of advice useful – “if you are naturally reserved and find displaying warmth difficult to do, do not feel you must force yourself to develop the natural ability to express warmth, It is far better to be yourself and continue developing genuineness with your clients. If you do this and learn to self-disclose a little, you will find that an appropriate time you can share with your clients your desire to display more affection with them while telling them it is not natural to you.” Or you can send pictures of plants.

More about the other seven traits soon (and yay, I don’t have to think of topics for a couple of weeks!).

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    4 responses to “The Quiet Coach- 11”

    1. DD says:

      I am waiting for the next one. Very thought provoking and helpful to understand a good coaching process

    2. Shanti Sharma says:

      curiosity piqued….awaiting the next blog.

    3. […] you’ve missed the first part of this post, first please take a look here and then hurry back to this […]

    4. Preeti Balasaria says:

      Dear Sunitha,

      I am loving all the blog posts! This one in particular feels like a critical foundational piece in the Jenga like coaching endeavour.

      Thank you!

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