A week ago I had a poll online that one of you was kind enough to comment on. The question was, what does a Coach need most, empathy or experience? Turns out, the voter chose experience, and he explained it to me in an email.

In his opinion, empathy is something a Coach needs, but empathy alone is not enough. He didn't want someone to be able to cry with him and feel sorry for his situation, who wasn't able to help him out of it. That, he felt, would be better achieved by someone with experience. I could imagine many of you feel the same way, so here's what I'd like to add:

In order to explain my position, let's start by looking at what empathy and experience mean to me. Wikipedia starts off it's empathy article by saying: "Not to be confused with Pity, Sympathy, or Compassion." Empathy describes the ability to imagine and to feel how someone else feels in a particular situation. For example, in a Coaching situation the client may talk about the relationship to his parents in a matter-of-fact manner. An empathetic coach will listen to the words, possibly have an eye on body-language, and open a channel inside himself to let in all that is spoken in between the lines. He might become aware that his heart is beginning to race, his fists want to clench and his breathing turns shallow.

At this point, the coach is in a position to verify with the client and ask something like "How does this make you feel?" Depending on the client's reaction, he'll see whether he picked up the right vibe or not (in this case: anger). The coach would then ask many questions that the person may not have asked themselves about possibilities how to deal with the situation and improve it under their own steam. It is my belief (and indeed the premiss of the Coaching profession) that everybody has inside themselves all the resources they need to live their lives fully. Imagine a static windmill that needs a little breeze to get its rotators moving again - sometimes people just need a nudge in the direction of where to find their own strength and ability.

Now, just to be clear, while the coach may be experiencing feelings that the client may have been communicating on some level or another, the coach is well aware that those are not his own feelings. They are in a way because they happen inside of him, but the coach is aware of how they were triggered and that they have no real basis in his own life. Therefore, he may take a minute to get his heart-rate down again, but he shouldn't be affected in terms of feeling the anger all the way and letting it cloud his judgment or act out as a consequence of feeling angry. Let me put this in a picture: when you're sitting at the bottom of a well crying your heart out, your Coach will not jump down to be with you. He knows how it feels to be alone and sad down there, but he'll stay up top, because only from there can he point out a way back up to the surface. If he were down there with you, you'd both be stuck.

When I asked what I, a new coach in the field, would need to do to convince the voter to hire me and give me a chance, he answered: simple, tell me more about yourself. Which brings us to the experience part. Having experience and knowing what you're doing is undoubtedly as important in Coaching as it is in any other profession. What makes things more interesting though, is that in Coaching, life experience counts. So in my case, we're talking 32.5 years of relating to friends, colleagues and of course family members from different nations and generations, a couple of long-term relationships that have taught me quite a bit (as well as the marriage that just keeps getting better), a few jobs that were not only work- but interpersonal learning extravagances and of course the five different countries I've lived in and was successfully integrated into.

Besides all that, it is my belief that every person (read: client) is different. Whatever experience I may have made with or whatever lessons I may have learned from Client A, might not help me with Client B, because they're two different people with two different sets of issues and two different sets of resources. However, it is safe to say that the more people you deal with, the more you're able to gauge how they need to be treated - but that's going back to the above empathy.

In an attempt to shed some more light on my educational background and work experience, I've added a link to my profile on www.linkedin.com. You can find the button on the left-hand side, between my blogger profile and the button to subscribe to this blog. If there's anything else you'd like to know, drop me a line.

Til next time!

PS - you won't find a more experienced guy than him... Gerald M. Weinberg, highly successful writer, tremendously experienced consultant and genuinely talented (and nice!) guy has recommended my blog to his readers. If you haven't already, do check out his at secretsofconsulting.blogspot.com.