Tweet It!
Home / Coach Training / Resources / Coaching Tools / Nightmare on Coach Street - Marla Morein Skibbins

Nightmare on Coach Street

How Using Emotional Intelligence Can Turn Coaching Your Clients into a Dream

By Marla Morein Skibbins

Coach: Good morning Mark…

Mark (a pause and an intake of breath on the other end of the phone line): I am so angry coach. I am angry at you…angry at myself. Don’t ask me any more questions! I don’t think that is what I need…

Most of the time our clients are glad to get on the line with us. But every so often one goes ballistic. In this article, I am going to show how an understanding of emotional intelligence can save us when we get in very tight places with our clients.

So what is Emotional Intelligence (EQ for short)? Is it just another jargony buzz word? Is it a new wrapping for an old package? Or is there something here we coaches can use to understand our coaching more deeply?

EQ is the ability to recognize, understand and use emotions effectively. This includes picking up on the emotional state of others and using this awareness to respond to them successfully. Two psychologists, Mayer and Salovey, coined the term Emotional Intelligence. Daniel Goleman turned Mayer and Salovey’s theory into a best-selling book.

The Four Quadrant model of Emotional Intelligence was developed by Below is an overview of EQ and corresponding strengths and skills of each quadrant, with some insights I have added.

Can I accurately identify my emotions when they happen?

Right after Mark laid into his coach, a furious internal conversation erupted: “Oh my God, I’ve made him angry!”,” How can I just make him happy again?” “I’m shaking, I’m so frustrated!” “Damn, I wish I didn’t have to work with mean people.” Instead of reacting to Mark by retorting from any of these inner conversations, the coach just noticed the intensity of her reactions.

Some of the skills associated with the SELF AWARENESS quadrant are Self Listening (being able to listen to her inner experience, emotions and judgments) and Self Curiosity (interest and openness about what was arising as she exercised self listening).

Can I manage my emotions to a positive outcome?

The coach knew that she needed to buy some time to get back in control, without making Mark wrong. So she got curious.

Coach: Wow, Mark I hear that you are angry at me and yourself…I hear that you don’t want any more questions…what else do you need to say?

Mark (sighs): I keep trying to create my business the way I want it and I keep hitting the wall. You keep harping on me, asking me what I want but I don’t seem to be able to create it!

The coach demonstrated these Self Management capacities: Flexibility (being able to have her emotional reactions in difficult experiences without being possessed by them), Recovery (when taken over by her emotions, developing the capacity to bounce back quickly), Responsibility (her ability to respond from a place that is connected to something beyond her emotional reactivity) and Compassionate Self Listening (transcending self judgment).

Can I accurately identify the other person’s emotions as I interact with an individual or a group?

As the coach tuned into the emotional energy coming from her client she realized that his initial outburst had put her in a box. How can she coach without asking questions? She needed to get him on her side, not butting heads.

Coach: Mark, I know that you have said “no more questions” but I am going to ask one, okay?

Mark: Yeah okay….

Coach: I’m hearing something else under the anger, I’m making up that it is fear…what is it?

Mark (another long pause): Yeah, I’m scared that I can’t have what I want…I can’t make it happen.

The main skill the coach used that is associated with the SOCIAL AWARENESS quadrant is Social or Energetic Listening. This includes four proficiencies:

  1. being able to hear/perceive what is going on with the other person/people
  2. hearing what is not being said
  3. hearing what is underneath what is being said
  4. the ability to read the synergistic energy of a group.

Also included in this area is Social Curiosity (being open and interested in what is occurring with the other person/people/culture.)

Can I manage the interaction I have with you constructively and to a positive outcome?

Coach: So, when I’d ask you “What do you want?” it felt like I was just another voice pushing you to admit that you’re failing.

Mark: Yeah, you were rubbing my face in it.

Coach: And what do you need from me?

Mark: I need you to stop asking me what I want, and help me see that I can make this business work my way.

Coach: You already know what you want, and you need me to work with you to take all the steps you need to take in order to get past the wall and go all the way to getting what you want.

Mark: Exactly!

Some skills the coach had on board from the RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT quadrant include: Relationship Listening (focusing attention on the other person: their wants aspirations and concerns), Intentional Design (ability to create a relationship that is clear, well defined supportive and win/win) and Conflict Management (able to dance and remain curious with the difficult situations that may arise within the relationship).

Conclusion: This interaction could have ended in many ways. In some scenarios the client could end up feeling unheard, made wrong, or even responsible for wounding his coach. What has coaching go in a less empowering direction? Usually it is when the coach has not done the EQ work they need to do. They are not aware that their reactions are just brief outbursts (Self Awareness). They blurt instead of choosing their response (Self Management). They forget to take into account the emotional state of their client (Social Awareness). And they do not address the needs that the client is asking to be addressed in the relationship (Relationship Management).

It is not as though EQ has affected my coaching. It’s more like I have realized that emotional intelligence is the prerequisite to becoming a masterful coach. When we are in a masterful Co-Active coaching relationship, we are interacting with another person in a highly emotionally intelligent way. We call it coaching, but now I see it as how we were meant to interact-- as mature, intelligent humans.

Marla Morein Skibbins, CPCC, MCC is a CTI faculty member and co-founder of, a coaching business which is committed to helping coaches build their coaching businesses. Marla was a nationally recognized sales person, sales trainer, and Director of Marketing and PR and has been an Emotional Intelligence practitioner for 15 years.