During a coaching session, a Professional Coach uses a range of coaching skills, including asking the client clarifying and discovery oriented questions, giving back their summaries or comments to the client, and offering observations, sensing or intuitive thoughts or feelings for the client to respond to and determine the relevance to themselves (the client). The coach allows silence and space for their client to respond each time the coach speaks.
There’s often other “languages” being presented by the client in energy expression during a coaching session. The “language” of energy is most often recognized in the way the client uses their voice. If the coaching session is visual (on video or in-person) the coach can also notice energy changes in client facial expressions, and changes in the way the client uses their body to express themselves.
In this article, I’m exploring the first “language” of energy through client use of their voice and sounds. And more specifically through client laughs and giggles, which is one form of “emotional energetic expression.”
One valuable way a coach contributes to their client is by being a non-judgmental observer who can offer observations about client self-expression. When we speak, we are in the moment, and may be unaware of the full impact of the way we use our energy, including through sounds such as laughing and giggling. We are almost always communicating more than just the words being spoken.
Why coach the language of client laughs and giggles?
In every coaching session, there are usually many opportunities for exploration and even transformation available to the client when they become more aware of what their “laugh and giggle language” might be communicating. And how their use of laughs and giggles could be miscommunicating to others.
For example, if a manager laughs when giving positive feedback to a team member, there may be confusion communicated to their team member about what their manager laughing means. The team member may question the sincerity of what their manager said, which might lower trust by that team member in their manager, and lower motivation to continue to excel in their role.
ICF Core Competencies
A Professionally trained coach knows how to listen for voice and energy changes, and decides when and how to observe to their client. The ICF Core Competencies provide guidelines for what a Professional Coach does. Here are some of the skills and behaviors that pertain to the focus of this article around coaching the language of client laughs and giggles;
Core Competency #4: Cultivates Trust and Safety
Sub-point #5: Acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs and suggestions.
Core Competency #6: Listens Actively
Sub-point #3: Recognizes and inquires when there is more to what the client is communicating.
Sub-point #4: Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors.
Sub-point #5: Integrates the client’s words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated.
Core Competency #7: Evokes Awareness
Sub-point #5: Invites the client to share more about their experience in the moment.
Sub-point #8: Helps the client identify factors that influence current and future patterns of behavior, thinking or emotion.
Coaching begins from the “very first breath” of every coaching session
As soon as coach and client are connected (in-person, video, audio), the coaching session has begun, “from the very first breath.” Not after the coach asks what the client wants to accomplish in this coaching session; even before that.
Let’s say the coach asks their client as they first get connected for the session, “How are you arriving into our session today?” The client expels breath with a big sigh of energy, as well as some laughing sounds, and says, “Well you know, there’s a lot going on right now.” The coach replies, “Okay, well given a lot is going on for you, what would be of value to you explore?”
In this example, the coach completely ignored the energy language of the client which in coaching jargon is the “Who” information. And instead only responded to the words at a process level. Or in coaching jargon, the “What.”
Some alternative responses might be:
Observation example: “I hear you say there’s a lot going on, and also noticed you had a big sigh and laugh as you said that.” [Coach then remains silent to allow client space to consider their response]
Question example: “What might be beneath that big sigh and laugh as you say there’s a lot going on?”
Sensing/offering example: “As you said there’s a lot going on, and there was also a big sigh and laugh; my sense is there’s some emotions below the surface. What’s true for you though?”
Possible meanings of laughs and giggles
There are many ways we use laughs and giggles, here are some in no particular order;
- Because we are genuinely happy in the moment
- As a release, including having a positive realization
- As a release of energy that may feel uncomfortable
- As a way to deflect from feeling emotions we might not want to feel (e.g. afraid, anger, rage, sadness, frustration, nervous, anxious…)
- As a way to deflect from being asked about emotions we might not want to admit feeling
- As a way to express fun or delight
- As a way to avoid saying something important such as what we believe and instead making it seem less important than it really is
- As sarcasm, a way to make fun or light about ourselves
- As a way to avoid speaking our truth
- As behavior we are unconscious of doing
Hearing client laughs or giggles
In order to make an observation to the client about their laughs and giggles, we first need to be able to hear them when they occur. This seems obvious, yet when I debrief a coaching session recording in a mentor coaching session, the coach is often unaware of client laughs or giggles until I observe to them. Or the coach shares they heard the laughing and giggling yet feel uncomfortable observing to their client because they didn’t know how to without making the client feel “self conscious.”
What the latter often indicates is there is more development work for the coach to engage with in order to a) hear and b) respond to client emotional information, in this case client laughs or giggles.
Developing capacity to hear and respond to client emotional energetic expressions
Competency #2: Embodies a Coaching Mindset
We often need to “do the work” ourselves to understand our own emotional “landscape.” There are different ways to do this. One way is working with an experienced mentor coach who is always “doing the work” to develop themselves.
A mentor coach listens to a coaching recording of their mentor coaching client which demonstrates “evidence” of their mindset and presence, not just what the mentoring client might report about their coaching.
Competency #5: Maintains Presence
Quoting from this competency and some of the sub-points. This is where we develop capacity to;
- Be fully conscious and present with the client
- Remain focused, observant, empathetic and responsive to the client
- Manages one’s emotions to stay present with the client
- Demonstrates confidence in working with strong client emotions during the coaching process
In order to understand myself, I’m grateful for having engaged a few decades ago in individual and group therapy over a period of years. I’ve since engaged many other practitioners, and still do, from different disciplines. I continue to learn about myself, including my emotional energetic expressions; my patterns of communicating, and beliefs beneath my own laughs or giggles. I’ve developed more self-compassion for when I say or do something I wish I hadn’t. Remorse is an emotion I often experience.
By continually developing self-compassion, I’ve found my listening for, my ability to be with and respond to my client emotional information is much easier. I rarely feel emotionally “drained” when engaged with any client and I feel that’s because I lean into my exploring and understanding my emotional information, rather than ignore.
I recommend a good therapist as a way of personal development for any coach or person. There are also other ways to learn about our emotions, including releasing emotions stored in body tissue, engaging in emotional intelligence learning, and a range of body based approaches.
Differences between ACC, PCC and MCC skill level coach
Many coach training programs teach coaches how to respond to more than the words being spoken by their client. It’s often considered a more advanced skill to observe energy, tone of voice, and in particular, client emotions. It is expected that PCC skill level coaches can hear and work with client emotional and energy situation. And even more so at MCC skill level. Yet even for ACC skill level coaches, there are behaviors that indicate listening for and responding to client emotions and energy.
ACC (beginner coach) minimum skills requirements (view document here)
#4. Cultivates Trust and Safety; Coach explores the client’s expressions of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, or suggestions.
#6. Listens Actively; Coach makes observations that support the client in creating new associations.
#7. Evokes Awareness; Coach inquires about or explores the client’s ideas, beliefs, thinking, emotions, and behaviors in relation to the desired outcome.
PCC (mid level coach) behaviors (called PCC Markers) (view document here)
#4. Cultivates Trust and Safety; Coach acknowledges and supports the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs or suggestions.
#6. Listens Actively; Coach inquires about or explores the client’s emotions.
#6. Listens Actively; Coach explores the client’s energy shifts, nonverbal cues or behaviors.
#7. Evokes Awareness; Coach asks questions about the client, such as their current way of thinking, feeling, values, needs, wants, beliefs or behavior.
MCC (advanced coach) minimum skills requirements (view document here)
#4. Cultivates Trust and Safety; Coach exhibits genuine curiosity about the client as a whole person by inviting the client to share more about themself or their identity.
#6. Listens Actively; Coach’s responses to the client demonstrates an understanding of the client’s emotions, energy, or learning and growth, in alignment with the client’s agenda.
#7. Evokes Awareness; Coach asks questions that challenge the client to explore more deeply or to go beyond current thinking or feeling.
How to respond to client laughs and giggles
If you were to observe every laugh or giggle to a client, the client might become self conscious. Instead, it might be better to listen for patterns of giggles or laughs by the client. Then trust your sense of when the best time is to observe a pattern of laughs or giggles to the client.
For example (delivered with a non-judgmental tone of voice and body language by the coach); “I have an observation and ask for your response. There’s a pattern I’ve noticed in this session and previous sessions too. It’s around your energy expression, where I ask you a question about yourself, and there’s often some laughing or giggling in response. And it doesn’t seem like happy laughter. I’m wondering if there’s something else going on for you around your emotions, or beliefs that the laughter is substitute for. How do you feel about what I just shared?”
At other times, a single laugh or giggle may be quite an energy shift, and simply to ask the client something like, “What was funny about that for you?”
The client might have some awareness emerge because of the coaching that has occurred and may begin to laugh. Often clients will say they can’t believe what they were able to become aware of in such a “short” amount of time (of a coaching session). The coach might stay silent and present with the client, then respond for example, “It seems something released for you there, I hear a very different energy in your laughing then than earlier in the session, much lighter, more free.”
Reflective questions to consider
Perhaps you have more or new awareness about your own use of laughs or giggles having read this article. It’s a powerful practice to be able to notice non-jdugmentally, “Oh, I’m laughing and giggling right now; what’s really going on for me?”
To more fluidly and confidently coach the language of client laughs and giggles, consider the following;
Develop self awareness of own expressions of laughing or giggling.
- When laughing or giggling, what do you notice you do behaviorally?
- What emotions might be below the surface laughs or giggles?
- What beliefs might you be “hiding” by laughing or giggling?
- What are you afraid to say? Or feel?
Practice what you would say next time you hear your client laugh or giggle.
- Reflect on a recent coaching session where a client laughed or giggled, perhaps a number of times in the session.
- Practice writing out what you would have liked to have said, and also practice saying out loud. Preparing and rehearsing possible ways to respond is a very valuable coach habit to develop. It’s an effective way to build capacity and confidence to respond in the moment in future coaching sessions.
- If you have an experienced and emotionally developed mentor coach, review your coaching sessions with them, to learn more or new ways to respond to a client, including rehearsing and practicing in the safety of your mentor coaching relationship.
Written by Carly Anderson, MCC
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