Coach at work: 'I overshared at work'
Advertisement

Coach at work: 'I overshared at work'

We put your workplace woes to an executive coach.

My work is paying for me to attend emotional intelligence coaching with some of my peers. I volunteered to be the guinea pig at the last session for a one-on-one in front of the group, and I chose to work on my relationship with my boss. It quickly turned into how mad I am at my parents and I became very emotional. Now that some time has passed, I don't think it was a good idea to talk about personal issues in front of my colleagues (they are mostly men) and I'm embarrassed about returning to the group. The coach is clearly out of his depth. What do you suggest?

The coach:

Wherever you go, there you are, which means all the habits that trip you up at home will also trip you up at work. Your home office and your work office are likely to look similar (mess levels, filing system, whether your tea/coffee cups pile up); and if you're usually the one in the family conversation who's disclosing the most, you'll likely find traces of this pattern at work. So your average coach is not going to be strict about confining topics to work.

The seminars always follow the same pattern.

The seminars always follow the same pattern.

In group coaching, these things are worked out by agreement. Is it OK to talk about personal stuff? Or do we want to keep it strictly on work topics? While the coach will be working to keep the level of charge in the room to helpful levels (too much or too little challenge are both counterproductive), things go wrong in coaching all the time: and "wrong things", six months later, can turn out to have been critical turning points.

Some of us share a lot, some keep our cards close to our chest, and some waver depending on weather, mood and what kind of coffee they're on. Sharers can get a lot of pleasure from expressing themselves. How much fun their audience has is another question, and it sounds like your ability to stay in touch with the listeners' level of interest or comfort while you're caught up in speaking may be a little underdone.

Advertisement
The coach: Jacqueline Jago.

The coach: Jacqueline Jago.Credit:Sari Sutton

The point at which folks start to overshare is not always obvious to them. So they simply keep talking: straight past the point of comfort for the context they're in, for the person in front of them, for the culture of the group they're talking to. It sounds like that's what happened to you. Ouch. The little jagged edge of that is just awful, and it's OK to let yourself feel it. Put your hand on your chest and just breathe through the sharp feelings.

When those little red "overshare" warning flags do pop up, in hindsight, they hurt like hell and can unleash a mean and unfair internal volley of self-criticism, shame and vulnerability. If you're a blamer, you'll look to hold someone responsible. Group coaching only works if there's an atmosphere of learning and growth, but even appropriate and creative self-disclosure can come with what shame researcher Brene Brown calls a vulnerability hangover. You feel so exposed. Those words are out there. They're never coming back in – and, worse, you can't control what story your colleagues tell themselves about the delicate thing you've offered ("she's so brave" at one end of the spectrum to "women shouldn't be allowed in the workplace" on the other).

The first thing to do is let your coach know how you're travelling: he'll want to help you process the aftermath of the session. He'll also want to review his coaching practice, possibly in dialogue with his supervisor, for any missteps that led to the level of challenge getting out of hand.

And whether he's incompetent? You'll learn a lot about his skill as a coach by how responsive he is to your concerns. If your coach has erred on the side of working with too much intensity, he needs to know about it and you're best placed to tell him. Any hint of shaming you for your feelings? Tell him. If he doesn't take you seriously, you may have grounds to discontinue the coaching.

Any hint of him taking all the blame? Just as bad: if he takes too much responsibility for what happened, he lets you off the hook for your part – which defeats the purpose of coaching.

Relationship dynamics (at home, at work) are an equal opportunity sport. Everyone must play. So what can you learn? Your peers know a lot more than you about how you're getting in your own way. The group-coaching process harnesses this knowledge and teaches tools for safely communicating it. With support from the coach, share this incident in the group and seek support (this is what we hear) and accountability (this is the impact you currently have and what we wish for you instead).

If you can own your part, and devise a plan about what you can do differently next time, you recreate yourself as powerful rather than a victim. Most critically, you'll gain the respect of your coaching peers, a new awareness of yourself and some ideas for experiments with your professional style that you can take back to your team.

On the other hand, you could disengage from a place of shame and wounded disturbance, feed everyone in your workplace a gratifying story of betrayal, and look back on these events with rage and helplessness. While your colleagues in the wider workplace might collude with you, they could also end up labelling you as lacking in resilience. This might not be the only time they'll have seen you defaulting to blame rather than personal responsibility.

I'm pretty clear which I wish for you. Are you?

Jacqueline Jago is an executive coach and the principal of Bloom Coaching & Consulting. Send your questions to counsel@canberratimes.com.au.