As a Highly Sensitive Coach, you are committed to a path of learning and deepening your coaching practice so you can create more powerful results for your clients and make a meaningful impact in the world.
Growing as a coach isn’t a one-time thing but a continuous process of development. As part of this, even the ICF has updated their own coaching competencies to recognise the importance of continuing to grow as a coach. If you subscribe to the ICF code of ethics and competencies, then you will not be surprised that they’ve included “developing an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching”.
Developing a reflective practice can be as simple as journalling or reflecting after a session. However, reflective practice often requires the presence of a seasoned supervisor who can reflect with you and mirror what they notice. In developing your own reflective practice, you are, in a way, developing your own Inner Supervisor.
One of the most powerful tools I use when I help HSP coaches develop their own reflective practice, is the “7 Eyes of Supervision”. This is a framework that was created over 40 years ago by Robin Shohet and Peter Hawkins.
Using the 7 Eyes of Supervision can help you understand your relationship with your clients on a much deeper level - which coincidentally works perfectly for you as an HSP coach who is focused on depth and powerful results.
When you reflect on your coaching, each of these eyes of the 7 Eyes of Supervision framework will support you to deepen your awareness so that you get a perspective on your coaching from many angles, or “eyes”. Let’s look at each of these ‘eyes’ in more detail:
Eye 1 - the Client (Coachee)
As HSP Coaches we might be prone to getting stuck in shadow aspects of our personality such as absorbing and amplifying emotions that aren’t our own, so it’s important to develop our reflective practice and this first eye focuses on the Client.
The clients we work with have a big impact on the coaching relationship.
In my mentoring & supervision sessions it can be so interesting to spend a whole session just talking about the client because we are often so focused on the words that are being spoken that we can miss creating context, background and a deeper understanding.
And this is where we, as HSP coaches, shine.
Take a moment to bring a client to mind. This reflective practice work is best done when you consider a real situation (rather than just read through).
Now reflect on some of these questions:
What words come up for you as you think of this client?
What is their cultural, professional, ethnic background, what are their beliefs, how do they dress, what do they look like, what are their relationships like? How might all these elements contribute to the way our coaching relationship develops?
What do you notice in sessions beyond the words that are being spoken? What is their posture, motivation, energy level, physicality? Are they relaxed? Tense? Emotional? Rational?
What patterns do you notice in this client? How do these patterns connect to how you might feel towards them? How do they connect to what they brought to coaching?
What do you imagine the client is feeling and thinking?
Eye 2 - the Coach’s interventions
Every word, posture, question, and silence impacts the coaching relationship, but how might we look at this from your perspective as an HSP coach?
In general, coaching interventions are very focused on asking questions, so this Eye could be looking at the quantity and quality of your questions. And of course, if you’re a relatively new coach developing your confidence and dexterity, you might also be relying quite heavily on questions and models.
Of course, this will make you a very good coach...
But your true potential as an HSP coach goes way beyond the wording of a question.
As you’re developing your Inner Supervisor, here are some more questions that I invite you to reflect on that are relevant to this eye:
What types of interventions do you rely on most? Do you use exercises, models and tools? Do you work intuitively? Do you have “go-to” questions?
To what extent do you ask “safe” questions vs “challenging” questions that cut through the noise and get to the heart of the matter?
How do you *feel* when you ask questions? Are there some questions that feel more difficult than others?
How courageous do you feel when working with your clients (especially in those sessions you find more difficult)?
To what extent do your interventions pick up on your client’s words, vs their feelings, their non-verbal language?
To what extent do you work in the past vs present vs future?
How comfortable are you with silence and what is the balance between being (allowing space) vs doing (asking, moving)?
How much do you bring what comes up for you, in the coaching space, and how do you do this?
Eye 3 - the Relationship between Coach and Client
What are the dynamics that play out between you and your client?
As HSP Coaches, we experience the relationship with our clients in such a deep way, that only another HSP can understand just how deeply we feel this relationship.
The coaching space, just like any other type of talk therapy, is prone to a lot of psychological mechanisms such as projection, parallel processes, transference, games, drama triangle dynamics etc.
For example, often our clients project authority or expert status onto us and I often notice how HSP coaches feel drawn to respond to that invitation. This translates into the HSP shadow of over-responsibility, wanting to give “value”, trying to think of “trendy” exercises and tools to try out and in general, “efforting” for our clients.
This is the reason why, when an HSP coach comes to me for mentoring and supervision asking for ideas of exercises to use with their clients, I really challenge them on this and explore what’s going on underneath. More often than not, there is an internal attachment and drive to “provide value” that’s aligned with efforting and not with the co-creative principle of a coaching relationship.
My favourite questions when reflecting on Eye 3 of Supervision is:
- If you and your client were dance partners, what kind of dance would it be?
- Who is leading and who is following?
- What kind of music is playing?
- What is the dance like? Is it smooth and flowing? Is it choppy? Who steps on whose toes?
- What does each partner think of while they’re dancing?
If you brought a client to mind, what came up for you when you reflected on these questions?
Eye 4 - the Coach
What is going on for you when you work with your client, or with this specific issue they have brought to the session?
We’re now moving one level further from the Coach-Client relationship, to look more closely at the Coach’s Awareness.
Eye 4 asks us to detach from that relational aspect that we looked at in eye 3 and focus on your experience as a Coach in the coaching space.
What do you experience as you think of this client?
Who does this client remind you of? Perhaps another client? Someone in your own life?
How do you feel towards the problem or challenge that the client brought to coaching? Sometimes feeling “stuck” with a client can bring up an issue of over-identifying with the client (which, coincidentally is one of our HSP shadows)
What judgements might we hold towards the client or their situation? Judgements could be positive or negative. How do they impact the work we are doing together?
What does this client trigger or bring up for you that might not be related to the client?
Eye 4 is one of my favourite things to explore because it has so much depth and because HSP coaches have so much self awareness, they can get a much deeper understanding of what’s *actually* happening in the coaching space.
Eye 5 - The Relationship between Coach and Supervisor
How might some of the dynamics between you and your client follow you into the supervision space? How might it affect your relationship with your supervisor?
Coaching clients can project onto us things that aren’t necessarily related to us. For example, how often have you sensed that a client might be seeking validation or approval from you? As HSP Coaches, we can easily get invited (and even hooked!) into dynamics and games with our clients as we saw in Eye 3.
This is why it’s so important for our reflective practice to include the dynamics with our clients. It’s the intersection between “their stuff” and “our stuff”.
In the same way, it’s very possible that when you’re working with a supervisor/mentor on your coaching, some of the dynamics between you and your supervisor could be a reflection of your dynamic with your client.
Robin & Joan Shohet position this as:
“The coach will do to the supervisor what the client has done to the coach”.
In psychological terms, this is called a parallel process.
It’s very important to look at Eye 5 (The Coach-Supervisor Relationship) with a perspective of curiosity and non judgement. This isn’t about blaming you for repeating dynamics that take place with your client. I believe parallel processes have immense “nutritional” value for you as an HSP coach because they set us up to not just *tell* our supervisor what’s going on, but *show* our supervisor what’s going on. This act of demonstrating the dynamic in coaching supervision will enable your supervisor to get a real feel of what you might be experiencing and start to make sense of it.
This is a core question I might ask you related to Eye 5:
What similarities do you notice between your relationship with your client and your relationship with your supervisor?
It’s fascinating to explore parallel processes and this is why having your coaching work witnessed and mirrored by a supervisor who understands you from an HSP perspective is so valuable. It goes beyond what you can achieve on your own in your reflective practice.
Eye 6 - The Supervisor’s experience
Eye 6 reflects back at you my experience as I hear you share your client work.
“What’s going on for me (the supervisor) as I hear you share your coaching challenges?”
Using Eye 6 in my mentoring & supervision practice actually created a kind of spiritual awakening, because it helped me to connect so deeply with myself and to feel into what is being moved, stirred or shaken within me as I am in connection with you - the coach.
Often, the things that come up for me might not even be related to what you are communicating. However, we know that what happens within a relationship (whether a coach-client relationship or a coach-supervisor relationship) is so much more than the words that are being spoken.
Having a supervisor who can really connect with their internal experience can give you so much more depth and understanding of your own coaching. When I talk about connecting with myself I don’t necessarily refer to making mental sense of what you’re saying, but connecting with you as a soul, allowing myself to be a conduit for what might need to be expressed in the space - whether that’s connected to what you’re sharing or not.
Even though Eye 6 is a supervision tool, this doesn’t just apply in supervision. It also applies in your coaching. Feeling into what’s being evoked within you as you hear someone speak, can be really powerful material to work with.
But most coaches don’t use it because it often feels like it conflicts with the principle of being client led. We try to suppress, pause or park our own feelings or internal experiences as we connect with this other person in front of us. But often, this is the opposite of what would serve our client most.
I am absolutely convinced that reflecting on your coaching in the presence of an experienced supervisor who understands you as an HSP coach will enrich your coaching and your self-awareness, but will also model for you what it means to be courageous and create deeply transformational results for your clients. This work goes beyond your own reflective practice, because it’s being mirrored and alchemised in a container specifically dedicated to you and your coaching.
Eye 7 - The Wider System
What is the wider system that I’m part of, you’re part of, or the client is part of? The system may not be present here and now, but it influences us in the here and now.
It’s important to look at the coaching relationship in the “here and now,” the “you and me,” the “this” of our conversation.
However, what happens when we take a step back? We are not individuals having a separated, individual experience. We are part of a whole and that whole could be our close relationships, our family, our organisation, the society, living through a global pandemic, climate change, technology - and so on.
When reflecting on the wider system, it can be useful to ask ourselves (and our clients):
What impact does the wider context (e.g. family, company, system, society) have on the situation at hand?
Who are other people who have an impact on what your client is bringing to the session?
How might external (e.g. social, political) factors be impacting the client you’re working with?
These reflective questions are very useful with any client, but they are particularly relevant when a client is part of a bigger system, community or organisation, where their actions, behaviours and feelings are significantly influenced by their context. This becomes even more obvious when the individual is significantly influenced by the context, but they have very little influence over it.
Do you ever work with clients whose wider context/system/culture has a significant impact on what they bring to your sessions?
Hopefully reading about the 7 Eyes of Supervision supports you to get a glimpse into what it means to receive coaching supervision, but also to develop your own reflective practice.