5 Ways Coaches Can Lighten Energy in Difficult Times | by Sarah Evans, MCC

Humour, Lightness & The Laughter Contagion Effect

As I walked in my neighbourhood last week, I noticed a father and his young son coming towards me. What captured my attention was not only the playful skip of the child, but how quickly his fits of giggles turned to full out laughter and wild abandon. The father, completely captivated, threw back his head and laughed uproariously.

The two of them shared a precious and priceless moment together in a world caught up in the vortex of a global pandemic with all of its accompanying angst and fears. I was transfixed!

I instantly found myself experiencing a contagion effect as I first smiled, then giggled and then laughed along with them. And the more we laughed, the more we laughed.

As they walked by in an arc of safe physical distance, the father exclaimed, "I needed that!"

I did too!

A playful, light, energetic, humorous moment.

That moment may not have changed the realities that father faced or what he was navigating personally and professionally. Yet, I have no doubt it offered a brief refuge from the chaotic storm and lightened his load. I know it did for me.

So, in the coming days and weeks, I wonder how we might offer our coachees a safe refuge, a space to lighten the load, if only for a few brief moments?

We can lighten our mental load with laughter:

A Mayo Clinic in-depth article 1 explains, "When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body." "Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air", increasing your brain's release of endorphins - chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain.

Laughter can also "stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress." And, a "rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling."

The positive impact of humour:

A series of studies have shown the positive impact humour can have. In her article "Leading with Humor" 2 Alison Beard says that, "According to research from institutions as serious as Wharton, MIT, and London Business School, every chuckle or guffaw brings with it a host of business benefits." She adds that laughter relieves "stress and boredom, boosts engagement and well-being, and spurs not only creativity and collaboration but also analytic precision and productivity."

We can mindfully lighten the energy.

In 'usual' times, our coachees have serious life and work situations, and some have life threatening illnesses. And as I write this, there are additionally the very real fears and anxieties of the global pandemic threatening life and livelihood.

Yet, I've found that there is room - in fact a need - for humour, lightness, laughter and playfulness. Our difficulties can then be a little easier to be with, if only for a moment in time.

When we are serious in our energy, our coachees remain serious in their energy. But when we appropriately and mindfully lighten up and become a little playful, the coachee's energy lightens up too. And in that lighter relaxed place, the coachee has greater access to self-knowledge, inner resources and other perspectives.

And remember that lighter energy can relax both coachee and coach.

5 Ways to Lighten the Energy Appropriately, with Humour, Respect and Compassion:

  1. It's important to start by following, acknowledging, connecting to and matching the coachee's energy. Listen for their energy level, their tone of voice, their words and meanings and meet them there.
  2. Relate to your coachee by making a lighter comment or observation based on what your client has shared. This might bring a laugh or lighter energy.
    • For example: I once commented to a coachee, after they bravely acknowledged some significantly painful experiences, that they'd penned a hit country and western song. They laughed and began to sing widely exaggerated lyrics.
  3. A simple question can often stop coachees 'in their tracks' or pull them out of catastrophic thinking.
    • For example: I've been asking my coachees what might be the 'best of _____', 'benefit of _____' or a 'silver lining they can find in _____'
  4. Share your own lighter moment stories to invite lighter energy and laughter, and perhaps a sharing of their own lighter moment stories.
    • For example: Recently, in a delightful, innocent slip of the tongue, a very proper senior member of my family expressed grave concern in the face of all of the news broadcasts related to COVID-19 and potential shortages and hoarding. She said there would not be enough 'vibrators' in the world and that people might resort to stealing them. As we all howled with laughter, we were quick to point out that she meant to say 'ventilators' and had actually said something quite different. While she was briefly mortified, she embraced the humour of the moment and quipped "well, there could be a shortage of those too!"
  5. And finally, as the coachee is more open or relaxed, you could try asking a counter-intuitive question that seems like the last thing they'd want to consider. This may give them access to different perspectives. If they can view the situation differently, there is a possibility that the emotional experience can be different.
    • For example: "What could you imagine if _____" or "What might be another perspective, and another, and another, and …"

Wrap-Up

In our roles as coaches, we have the ability to offer a brief respite from the current storm.

The energy and insights that emerge from lightness, laughter, playfulness and storytelling may surprise the coachee. Although there may be an initial lack of connection to the presenting coaching issue, new interpretations and solutions can arise.

I wonder what opportunities you can think of to help your coachees tap into their imagination, have some fun, stimulate new ideas and thoughts, and support them to have more access to self-knowledge, inner resources and new perspectives?

References

1 Mayo Clinic. "Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke" April 5, 2019.

2 Alison Beard. (May, 2014). "Leading with Humor." Harvard Business Review.

Sarah Evans MCC headshotContributing Author: Sarah Evans, MCC, PhD (cand.), Dip. CS, is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, OD consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach dedicated to supporting individuals, teams, and organizations lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here  and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

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4 Comments

  1. Joanne

    Hi Sarah
    Love this article, one of the best I’ve read lately.
    Cheers
    Joanne Rivard- from the Vancouver TLC cohort!!

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Joanne, lovely to hear from a "local" - I'm over on Salt Spring, and you obviously already know Sarah (who is totally awesome!). Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
    • Sarah Evans

      Thanks Joanne for the shout-out and for our TLC connection!
      Sarah

      Reply
  2. Debbra Hes

    Hi Sarah, Your article is inspiring and real and it brings back so many memories of the way you get your coachees/mentees to really think about the possibilities. I admire you and your coaching style. I hope you are well!

    Reply

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