Smiling and Laughter really matter in coaching by Jeremy Ridge


Smiling and laughing (spontaneously expressed by the other person – not because you do it, or want it! ) is arguably the most important evidence, or data, that we can get about the progress of a coaching dialogue. Certainly it is for me.

I’m not out to be a comedian!

It is a serious element of my practice. It may be mixed with more straight forward dialogue – but periodically, it becomes an important part of checking out, of self supervising – that the other person is also in a good place with it all.

I don’t know you well enough to get a smile, or a laugh, from you… yet! … for me, that needs getting more personal with you – in the sense of a dialogue that might matter for you.

However I am amazed ( not a laughing matter! ) that it is so absent from all the writings, ( I have seen, anyway ) in books , journals, research in the coaching field even with the positive psychology movements, and appreciative enquiry etc etc … even in conversations about what is going on ..  let alone the wider related fields ( counselling , therapy etc, etc.)

Other fields always seem to prefer to get to the negatives of experience and behaviour – the emotional – the serious and invisible ‘problems'. Dealing with positives (more to do with opportunities) is what coaching specialises in. So we need to create a means of appreciating these positives. Smiling and laughing are often the first, early, indicators about being on the right track

Let’s get it onto the table and realise its significance. We all use it. We all measure it - sometimes more or less knowingly! Some can articulate and differentiate the extraordinary detail involved, especially when it’s the ‘ eyes ‘ that smile; or it can be in the tone of voice, even!

It is such a spontaneous behaviour, and therefore good valid evidence of what is happening now. It is often less controlled. It signals some important positives. It signals a trust in the dialogue, for example – when someone can release these reactions to you. It’s often an early signal of pleasurable ‘ feelings ‘( smiling ), or if it’s laughing , well then you get a whole lot more understanding of where some of the other person’s boundaries may lie. ( Laughter is expression of some sort of a ‘surprise'.)

Smiling and laughter are connected. One is more of a physical act of expression than the other. Both forms are driven by very human physical features.

Yes it can be acted. Yes it is complex – which is why it is below the current radar of formal study. So are many things until we learn about them. People used to believe the earth was flat, when they never saw beyond their village; and the evidence wasn’t yet convincing. We have to start somewhere. Hence this attempt to see if it is also something seen as important elsewhere.

Yes people do smiling and laughing differently. Yes there are massive cultural variations, ( even my next door neighbours have a unique profile for how they do it  ) And some personalities do it so internally, the trace is merely a moment’s hesitation – as they process.

Yes, it’s the leading edge of how I personally practice. The first thing I do is work out how to get a real and positive smile,  then a laugh reaction about something.

Coaching is about bringing such excitement, and expression about it, into life – the excitement of continuous learning, and sharing this with others, - the positive feelings and surprise we can always find in life - and work … 

I trust this day is bringing such reactions for you, too - and you have enjoyed a smile and a laugh!

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