Engaging with Energy – an exploration of energy in coaching, facilitation, business and life by Liz Hill-Smith (guest)

"Going with the Energy"

I have recently been finding myself being more drawn to the theme of “Energy” as being central to my coaching and facilitation work, in particular:

  • How I use my awareness of both my own and others energy in coaching, facilitation, business and life.

  • Exploring new approaches to help my clients tap into, find, and use this energy for themselves.

I have been exploring this concept, noticing my energy, the energy of others, and the energy of “the field”.  This has been stimulated by my work with systemic constellations[1] over the last few years, and through attending trainings with some of the key proponents of working with the body, such as Simon Cavacchio[2] and others.   

In this blog, I am going to explore the difference I am noticing between being in formal work within an organisation where one’s time is more stiffly dictated with being self-employed.   I will look at using this tuning into energy and emotion in the coaching and facilitation work I do. 

I will also make further links between my experience and other emerging schools of thought, such as Otto Scharmer’s U-lab[3] and his work with Presencing, the increased use of mindfulness, and ongoing work I have been doing around developing emotional intelligence in leaders.

I hope to open a discussion about how others use this, both in coaching and facilitation, and in a practical day to day way of guiding their life and choices.

Noticing differences in my energy patterns between being employed and self employed

I shall start by exploring the difference between being in paid work and in being my own boss.  In the paid work situations I was in for about 8 years, I was running programmes that I was passionate about, and doing some excellent coaching working with people I was interested to work with.  I was also charged with developing business which was a balance of creating materials, making calls, attending meetings, creating thought leadership, and writing proposals.  In addition, there was internal work to be done, building relationships with colleagues, managing projects, reviewing materials, attending to the office systems such as finance and quality systems.  I had a desk in an open plan space, and in one organisation, strict rules about when I had to be at that desk and in the office. 

I often find I am at my most creative in the mornings, or when a spark hits me, and often found it hard to find the right space at the right moment to make use of a particular energy.  I found myself thinking I will do this when I have attended to various fiddly tasks that just needed doing.  Fair to say, the moment for the burst was too often lost or hidden.  By contrast, after a busy morning I was often ready for a snooze in the early hours of the afternoon and found myself feeling fogged, sleepy and unable to think as clearly.  While it was perfectly permissible to go for fresh air and a stroll to attend to these moments, that would only result in the need to nap returning an hour later. 

I found myself, despite trying hard not to, and being in places where there was a lot of thinking about how we best use our energy to be productive, being ironically unable to really make use of my energies because of the physical and social constraints of the space around me.

By contrast, now working from home in a home office, I can check in with myself more easily, and go with what activity feels right for that moment.  I can pursue the people I have energy to pursue, and pay attention to what sort of energy I notice coming back.  I am much more in tune with what is happening in myself physically – so my energy radar feels better tuned.  I can go for a walk, or a restorative nap, whenever I need to (so long as I am not on a call or heading out somewhere.) 

I find that I can easily create my list of goals at the start of each day – and deal with these as the energy for each hits me.  Some get left behind, but only for good reason.  Some get greater attention.  Some days I feel like sleeping for longer in the mornings.  This might not be a good energy signal for me to give in to – but maybe on some days I should.  I haven’t tried that yet, as I do like to be around to have breakfast with my family.  That experiment is yet to come.

With not forcing myself into the office shaped task box, I am more tuned into my energy generally as I have less need to suppress it.  It is an interesting discovery, and the challenge now is to find ways to help myself and others still access their energy as the valuable guide that it is, even in a more restrained environment.

How I use different kinds of Energy thinking in coaching

In coaching, I find many uses for energy thinking.  When I am in a 1-1 coaching conversation, I really listen out for where the client’s energy is and reflect that back when it seems relevant.  This is usually experienced as being very validating, or as a useful challenge to thinking. 

It is generally of great value either way. 

The longer-term impact seems to be that it encourages the client to start to use this as a way of accessing their own energy and motivation more readily.  On the occasions when I use constellations based techniques with clients, the impact of energy and, what in constellations work we call “emotional” “intuitive” or “embodied” knowing, is really important.  It proves a valuable counter-balance to the cognitive knowing that is typically more readily accessible.  For some clients, in particular those who think a lot and are very in their heads, accessing their internal emotional knowing can be quite tricky, yet always seems to prove a worthwhile journey to take. 

For example, I was working with a client whose organisational role was expected to morph at some point.  That point was approaching, and the client was starting to recognise this, and needed to make plans for himself and his team.  He also needed to create a strategy for the new way of working for the organisation.  Together we identified options for this next phase of his career.  We created quite a wide-ranging set and explored his energy for each.  Interestingly, the morphed state of his existing role drew a strong repulse reaction.  It was very clear that held little attraction.  Other ideas created great excitement and sparked a bounce of energy.  While this client clearly felt strongly about all these things, he hadn’t really discovered until that coaching, how to use his physical responses to consciously aid his decision making.  He now uses it a lot to great effect.

Sometimes I have coached while taking a walk or being outdoors.  In this more physical situation, revelations of energy have been more physical.  For example, a client breaking into a skip when telling me about a new opportunity, or walking faster as energy was greater, and slowing down as it diminished.  All these were unconscious ways of revealing the energy and emotion behind the ideas.  It was of great value to each when I shared those observations back with the clients.

Another way I explore energy with coaching clients is to ask questions around “What energy is coming back to you in response to this?” So, for example, “What is the world out there – be it potential clients, interested parties, whoever – what is it saying about what you are communicating?”  “What are you learning about where that energy is?”  A client was looking for ways to extend the reach of some ideas he had shared.  He had had a fantastic response from those he had shared them with in a face to face forum, but very little response when he had offered them for the first time in a written offer or proposal.  This gave him strong clues as to how to proceed in building his reach. 

Reflections on tracking energy in facilitating groups

Using my Energy gauge in facilitating groups is incredibly valuable, but not always totally reliable.  I know that reliability drops off if I am very tired, and cannot tell the difference between my own exhaustion and that of the group.  That said, being able to measure the mood in the room is of great value.  However, sometimes, the group doesn’t see so clearly when energy needs to shift to make progress.  I do believe that as facilitator, sometimes, you need to give a group a bit of a shove. 

For example, groups often need that shove to go from a plenary discussion to break into smaller groups to do group work, or to come back again.  Sometimes, this is because they don’t believe the group work will be of value, or it is poorly spelt out.  That is fair enough.  But sometimes, it is because the work is harder to do in small groups, and will require more thinking and more “real work”.  The group needs to trust the process, and to trust the facilitator.  The facilitator needs to really trust that this is the right switch for the group. 

I facilitated a workshop where we had simultaneous translation and group working happening in a language I did not speak. I was having to judge what was happening in the groups by the body language of those involved.  This was most interesting.  Sometimes, I could see that the group was making real progress, that there was a real energy and intensity about their work and dialogue.

Other times, a group would seem disconnected and I could sense a stuck-ness, or boredom, among participants.  I found that paying attention to these body signals, and taking care to intervene appropriately, despite having no idea what they were talking about, was really important to the quality of my facilitation of the process.

Theoretical perspectives and frameworks that add to my understanding of using Energy themes in coaching and facilitation

Working with Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, “Leading from the Emerging Future”, process has given me further cause for reflection on the role of energy use and sensing in leading groups and self.  Central to the Theory U process is a period of presencing.  This takes place once the intention for the work has been set, and after a process of deep sensing and exploration of stakeholder’s perspectives has been made.  The presencing demands a mindfulness and presence both to one’s own emotional and energy fields, one’s own impact on the situation in hand, and an awareness of what “everything out there that isn’t me” is saying in response. 

Similarly, working with emotional intelligence, and with embodiment work, where the behaviours, emotions and sensations arising in the body are paid significant attention to, is all being increasingly recognised as valid and relevant in the coaching and development worlds.  A past colleague, a respected thinker in the field of embodiment, said “Too many of us treat our bodies as merely a taxi that takes our brain to meetings”.  I am increasingly finding how true this is, as I help people reconnect their bodies to their brains. 

I have had the opportunity to work extensively with the JCA Emotional Intelligence Profile in running EQ based leadership development programmes.  This invites clients to build an increasing awareness of the emotion and energy they have in response to situations, and the emotion and energy they experience in others. 

Giving this some attention has proved transformational for many clients, particularly those who had developed highly effective ways of blocking these signals from conscious awareness.  For example, people who just kept going and going and going, without stopping to replenish and look after themselves and then ended up in a medically critical condition.  Others who were immune to the signals they were or weren’t getting back from others found that by just putting more effort into being aware of this had an amazing impact on their relationships and effectiveness.

In conclusion…

In sharing these thoughts, I hope I have stimulated some insights.  I would love to hear others’ reflections on:

  • How you use your awareness of both your own and others energy in coaching, facilitation, business and life.

  • Exploring new approaches to help our clients tap into, find, and use this energy for themselves.

To connect with Liz:

Liz is an APECS certified executive coach and organisational leadership and change consultant.  She creates the mental space for her clients to open new perspectives, flourish and succeed.  Having been a specialist in leadership, change, organisation development and strategic thinking for over 20 years, Liz is passionate about enabling leaders to develop empowering and transformative mindsets, often using constellations based approaches to create transformations in thinking and insight. 

[1] Systemic Constellations as taught by Jenny Mackewn and based on the work of Bert Hellinger, Virginia Satir, and native indigenous tradition
[2] Simon Cavacchio – Working with the Body in Mind
[3] Otto Scharmer – Theory U – Leading from the Emerging Future.  MIT led MOOC course here:  https://www.edx.org/course/u-lab-leading-emerging-future-mitx-15-671-1x