States and Spaces: Using analogies and metaphors to describe our personal coaching philosophies by Keiko Shinohara and Yvonne Thackray


There really is no one way to do coaching because we each have our own unique ways of caring for, and paying attention to, the needs of our clients when we coach. However, when we talk about what attracts each of us to do coaching this can be expressed in ways that connect our passions with our emotions. When we explain why we do it, this resonates with the listener because we’re sharing from our experiences and observations of that positive feeling of energy and potential that’s being enabled through meaningful coaching conversations between the coach and clients.

Importantly, when we share what brings us to coaching, we use words that are most meaningful to us, particularly in the form of analogies and metaphors, to best describe what’s happening in those moments. Every moment captures the experiences from different timelines, whether a microsecond, a second, a minute, an hour, or even years. We collect them all together and summarise them in one meaningful key word. For Keiko, that word is ‘state’; for Yvonne, that word is ‘space’.

Each of our key words will mean absolutely nothing to anyone else. Some might begin with a dictionary definition, for example from the Cambridge Dictionary:

  • State (noun): a condition or way of being that exists at a particular time

  • Space (noun): the area around everything that exists, continuing in all directions

and then wonder how it relates to what we each mean by coaching! Exploring through metaphors and analogies helped each of us to unlock the meaning of our key word and share in further detail our personal coaching philosophy (including principles, values and motivations) that underpins our approach to coaching.

This is what we’d like to share in the remainder of this blog article.

Keiko Shinohara: Being in a neutral state, self-care and caring for the clients

As a coach, I talk about states to understand and sense check how a person’s energy and aura have moved. It allows me to check in where they are starting from when they come to the session and how I’m using my neutral state to help shift it. I act as the instrument to guide their state shifting.

If I’m not in a good state, I wouldn’t be able to listen, nor would I be able to sense as well, because I’m too pre-occupied with all the other things that are happening inside myself. That’s why self-care to me is very critical as a coach.

I can’t be doing self-care 100% of the time but coaching for me is about how I prepare myself to be ready for the client, rather than thinking of what great questions I could ask. It’s about bringing myself to that right state because I believe if that right state is there, then I’m able to hold that space and allow things to happen. Without creating that space first for myself it’d be very difficult to create it with others. When we know how to create that space for ourselves, only then can we let things in and become able to hold the needs of others.

I always have this image as a coach: yes, we’re working alongside the client, and yes, we’re their partners, but I have this sense where, because it doesn’t matter who the client is, as a human being, we’re in that dilemma, that pain, that frustration or challenge that they’re going through. We need someone to hold them. It really feels like I have the space so that they can come to me, that I’m here, and that I can say, “Hey it’s okay.” I really feel that strength that I have as a coach.

To me, even if I’m coaching a CEO of a company and I may feel inferior when I talk to them, I still feel that I am there, and that I have that space. The person can cry, the person can be emotional, the person can be allowed all sorts of emotions or states, and I’m able to hold it. Don’t worry – you can fall, but it won’t hurt you because I’m here catching you. That’s also the courage that we need to have. We have to have that. It’s almost like building a strong physical body before you’re able to fight or be able to accept anything. Operating at this level, this is why self-care to me is very important.

How I manage my self-care

Self-care is for myself both as an individual and as a coach – it’s something I believe is critical to have. As well as food and physical exercise, more importantly it’s a mental psychological health. Whether it’s about getting energy or talking to another coach, it all helps. It includes:

  • The quality of my sleep through to my diet

  • Doing yoga helps me in creating the right states

  • Having healthy conversations so that psychologically and mentally, I’m in a better state. I’m not always, but it helps just to have that intention that I want to be in a better state.

Experiencing shifting states

This is what drives me to work as a coach.

Through the coaching process clients experience different states – going through ups and downs – and hopefully by the end they are in a better space and generally a better state. It’s that change, that transformation, that shift, that creates the positive energy. You can feel it in that room or over the phone – the energy changes. It’s that energy – that positive energy that we create together – to me that’s the most fascinating part. That’s what I crave for at the end of a coaching session. It’s that ‘wow’.

You feel like you’re being showered with a positive energy. That’s what’s going into coaching, not because of what I do, but what the clients manage to get at the end of the session. It’s what I call infusion of that energy that I love. You can also call it excitement or an ‘aha’ moment, or the flow, the circulation; it’s something that’s moving. For example, at the beginning of the session, you can feel that something is dead – it’s not moving and it’s sinking – and as we move through the coaching process something starts moving, and it’s alive. It’s that energy of aliveness.

The more moments we can have feeling that way, and the more positive energy we’re able to bring to the environment we’re in, it’s what we all want – being alive – while we’re living on earth in our lifetime. If ten people receive that positive infusion to their energy and their aura, just imagine how much that can disperse to people around them. It’s creating a ripple of positivity.

I think this is the reason I’m doing coaching. Coaching is one of the tools that through the coach can bring that liveliness or that sense of being alive to the person, our client. Being alive. Feeling joy. Feeling motivated to see your challenge differently or feeling differently about your challenge. To me, that’s being alive versus not being alive. That’s how you can have happier people in everyday life.

Yvonne Thackray: Scanning spaces within spaces

Coaching is one of the few places where someone else outside their immediate circle believes that another person has potential. Many people might perceive this as a form of narcissism; for the minority it’s an alternative way of valuing and building on their strengths, while maintaining integrity and continuing to be competitive in an ever-competitive market.

Coaches can see within the other person these strengths that others sometimes are not able to see because they’re too busy with their own things. Being able to give a space for someone else to share something that most people wouldn’t notice through a conversation is what clients need, sometimes even crave for, to re-balance everything that’s competing for their time. That’s why I continue doing coaching. Both parties have different learning experiences within the same space, and similar to educational institutes or tuition schools, coaches can be paid for their time. To be helping someone else and learning yourself at the same time is a win-win.

Exploring spaces

Personally, I find it very interesting to explore what a coaching space is. How does it start? When does it begin? Why does it begin? What are the different ways that spaces are being developed so that different conversations can emerge based on where the other person is coming from? For example, am I creating the right space to enable the other to relax and openly think about their challenges and situation, or have I created a space that is overpowering and intimidates others?

Other times, it’s knowing how to step back from your own space to allow others to slowly grow their space towards yours and eventually coalesce. We know this is happening when there are bubbles of trusting relationships developing within the relationship for different conversations to emerge, and how that happens will vary with each person. As the coach, I believe we have to find ways to make this happen within our known boundaries. Through a combination of verbal and non-verbal expression, the time spent with the client hopefully creates the conditions to encourage them to be able to open up to you. Similarly, as the coach, I need to be able to disclose and share where I’m coming from to my client. That’s where we start building up a trusting relationship within the different spaces, then people know when they can speak and have those conversations with you.

If a coach has pre-formulated ideas of what someone should do or how someone should be based on their own experiences, they will be leading their client and following their agenda on where they should be heading to be successful. In these cases, it’s best that this is something explicitly contracted for, as this is another type of learning space that can be useful, depending on the client’s learning cycle.

That is why spaces really vary for each and every person.

Sustaining spaces through bubbles

The quality of the spaces shifts moment to moment, and it’s important to do one’s best to not become overpowering or, on the opposite scale, to be agitated or frustrated by the shifts. Sustaining a dynamically neutral space relative to the momentary shifts is what I believe the clients find most valuable. Whenever these positive coaching spaces emerge it feels as if a bubble has formed around us; it becomes difficult for others to penetrate while at the same time, because of the quality of concentration and conversation that’s been engaged in, we temporarily forget the environment we’re in. Holding this space that manifests into bubbles, before they pop, is how I’ve learnt to internally measure and feel the progression of a coaching conversation.

One of the ways I have noticed these bubbles forming is through a combination of listening (verbal and non-verbal), responding (from asking clarifying/probing questions through to offering alternative perspectives), and using silence to just let them be in that moment. Sometimes people can become self-conscious of having their moments. It’s being able to convey that it is okay to indulge in it, and that they simply need to give themselves that permission to have it. They can choose how they want to use it for them. If they want to use it, I’ll hold that space for them.

We’re both working hard in that space, and as the bubbles expand or contract the constant re-balancing keeps us moving forward to where we need to go. There will always be instances where as the coach it’s not clear what is working, particularly if the awareness and learning has not caught up with those intuitive/tacit moments. For example, one of my clients used one question I posed at the start of the session and worked through their challenge layer by layer. I didn’t have to do any work after that, as they continued to use that same question to unlock the next question they were looking to answer. They would simply let me know they were ready to progress. Sometimes I can’t predict where the client is going to be coming from or what he or she needs until they tell me; other times I might be more prepared because their patterns are becoming more recognisable. At the end of the day, I simply hope that the conversation is a small building platform to where they want to be.

Bursting bubbles, managing spaces

In the same way, as I become more familiar with my client’s patterns, I have to also recognise those patterns I exhibit. For example, one of my indicators of knowing when I have lost my client is when my responses or questions have stretched them so far that they can no longer follow where I’m coming from. The first sign is when their eyes have suddenly become alert, wrinkles appear on their forehead and there is a blank expression, and some might explicitly say, “Can you re-state what you’ve said in a different way?” This tells me that the way I’m processing my thinking in that moment is out of sync with the client, and frequently I need to break down and translate my understandings into their words and ways of seeing things. In those split seconds, after subconsciously assessing, diagnosing, and choosing what may be shared or not shared while simultaneously holding the space, I have stepped outside my role as coach.

Furthermore, I have to be realistic in terms of what it is that I can do to help others. How can I work with those who could help others to continue to grow and develop? It’s having an appreciation of all the different ways in which we’re being shaped to who we are. It’s being able to recognise and be aware of all of those things to be able to humbly be part of that learning journey. I think to be able to do that one needs courage, and my role in that space is to find all the different ways I can help them have that space but not be greedy for it. We become greedy for what we can be very good at. I think that’s also part of human nature.

I think the thing is to be measured and pragmatic. I’m still learning about my system. My awareness isn’t that great yet; sometimes it’s more coherent at a high level and other times it’s focused on the minute details. I’m constantly oscillating between the extremes to better understand my approach, which makes for an interesting learning cycle and keeps coaching alive for me. That’s why coaching is fun!

Our learnings

Having an opportunity to listen to each other and hear how we talk about coaching re-invited us to appreciate how aligned we are in our intentions of doing coaching, and how diverse we are in how we approach our coaching. Simply having the opportunity to listen and help each other explore our uniqueness of practice deepened our respect for each other. It also left us curious of what else we’d uncover if we could invite others to participate in this sharing.

This is only the start, and we hope to share more as we explore together other facets of coaching and our coaching journeys.


Connect with Keiko Shinohara via Linkedin and Yvonne Thackray via tgc The Bloggers

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Keiko is an executive coach trained with Results Coaching Systems, one of the largest global coaching organizations. She is also a Certified Behavioral Consultant trained in DISC, Enneagram, and Workplace Big Five.

Having studied and worked in Hong Kong, Japan, mainland China, Singapore, and Canada, Keiko is multicultural and multilingual, and delivers training and coaching in English, Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese. She has worked with a wide variety of clients including financial services, IT, consulting, engineering, HR, sales and marketing. She has supported her clients to achieve exceptional results in leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, staff engagement, and personal management.


Yvonne is an executive coach and peer supervisor, and a practitioner researcher and editor, who has combined her passions through all these roles for the past decade. Yvonne has lived and worked in both Hong Kong and the UK.  She works with clients internationally, with a keen interest in leadership (professional and personal) and knowledge management (Intuition and tacit knowledge).

A specialist in the field of coaching she defines coaching as providing that quality of attention that enables another person to have the confidence and clarity to reach and humbly manage their potentials now and in the future. She has a reputation for being prepared, patient and thorough, a sharp listener and a good strategist for the way the conversation, or process, needs to be designed to ensure buy in.