Can you feel the air as it moves in the space between you and me? The space between us? Are you aware of the emotional field that is co-created between you and others, moment to moment?
As a team and systems coach – as a daughter, sister, lover, partner, parent, leader – as a human being, I’ve been fascinated with this shifting, dancing space for as long as I can remember.
Sometimes the emotional field feels cold, flat or empty. At other times, the space is heavy, warm, or spiky. Those around us can sense it too. A relationship coach once named the emotional field between my husband and I as being like the crackle and hiss of static electricity. There was a lot of friction between us at the time! It is also a common emotional field that we tend to create together.
How might bringing awareness to the energy between and around you serve your relationships?
People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
The higher the quality of the relationship dynamic, the better the results. Research across a variety of fields confirms that this is true, whether the relationship is between a therapist and patient, a coach and client, or a leader and a team. Powerful relationships really do create meaningful change.
Does paying attention to and co-creating a productive emotional field between team members allow you to achieve a common purpose?
In a study of skills that distinguish star performers in every field from entry-level jobs to executive positions, the single most important factor was not IQ, not advanced degrees, or technical experience. It was EQ.
Researcher Tünde Erdös is exploring the intriguing impact of interpersonal synchrony, demonstrated through micro-movements between coach and client. In coaching terms, she wants to show that coaches’ way of ‘being’ with clients – more than their out-of-the toolbox way of ‘doing’ coaching – is likely to make a significant difference in how clients feel empowered to attain self-directed goals.
Whether you are a coach, or a coach-like leader, how does your way of being with others impact the way your people regulate their emotions?
Emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head – it is the unique intersection of both.
Strategic leader Nicole Schaefer and I decided to team up together to explore this concept, combining the Organizational and Relationship Systems Coaching approach with Nicole’s own unique reflective facilitation approach. We begin by exploring a relationship in which the emotional space plays a major role. I am to have the great privilege of meeting Nicole’s two horses, Dinah and Tosca.
What is the lesson?
Whether I am working with horses or humans, the same principles apply to sensing into and co-creating the space between us.
Step 1 – Be aware of your own feelings.
As we drive out towards the mountains, I observe my thoughts. While I am keen to be out in the fresh air doing something novel, I am also nervous. These horses are physically bigger, stronger, more powerful than me. They are ‘other.’ I fear they will step on my toes! If I frighten them with sudden movements, or miscommunicate with them, perhaps they will run away and hurt themselves.
I laugh as I become aware of my fears.
Where does this show up for me as a coach? A leader? A parent? Do I fear those that are more powerful than me? Do I fear that those that I see as ‘other’ will step on my toes? Am I concerned about the clarity of my communication? Quite possibly.
Step 2 – Consider how you want to show up.
I procrastinate at the car, taking my time, deciding what to wear. Then I take a deep breath, settling my heart, head and gut.
As I walk towards the field, I step into gratitude for this experience. We walk towards the herd. Tosca and Dinah come meet Nicole while another horse greets me, shoving his head under my arm.
Nicole asks me to lead Tosca from the field to the arena. My fear shows up as a twinge in the stomach. I notice I want to talk to Tosca, to engage with and play with her, but sense she is giving me the side eye.
How do I choose to be with her? I sense it’s better that I don’t do my puppy dog routine and be all over her like a rash. I take note of how I am feeling – a little rigid in the top half of my body, with a painted smile splashed across my face. I am holding my breath.
I do what I do when I meet a new coaching client, a new co-lead, a new person.
I take a breath, and check in with my body. I open up to the possibility of the new and the novel, let any expectations drift away, and take in the being in front of me.
I pause to sense which of the many parts of me that I could choose to bring out to play wants to come out to meet Tosca.
I select calm, light, and confident. I feel a wave wash over me. On the other side is stillness. Tosca too seems purposefully still.
Step 3 – Consciously co-create
As we enter the arena, Nicole amplifies the pause. I close my eyes as she asks me to sense into Tosca’s energy. She highlights that this pause is important as it helps to be present and turn conscience awareness towards the other being. I get even more curious with what’s happening with me (emotional intelligence), what’s happening over there with Tosca (social intelligence), and what’s happening in the space in-between (relationship systems intelligence). When we can tap into our relationship – our Third Entity, as CRRGlobal calls it – we tap into power.
Nicole asks me to step towards Tosca with the intention of having her walk backwards. I imagine myself and Tosca stepping in unison, yet I’m shocked when she does so. My surprise makes me hesitate. She stops and we end up bumping heads.
I try again, but this time Tosca doesn’t move. I step back to create some space so she can see me step towards her. This time, we take a few more steps back, before I laugh in disbelief. I wonder why she would believe me or do what I ask. More to notice about my relationship with my own power.
Nicole suggests that to support my intention and underpin my mind and body movements I touch Tosca and follow through guiding her in the right direction. I notice that initially this feels like cheating! My desire is for us to do an effortless tango together. Yet I follow through with a light touch to her chest and she instantly understands my intent. Where might a slight touch or guide support my intentions elsewhere, I wonder.
After Tosca and I spend some time walking and running together, I become more sure and certain about my communication. All hesitation leaves her and she turns and stops just with the intent of my movements, without any additional guidance.
Nicole leaves us alone while she goes to get Dinah. The dust sparkles in the stream of sunlight. I take in Tosca’s scent. Listen to our breathing together. This time, Tosca and I walk in synch first time – in flow – with Tosca walking backwards all the way to the corner. The magic of interpersonal synchrony.
If this is what Tosca and I can create together, what might be possible in my human relationships?
I have always believed that by touching emotion you get the best people to work with you, the best clients to inspire you, the best partners and most devoted customers.
• Kevin Roberts
My time with Tosca reinforces the concepts I use in coaching and leadership. Establishing relationship depends on bringing warmth and a deep presence to what’s happening within me, sensing what’s happening with others. and checking into the space in-between. I need not fear my own power – or others’ – nor be so surprised when people actually want to be led by me. That surprise or disbelief can cause me to hesitate. The hesitation can make others uncertain of what I’m communicating. It helps to remember that others are also at choice, rather than fearing that they will follow me blindly.
Becoming aware of your own feelings, deciding how you want to show up, and releasing expectations are all strategies that can help you to infuse a space with presence, power and warmth. You can take these strategies into any environment where you share an emotional space with others – including horses! This was just the first step into my relationship with Tosca and Dinah, as Nicole and I will continue exploring emotional and social intelligence, relationship system intelligence, and that magic that can exist between us when we get it right.
Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems.
Question | Are you aware of the emotional landscape of your team?
Want to explore these ideas further?
- Supporting collaboration with a psychological safety net
- Leadership that inspires
- Trusting the tension of creative change