A referral comes your way.  It comes from an existing client who says he has a friend who is going through an extremely rough time and could really use your help.  In fact, your client shares that the friend was considering the idea of going to a therapist but was told that you are a million times better than a therapist.  So… the stakes are high.  Not only are you expected to deliver, but now your client’s reputation is on the line too. 

You speak to the referral.  His name is Scott.  You can hear his pain through the phone – it’s palpable.  His wife just told him that she wanted a divorce and the CEO of the multi-million dollar conglomerate he works for has just put him on probation after 14 years as the dedicated Chief Marketing Officer of the company.  He can’t understand what’s going on – his whole world is crashing down around him and he is beside himself.  He is desperate.  He is drowning.  

In the traditional coaching world, the circumstance would beckon forth the glorious power of empathy as a key healing mechanism and as a means to bridge the gap between prospect and coach.  At first glance this would seem so appropriate, so soothing, and so therapeutic; however, I urge a deeper examination of this approach.  Let’s begin by defining the term empathy.  According to www.dictionary.com, empathy is defined as “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another”; and the Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  Really, when we look at the term ‘empathy’, the crucial element is the concept of being able to step into the other person’s shoes and feel what they are feeling. 

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In my world, I say… empathy schmempathy.  In this situation, there is no room for empathy and I would even go so far as to say empathy is detrimental when someone is facing a crisis such as this one.  The last thing Scott needs is for his coach to jump into the pool of catastrophe with him to feel the feelings of overwhelm, distraught, and fear and drown right beside him.   What Scott needs is a strong coach who can see through this mess with clarity and calm.  Scott needs a coach with vision who is not at all troubled by this temporary time of turmoil and chaos.  Scott needs a coach who acknowledges his pain, and yet fundamentally understands that this is only a passageway to something much better, something more fulfilling, and something far more aligned with his dreams and life purpose – Scott needs a coach who sees this calamity as an opportunity for growth.

It could be that I am the only coach in the industry to smear the empathy campaign but I do it with all of my heart while holding tight to the vision of success for my clients. I am willing to take the risk of not towing the empathy line in favor of rooting the anchor of strength and resilience for my client. Is it an either/or choice?  In circumstances like this, I am afraid there is no choice.