Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Sex, Sexuality & Gender ~ Uncomfortable to talk about, but useful for all coaches

We are pleased to share an article entitled “Sex, Sexuality &Gender ~ Uncomfortable to talk about but useful for all coacheswritten by Matthew Bennett.

Julie fidgeted in her chair while she considered her answer to her coach’s question. This was the moment that could make or break their professional relationship. She’d been avoiding discussing her personal life for the past few sessions, always focusing on office-based challenges. However, when the coach asked her how her circumstances outside of work were influencing her energy levels at work, she felt backed into a corner.

“I … I notice that when I’ve had an argument with my husband, or my kids are playing up, I come into work in a bad mood that lasts all day,” she stammered. “I’m less resilient and less focused.”

She couldn’t meet her coach’s eye, praying that the coach wouldn’t judge her for being married with kids. The coach paused, taking in the new information about Julie’s life. “I see,” he said, clearly trying to remain non-judgmental. “Tell me some of the things that you do that help you get over the bad mood.”

Julie took a deep breath. This was the all-or-nothing moment she had known was coming for weeks. “I … I … go to yoga class. And sometimes – not always, and always in private – I … meditate.”

A week later, Julie received an email from her coach: “Dear Julie: It’s been a pleasure working with you for the last few months. However, I suspected that you were holding something back. I was a bit taken aback by your relationship status. Some of my best friends are also straight and I understand that love is love. But I am afraid that your choice to go to yoga – let alone to meditate – is against my values. I feel that it would be unethical for me to continue to work with you. I have attached a list of coaches who I believe are more able to work with you going forward. Best wishes, Bob.”

Julie’s story happens every day. But not because of being straight or practicing yoga or meditation. Clearly, those are ‘acceptable’ in society.

Unfortunately, being LGBTQ+, polyamorous, a swinger, or into something like kink or BDSM are still seen by too many as things that people do not wish to talk about in business settings.

My coaching practice is based entirely around the fact that people need to be able to discuss all aspects of their lives if they want to be successful. Many of my clients have told me that they have worked with other professionals (coaches, therapists, colleagues) who have shown judgments about their lifestyles. Judgment creates a barrier that, at the very least, means that the client must work harder to hold back parts of their story that make them feel unsafe.

At its worst, judgment can cause shame and have a negative impact on mental health.

For some non-LGBTQ+ people, ‘pronouns’ has become a dirty word. You may have what to you is an obvious gender identity. If you’re a man, you may dress in a suit and wear your hair short with no make-up. If you’re a woman, you may look feminine. For you, stating “My pronouns are he/him” or “she/her” may seem ridiculous, or at least redundant.

However, to a person who has a more complicated gender identity, what they’re hearing is that you’re open to the fact that someone’s identity may not be as it seems. For a non-binary person, or someone who is trans but has not yet changed their outward appearance at work, this helps them feel like they can be their true self with you.

One of my clients was having a very stressful time at work. As we dug into his story, it became clear that he enjoyed being spanked on the weekend. It was his stress release. For the weeks preceding our discussion, he was unable to have this outlet and was increasingly finding the stress from work building up.

He knew I held no judgment about this. I was able to help him uncover what spanking gave him. We discovered that time taken with a trusted partner in an impact-play session provided: endorphin release (others get this from exercise); connection with his scene partner; a time to come out of his brain and into his body (similar to mindfulness); and something to look forward to during the week which made the week feel a bit shorter. Once we did that, we were able to help him find a new way of meeting these needs.

Many business, executive, career and financial coaches believe that sex, sexuality, gender identity and the like are irrelevant to the discussions they have with coaching clients. My argument is that every aspect of a person’s life has an impact on the other parts of a person’s life.

Remember the last time you had an emotional event at home (whether it was an argument with your significant other, a marriage proposal, a health scare or a good night out), and think about the impact it had on your work. Then think about the times you’ve had a tough (or great) day at work, and how that has impacted on you in your downtime and personal relationships.

Humans’ brains don’t have the boundaries that our calendars suggest that we have. We don’t become new people when we walk into and out of the office. We bring with us the emotions, the stress, the energy and so much more that we had just before walking through that door.

Coaches who don’t acknowledge the people side of their clients and stick only to the workplace challenges are unlikely to be as effective as those who go beyond the surface level of their clients’ lives, opening the floor for deep discussions that really make a difference to our clients’ success.

There is, of course, always an issue if you have a strong moral value that is being challenged by a client. If a client disclosed certain extreme political views, I would find it very hard to coach them. There are some business practices that I would find it impossible to remain impartial over. If your feeling is as extreme about someone who discloses their gender identity, sexuality or sexual behaviors, then it would be unethical for you to continue to work with them. You’re unlikely to be able to work totally from the client’s point of view.

For many people, though, the problem won’t be a values- or morals-driven challenge. It will be more about opening your mind to the possibilities and helpfulness of allowing the client a space to explore their whole lives.

I am not suggesting that you walk into your next coaching session and say, “I read an article in choice about discussing sexuality in coaching. Tell me what you’re into, and then we can discuss how it impacts your sales figures.”

My suggestion is to listen for the subtle signals that a client would like to talk about more than the surface issues that they have in their work lives. The client who answers, “What did you do on the weekend?” with, “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you!” or “You don’t want to know!” is actually opening the door for you to reply with, “You can tell me if you think it would be useful to our discussion. Nothing is off the table here.”

The male client who describes their partner as “they” or “my spouse” all the time may be working hard to avoid using “he” or “my boyfriend” so they don’t have to discuss their sexuality. You can simply say, “I’ve noticed that you always refer to your partner as ‘they.’ In confidence, would it be easier if I knew their name?” Many gay or bi men will understand that you’re reaching out and offering them the opportunity to be more themselves.

There are many reasons that people hide parts of themselves in the workplace. Over your next few coaching sessions, open your mind and heart to your clients and listen carefully. Notice when someone is self-censoring and question what part you’ve had to play in enforcing the need for censorship.

And if someone does disclose a part of their life to you that you’re surprised, shocked or even appalled by, use the Julie story to check. If you replace the thing they’ve said with ‘yoga,’ is it so awful?

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