Cultivating Presence in Coaching

by Barb McAllister, MCC

When I started my coaching training over a decade ago, the consistent feedback I got is “where did you go, you are not present.” First of all, I didn’t know what they meant by this, and secondly it scared me because I had no idea how to “fix” this in myself, and in those days I was really into fixing myself (and others)! The reality for me is I often wasn’t present for my life because I was worrying about the future or regretting the past.

That was then, this is now.  I now know what it means to be present.  Presence is a state of being where I can “be with” whatever shows up in the moment. I am able to witness judgments and feelings without being overwhelmed by them. I recently read something by Eckhart Tolle where he talks about self observation. He says that “…as presence deepens so does our capacity for self observation.” Perhaps because I am more present I can now observe myself with a compassionate detachment.

But how did I learn to be present? Ahhh, that is the question. I wish I could give you a prescription or a step by step process, but I really can’t because I believe each of us has to discover our own path to presence. What I do know is that it begins with developing a healthy relationship with self.  When it felt like everything had fallen apart for me, I began an earnest journey into learning more about my shadow and accepting it. It took divorce and a health scare to break me open and begin the journey. Once I learned to accept all of me, with humor, and trust myself, I began to notice that it was easier and less scary, to truly show up in the moment. I’ve also learned along the way what can bring me back to presence when I get triggered or hooked. Moving my large muscles in hiking, yoga, journaling especially what I’m grateful for, setting a daily intention, and becoming a compassionate witness of self,  all work for me.

The more I have learned to be present with myself, the more I can be present with my clients and whatever they bring to the coaching conversation. To be a Master Coach, you have to learn to gracefully dance with what the client brings to the conversation. Sometimes this is referred to as “holding the space” for the client. It also means acknowledging and addressing the underlying issues, at times the elephant in the room.

For me, being more present for my own life, the joys and the sorrows, has brought clarity, peace and trust. The more I can trust myself, the more I can trust others, including my clients. This trust allows me to believe that whatever is unfolding, even things that are messy in the moment, are absolutely OK, and they don’t need to be “fixed!”


For executive coaching with Barb, schedule a consultation here.