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Going Into Resistance

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation
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As emotional issues come up, our clients may experience resistance. As coaches, rather than resisting the client’s resistance, we flow with what is happening in a given moment. Th at doesn’t mean we just let the client wander around aimlessly or that we passively accept oppression or harm. It means when blocks or obstacles arise, we embrace them with curiosity. As a spiritual attitude, we choose to face challenges and explore resistance without trying to change it. Facing whatever troubles arise frees up all the physical and emotional energy that would otherwise be spent in resistance.

If we hear, “I don’t want to talk about that,” or “This is a waste of time,” we use our intuition as we explore. Especially when people are very raw or sensitive around emotional issues, we don’t drag them into the process. We let them come to it in their own time. We respect when people don’t want to work on certain issues or emotions. However, deep exploration is a means of getting through to powerful places; so we don’t avoid what we sense is rich territory. We honor the healer within by exploring resistance to emotions.

Move toward the resistance

If the client is “grinding away” trying to push through the resistance, we can ask to simply stop and go into the experience of the resistance.

What is it like being right where you are now?

Get curious

We can get really curious about the resistance, rather than trying to get people out of or through the resistance.

What do you notice about this part of you that does not want you to have awareness of your

body. Where are you noticing it? What color is it? Touch it—what do you sense there?

Identify the needs behind the resistance

Assuming that people act in their own best interest, we can uncover the motivating forces by peeling the onion and identifying the needs they are trying to meet.

What needs are you meeting by protecting yourself?

No need to “rescue”

There is no need to do anything about resistance, no need to direct them out of it, and no need to rescue them. Humor, caring, love and empathy all help the resistance shift organically.

What if we took a step into it together?

Recognize bracing

Resistance shows up as “bracing against” something. The key is learning how to recognize bracing and also see what they are embracing when they brace against something. What is the yes behind the no? We attune our listening for that energetic stance of “arms out in front, holding something at bay.” There is no need to do anything about this; just bring our clients’ awareness to it by articulating what we notice.

I sense you are braced, like you are holding back your desire. What is in that?

People have a choice about whether to explore emotions. When we hold that choice for our clients, we help them break the automatic reflex to resist. When we hold that people always have choice, there is a sense of control and investment—a partnership dedicated to their growth and understanding.

We can also invite people to exaggerate their bracing or amplify their voice. If we ask them to take a posture or a movement that embodies what they are bracing against and have them hold it, they can be fully present and experience it on a direct level. By going into it directly, often change will happen, and certainly more awareness will result. If the person being coached reports out while in this experience, they can move through it, gain the insights that come up and have the freedom to make the choice to shift.

Explore negations

When clients say that something is not happening they imply that it is at least in their mind, but disowned or rejected. Instead of negating their negations, we can accept them and get curious. For instance, here are some possible responses that honor the client’s negation, yet keep the door open.

Client: I don’t want to talk about my boss today.

Coach: Because you are protecting yourself from…?

Client: I went out on a date with him, but nothing happened.

Coach: Nothing?

Client: I’m not stressed out.

Coach: So if you’re not stressed, what are you feeling?

Client: My mother doesn’t think I should become a lawyer.

Coach: And your viewpoint?

Client: I am not scared.

Coach: Of what?

Client: I wasn’t sad.

Coach: About what?

Asking wicked questions

Wicked questions are designed to help clients explore biases, assumptions and contradictions. The answers aren’t obvious, because the questions are often paradoxical or worthy of deep reflection.


What’s wrong with being a workaholic?

How can you get your children to be more connected to the family yet more independent?

What’s wonderful about stress?

How can you be completely dedicated to your writing and yet fully present for your partner?

How is anger your friend?

What are the benefits of being a marginalized queer woman?

What’s so bad about ignoring your loved ones?

What’s positive about not having enough money?

What if your behavior is sexist?

What is a good reason why your stepmother is acting so unreasonably?

What is dying to be born?

What are the questions you cannot ask yourself?

What if you do flunk out?

The purpose of “wicked” questions is to support breakthroughs, question biases and liberate us from old ways of thinking.

Conflicting signals

Conflicting signals can lead us into the unknown. If the mouth is smiling, but not the eyes, we can encourage the client to observe their body which often amplifies the signals and increases awareness. If we name a conflicting signal with a hint of judgment such as, “You say you’re open, but your arms are crossed,” the client may move into denial, “I’m just cold," or "This is a comfortable position for me.” Our curiosity, openness and eagerness to explore are paramount if we want clients to delve into the great mystery of their physical expression. A loving attitude supports the natural flow and includes trusting that a way forward will emerge. Instead of trying to heal clients or solve their problems, trusting their process shows the way forward and puts less pressure on the client to change or do things differently.

Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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