Positive psychology in coaching

The person I’m currently coaching always comes to our sessions with a very negative downbeat attitude and seems focused on their failures rather than taking any positive actions. I’m finding it hard to maintain a positive atmosphere in our coaching sessions. Is there anything I can do to bring this person into a more positive mindset?

In the continued climate of turbulence and austerity, organisational life seems particularly tough.  There is such drive to do more with less and people are feeling stressed and under significant pressure.  Your client may well be in this place.

Our job is not to “fix” the client and provide an upbeat atmosphere, but exploring how this attitude serves them could be fruitful.  As coaches our work encompasses supporting clients to build coping strategies, creating opportunities for catharsis and reflection, setting goals, creating action plans and celebrating success.  Coaching should be safe space for quality thinking and exploring tough issues and challenges, and it does not sound as if your client is making the most of this wonderful opportunity.

Some of the tools and techniques from positive psychology could be very useful here.  Encourage your client to envisage an ideal outcome, support them to take stock and think about how they might move forward.

When clients are stuck, ask them for examples of times in their lives when they were really “in flow” – wrapped up in what they were doing and time passed quickly.  Typically they describe bringing the best of themselves to a situation and as a result often performing at their best.   This exploration can shift the clients’ state of mind, increase their energy and motivation and help identify their core values and drivers.  The coaching job then becomes working with the client to establish what is missing (or not being used or connected) and how can they get more of this in their work and lives.