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Showing Your Clients How to Be Alert and Not Alarmed with James Flaherty

July 12, 2021


“Coaching is about integrating all the different parts of us. Because from our wholeness there are ways we can know ourselves and ways we can be in touch with our own resourcefulness and that also lets us be in touch with the whole part of other people.”

-James Flaherty

Listen to the Podinar:

Being alert and not alarmed are the characteristics most needed in our time. When we are calm and present, we can contact our inner resources and be a helpful source in our world. In this session, Alison Whitmire, President of Learning In Action, is joined by James Flaherty to explore what it takes to generate this presence and how we can show our clients to be alert and not alarmed.

James Flaherty is the founder of New Ventures West and a co-founder of Integral Leadership LLC. He is also the author of Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others, a text widely recognized as seminal in the field of coach education and used internationally at universities and coach training institutions. James designed the Professional Coaching course and dozens of other programs over the past two decades, and has led coaching and leadership courses involving 1000s of people throughout North America, South Africa, Asia and Europe. He has also coached top executives at Fortune 500 companies, and is a highly sought-after speaker.

Discovering Our Client’s Essence

For many coaches, the first step in working with a new client is to uncover an essential positive quality in our client that we can reflect back to them — we may think of it as their essence or true nature. We all have a number of positive qualities and in this case, the idea is for the coach to tune into the one quality that’s most prominent in the moment and that is most deeply connected with the coaching issue our client has named. When we can accurately identify our client’s essence, just saying it out loud can be incredibly powerful. It has the potential to awaken something in them that feels deeper, more grounded, and more true than the personality they’ve constructed or the skill set they may identify with. For our clients, discovering their essence is a returning to something that is strong, rooted, and energizing — and it can become a powerful foundation for the rest of our coaching.

How do we help our clients to discover their essence? There is no specific method to point to for uncovering our client’s essential quality, much of it happens unconsciously. As coaches, it helps to calm ourselves, quiet our inner chatter, and intentionally cultivate our capacity for presence so we can listen for what’s most important to the client. And when we do land on our client’s essence, it’s a somatic experience — our bodies have a deep way of knowing it’s true.

Alert and Not Alarmed: A Helpful Response to the World

What does it mean to be alert and not alarmed and how can it serve our work as coaches? In these current times, so many of us are overwhelmed with stress. Our nervous systems are set up to handle stress for short periods of time, however, living in a state of alarm for long stretches does damage us. It burns us out and can lead to PTSD, chronic stress, and other trauma-based responses. Stress can also make us less intelligent, less resourceful, and can lead us to regress into our habitual responses or patterns that don’t serve us.

Holding a state of alertness, on the other hand, is about tuning into our intuition, being sensitive, and paying attention. It’s the ability to observe without igniting our nervous system with a fear response. It is a steady kind of presence that helps us to stay with whatever arises for our clients. It’s when we’re alert and present that we have the ability to contact our inner resources, be more creative and intuitive, and be a helpful resource to our clients.

In order for us to be present as coaches and invite our clients to be ready and open, we want to develop our own practice in being present and alert in situations when we would normally be alarmed. We can use longer-term, regular practices such as meditation and then also have some on-the-spot exercises available so that when we have a reactive response, we can self-regulate. We can use grounding techniques such as feeling into the sensations in our feet or breathing practices like the 4-7-8 exercise offered by Dr. Andrew Weil.

Supporting Our Clients to Be Alert Without Alarm

Many of us unconsciously think it’s normal to be in a state of alarm and don’t recognize how this plays out in our lives. Our stress response is a survival mechanism that’s been built in quite early in our childhood. Our clients may believe that in order to really care about something they need to be upset and in a state of alarm. It is our emotional states, however, that facilitate certain reactions and actions.

For example, being in an alarmed emotional state does not serve us to show up as an effective business owner. When we run a business, we may want to take wonderful care of our customers and our employees. It’s likely we also want to look at financial projections and make great plans for the future. If we’re living in a stressful state, we block access to our ability to make smart decisions and to lead with care and skill. It’s in instances such as these where trading a reactive state for a more skillful response of being alert and calm will serve us.

Part of our role as coaches is educating our clients that there are other ways of being in the world. We can encourage our clients to remember what it is they are committed to and show them how calming themselves helps them return to what’s most important.


Showing our clients how to be alert and not alarmed starts with our own ability to regulate ourselves. It allows us to show up more deeply for our clients, reflecting their innate qualities and inviting them to develop a more expansive view of themselves — beyond their culturally accepted skills and identity. When we can be with our clients in a calm and resourced way, and teach them the skillful means to regulate themselves, we create the container for a richer coaching experience.



Website: New Ventures West

Book: Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others

Video: Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 Breath Exercise


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Posted in: Heal The Divide|Podinar Series

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