In answering this fundamental question, it is tempting to think about education and practical knowledge. A lot of trainers perhaps thought it would be the latest dietary craze or nutrition understanding. Another logical thought would be new exercise regimes and modalities of exercise and any of these may be useful in the long-term.
The answer to this question is not necessarily obvious but it is something we can all work on. The simple answer is empathy, and this is often misunderstood. Empathy is not any of the following, although often this is how it is understood:
- A case of having had the same experience or problem as your clients.
- Identification with your client
- Let me tell you my story
True empathy is the ability to accurately understand your client’s meaning; it is also, the ability to reflect that accurate understanding back to your client. Deutsch & Madle (1975) describe empathy as a key social skill that concerns a capacity to identify and understand other people’s emotional states. So why should a trainer/coach try to improve this skill?
Empathy is the single best predictor of a high success rate in addiction counselling. This is despite the level of knowledge and experience a counsellor may have. Trainers/coaches who show high levels of empathic skill have clients who are:
- Less resistant
- More likely to stay in programme
- More likely to change
- Less likely to “relapse”
Clearly being empathic with your clients has plenty of advantages and very few downsides. So how do you improve your levels of empathy?
One possible avenue may be to learn mindfulness. Research has found that medical students trained in mindfulness increased self-reported empathy. Similar results have been found in graduate counselling students and among community adults. There are numerous reasons why mindfulness may enhance client empathy. These include an increased sense of relatedness and interpersonal closeness. Generally, research supports that mindfulness also may help enhance interpersonal relationship quality.
As well as benefitting your client learning some basic mindfulness skills may also help your productivity and ultimately your business. In the past 30 years there has been an exponential growth in research around mindfulness. In 1980 there were less than a hundred papers published on mindfulness; fast forward to 2013 and this has risen to 15,000 per year. To date mindfulness has been researched in many fields of human psychology. Of interest to trainers is its relevance to stress reduction, blood pressure and heart disease reduction, Eating disorders, obesity. From a personal work perspective mindfulness training has demonstrated increased productivity in the work place, better creative thinking, and an increased ability to learn.
The real bonus for a trainer/coach is that it is a skill you can learn on your own initially. There are numerous self-help books and online tutorials. Should you get hooked then there is everything from short courses to month long retreats. So perhaps spending some time to develop yourself can ultimately pay major dividends for your clients and your business.