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Emotions for beginners

Unlock your doors

I’m Irish. That means I have access to the full range of two emotions: “Grand” and “Ah, sure, ya know yerself”.

The idea of “knowing yourself” is deeply suspect in Ireland. It’s not illegal, but decidedly dubious, and possibly American. If you are confronted by this phrase, by the way, the correct response is to focus on the weather as the source of all the evils. How could anyone be happy in this rain? Or sun. We accept that we are all miserable from a common external cause, easily resolved by emigrating.

So I emigrated. To the UK. That didn’t solve the weather problem. But on the positive side, no-one expected me to talk about my emotions here, too. The UK is not famous for its emotional fluency, or for its weather. It is even more famous than Ireland for talking about the weather. So I got along just grand.

Until recently. 


I decided about a year ago to move into coaching. I’d been doing it intermittently for some years, and deeply enjoyed what I’d learned and done. So, decided to move into it as a full time role, and to do a Post Graduate Certificate course in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching (and the University of Chester) as part of the credentialing.

And guess what? It turns out there are more emotions than “grand” and “ah, sure….”! Lots of them! They have names, and everything! 

Yeah, I mightn’t have been the most in-touch-with-my-emotions person on the course. 


So. Here’s how the course broadly works:

  • Tutor teaching on a topic – usually involving some tool or technique, sometimes with a demo
  • Students break out in twos or threes to try using this on each other 
  • One person acts as coachee, the other as coach; then swap roles

Here’s the fun bit: as a coachee, you have to bring a problem to the table – and discuss it for a full 30 minutes. Without being able to talk about the weather instead, or joke, or change the subject, or make a coffee – or any of my usual evasion tactics. 

When you’re selecting a problem, you’re meant to look for a mid range problem. “If ‘1’ is deciding what to have for dinner, and ‘10’ is bereavement or divorce – look for something that’s about a ‘5’”. 

This meant I had to find things that I’d merrily bypassed as ‘grand’; acknowledge to myself that they were not, in fact, grand, and weigh them up in the emotional scales to check that they’re suitable to bring in. 


Having to acknowledge that things were not, in fact, grand, can be a surprisingly difficult exercise. And after a lifetime of not talking about any slightly negative emotions, I found they burst out in a frankly uncomfortable way. 

Small things that I knew were trivial – emotionally as well as logically – could have me close to tears, just by dint of expressing any negative emotion at all. Apprehensiveness about having to do sales. Annoyance at a friend’s joke-not-joke. Memories of trivia from distant past jobs. All the stuff that was grand, turned out to be a bit less so if you dragged it out of me, kicking and screaming.

For even more fun, you’ll find that what you thought was a nice little 5 – “the presenting problem” – actually isn’t. “The actual problem” underlying it might be far higher on the scale. So, a fairly practical problem around setting up a new business turned into a conversation about my underlying fears, covering the whole baggage of success, confidence and abilities. Dammit. 


I learned. And I spoke. And discovered that it’s not so bad. Getting stuff out there and into words – and having more questions asked that pull out deeper answers after the first glib ones – leaves you feeling lighter and clearer. So that’s what the Americans have been doing for all these years! And I discovered that the messy bits about emotions are where the magic happens as a coach – clients, too, are startled at the emotions that come out of them from ‘stupid’ things. Holding the space for them lets them transform.

In Short…

So, anyway, it turns out you have to know-yourself to really be grand – and not-grand, and all the shades in between. And you can be a perfectly successful practical coach without emotional articulacy. But with it, you can be a transformational coach. Occasionally, at least.
Want to know more? is my website where you can book a free 30 minute introductory session.

Lir Cowman

Lir Cowman

Business and Personal Coach / Delivery Consultant

25+ years experience in the corporate world at a senior level. Pragmatic, calm and positive approach. A coach who's been there and done that. I love coaching as a way to help folks achieve practical - even transformational - change; it's even more useful than consulting background. Executive, Business, Life and Career coaching are my primary areas, with occasional Agile and Team coaching. I'm generally holistic, though - there's too much overlap between personal and business to exclude either realm. Much as I love NLP and TA and many of the other focus areas of coaching, I take a cross disciplinary approach, adapting techniques as needed.

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