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Home » Blog » Coaching Grief, Fear and Anger with Dan Newby

On the latest episode of Coaching Matters we dived deep into the sea of emotions. With Dan Newby we understood that we all have got issues with our emotions. We all need to get better in dealing with our own life. In your coaching interactions, how do you acknowledge feelings like grief, fear, and anger? But when we are dealing with grief, when we’re dealing with fear or anger how can we bring a balance to the coaching conversation?

Here is a transcripted version of the conversation that followed.


Three Criterion of Emotions

“Anger is an emotion and we can talk more about that. Grief for me is not a single emotion.”

Everyone I would say, well, fear is an emotion, and we’ll talk more about that as an emotion. Anger is an emotion and we can talk more about that. Grief for me is not a single emotion. And I think there’s been lots of study, lots of writing on this, that grief is more a process of adaptation to loss, and it often includes a number of emotions.

So any of us who have travelled that road through grief know that we may have experienced denial. We may have experienced just belief or encourage you with it. We just couldn’t believe that that had happened because it felt so, so horrible to us. We may have felt guilt or self-blame wondering if we have done enough, we may have experienced anger or self anger.

We may have experienced sadness. It’s quite common. And finally, maybe acceptance and hope. So. When I look at grief, I see it to be quite different than working with fear or anger, but let’s go a little deeper into each of these. 

So the first question is how do we know?

Well, for me, in my view, emotions have to meet these three criteria, which is a consistent, universal, underlying narrative or story. So what we’re thinking or what we believe, and it never changes when we feel the emotion of sadness, it’s always telling us that we’ve lost something we care about. It’s not just enough to lose something.

We have to have cared about it as well. And that never changes. The sadness is always connected with this thought or with this belief that we have. And one of the things that’s so interesting to me about emotions is we don’t even have to have lost it. We just have to believe we have lost it. And we may be sad because you know, our dog ran away and we loved her dog.

The moment our dog shows us, we feel happy. Right? So the sadness disappears because we actually. Only are sad when we believe that we’ve lost something that we care about, every emotion has an impulse. Once in a while, it does become tough to navigate the conversation around these emotions.

Just noticing that we feel like we would like to give is an indicator that maybe we’re in the emotion of generosity. And every emotion has a purpose. So empathy, for instance, allows us to feel what others are feeling to connect with them emotionally.

And so if I can reduce any idea down to these three, then I would call it an emotion. So this is my interpretation. It’s not universal, but it’s, it’s the way that I make sense of emotions and begin to look at them from a logical perspective and a perspective that I can deconstruct in a simple way so that I can make sense of emotions.

Why is Grief More ComplexThan Anger and Fear?

When I think about grief, it actually is much more complex than that. I can’t reduce grief to a single underlying narrative or story or impulse because the impulses in grief tend to change over time. Or even the purpose, I can see a purpose in grief to help me adapt to something that’s been traumatic in my life or very difficult.

Understanding The Emotional Being We Are

Let’s look at them from this perspective as we are emotional beings. It’s not a choice, right? We don’t get to choose.

If we’re going to have emotions, we have emotions. They’re the energy that moves us. It’s just that simple: when we feel the emotion of laziness, we want to lay on the sofa. And when we feel the emotion of ambition, we want to go out and run a marathon. So they’re all about the energy that’s moving us, which is where the word originated.

They’re not inherently positive or negative. Any emotion can serve us or not serve us in a given moment. So sometimes generosity serves us and sometimes it depletes us. So fear, generosity, even joy can serve us or. It can take away. It can be a barrier to what’s happening in our lives. They exist to serve us.

And I think this was a key distinction about emotions and the way that I see it, they’re not bothered or some they’re not there to irritate me or annoy me. They’re there to serve me. So why are they showing up? Why is this emotion showing up right now? And what’s it trying to tell them? They’re not fixed.

They come and go. And also I can learn to shift my emotions. So I’m not, I’m not a victim to my emotions. Right. I can choose an emotion to generate, have a certain conversation that requires that emotion or to attend a funeral or to attend a party. Right. It’s up to me. I can choose to be logical and predictable and we can’t control them, but we can navigate them.

We can learn how to use them. And one of the final ones for me, that’s a really great beginning place is to realise that our emotions are our own responsibility. When I say I’m angry. Well, it’s my responsibility.The anger in me, it’s a result of my story. It’s a result of my experiences, my interpretation.

Nobody else can make me happy. Nobody else would make me sad. Nobody else can make me angry. And I think that if we’re working with fear and anger, for instance, this is a really important point. We need to remember that. Yes, but that’s my experience. 

In my view, they do this, they connect our thoughts, ideas, or plans with our actions. And my view is that this is the simple role that emotions have for us. It’s absolutely critical because if there were no emotions, how would everything that’s happening here? Turn into action in our lives. So by paying attention to emotions, we can begin to see how they move, how our thoughts and beliefs move into action.

Deconstruction of Emotion to Redefine

Why do we behave the way we behave? Why do other people do the things they do since suddenly people begin to make a lot more sense when we have these three elements, all being taken into consideration. So let’s look at fear through this lens. If you feel fear, then your thoughts are something like, well, that might harm me.

I’m aware that there might be danger in some way, but in fear, I’m also pretty clear what that danger is, right. To be hit by a bus, to, to get COVID, to, uh, to run out of money. Like I can name the fear that I’m experiencing, but what it allows me to do, that’s so helpful is to avoid whatever danger I perceive.

So fear alerts us to possible danger and allows us to avoid harm. And this is. In my view, it is very important when we go to begin coaching, because fear has the reputation of being a negative emotion. Often it’s uncomfortable. Often people want to get rid of fear. They run away from fear. They try to mask fear.

They deny fear because it’s a very uncomfortable emotion. And often we don’t know what to do with it, but if we can see the purpose, if we can see the value, then we’re much more willing to allow the fear to be there, to step back and take a look at it, to think about it, to consider it. Let’s look at anger through that land as well.

It’s exactly the same deconstruction, but a different story is that anger. Means that I believe something is just or morally wrong. Again. It is, to me , morally wrong. It means I believe that, and this explains to us why I can be angry about something, but my best friend might not be because we understand it differently.

We interpret it differently. But what anger allows us to do is address injustice by either stopping the injustice to punish the source of the injustice, but it gives us the ability to distinguish what we believe is morally right, and morally wrong and to do something about it. So anger tells us what we believe is unjust and allows us to stop or resolve the injustice that we perceive.

But now let’s look at grief through these lands. Well, here’s grief is that something happens in our lives. Somebody leaves. Somebody dies. Our dog runs away. Something happens that triggers emotions for us. And it’s something that’s generally, it’s quite big. It’s very difficult for us to adapt quickly.

Stop Saying Anger, Fear and Grief Are Negative in Coaching

So if we begin to think about coaching with emotions, there are certain things that I think are critical if we want to work in this area. And the first one is. Because we often are uncomfortable with strong emotions, one of the questions that I would ask is does the coachee want to change their emotion?

Imagine you have a coachee, who is very angry about something. Well, now, you know, what, what they’re angry about is something they consider unjust. That’s morally wrong. That shouldn’t have happened just because they feel that anger doesn’t mean they should try to get rid of it. Anger does its work. Anger has its purpose.

Anger fuels us to resolve in justice, but sometimes coachees are also very uncomfortable with their emotions. So one of the first questions I asked once we acknowledged the emotion, whether it’s fear, whether it’s anger, whether it’s some other emotion so the coachee is telling me they want to shift this emotion.

They want to get rid of it. They’re sick of it. Are they really right? Has it done its work? And that’s one question, why do they want to shift it? Do they believe the emotion has fulfilled its purpose? Has it informed them as much as it’s going to, has it given them the energy to change whatever they think needs to be changed or do they want to change their emotion, shift their emotion because they dislike how it feels or they have a judgement about the emotion.

I shouldn’t feel anger. I shouldn’t feel fear, right? Because we have lots of stories about emotions and whether it’s okay to be in those emotions or whether we should try to get out of those emotions. So I think this is an essential place to begin. Once we begin to identify the emotion is, does, does the coachee, you want to change their emotion because they may not.

And the second is why. So here’s the bottom line for me, there are no inherently positive or negative emotions. Fear can serve, anger can serve. All of those emotions you saw in grief can serve us. 

So the question is, are they[emotions]?  The suggestion I would make to you is, do not fall into the trap of believing that your coachee should read him or herself out of anger or fear because you or they assess it to be negative.

So step back, take a dispassionate, look at anger or at fear and decide, is it serving you? Is it helping you? Will it help you if you stay there? Even if it’s uncomfortable. So for me, this is a fantastic beginning place. And if we, as coaches, are not comfortable with our coachees emotions. So we will chase away those emotions.

We will judge them as wrong, or we will judge that our coachee should move out of that emotion and it would be better for them, but sometimes those emotions are doing their work and we need to let them be. 

(To know more on navigating emotions in a coaching session, keep checking our Coaching Matters sessions.)

About Dan Newby

Dan Newby is the founder and leader of School of Emotions, working with partners worldwide to elevate emotional literacy, and offering courses for coaches, leaders, and parents to build a foundational understanding of emotions.


Dan is driven by his personal experience of the impact emotional literacy and learning can have as well as its profound importance in professional activities. All human beings are emotional beings which makes emotional mastery an essential competence for anyone working to improve services and collaboration.

He is the author of ‘The Unopened Gift: A Primer in Emotional Literacy’ and ‘The Field Guide to Emotions’ as well as co-creator of Emoji™ Emotion Cards, a tool for facilitation and teaching emotional literacy. His background includes training as an educator and twenty years as an ontological coach. He has been CEO of Newfield Network, considered one of the premier coaching schools globally, and has been a business leader for many years.