Meret Nehe

Coaching in crisis – 3 questions

Learnings from the Coaches Training Circle applied to being in a current and future global crises.

By Meret Nehe, coach and facilitator, Germany


The current state of the world shows us that crisis is a part of life. And also that crisis is here to stay. I want to be honest with you: as a facilitator and a coach in sustainability and transformation, I have often tried to escape from that realisation. Why? I am born an absolute optimist, and in all the bad I always see something that gives me hope. That is a gift, but it comes with a downside. My ‘positivity bias’ has meant that I have always unconsciously shied away from calling the massive challenges we are facing in our socio-ecological systems a sustainability crisis. I didn’t want to scare anyone away with that terrible term crisis, which to me always sounds like a finger nail slowly being scratched down a blackboard.

Then I participated in the Climate Change Coaching Coach Training Circle last winter. My main intention in participating in the circle with 10 fellow coaches was to feel even more rooted in my skills as a practitioner in the field and to get a clearer idea of the kinds of people that I want to coach. Those intentions were met as a lot of my work got clearer for me throughout the circle. Besides all of that however, I also finally allowed myself to realise: this is a crisis. A global one. Here to stay. No matter how hopeful my optimist self is about the possibility of altering the course of humanity, and about the beauty of the socio-ecological transformation we will be able to manage, I also have to admit that currently we are all deep down in that crisis. We are all part of it, without any easy way out.

The above might sound like bad news. But it wasn’t for me. On the contrary, finally admitting to myself that I am actually coaching on and in crisis opened up a deeper dimension of my work with rich learnings for myself.

And then, just a few weeks after that realisation, COVID-19 came around the corner. First, I was in shock, paralysed by the wave of pain, fear, despair and uncertainty that that virus has and is spreading worldwide. Another global crisis. Another complex issue. Again, the need for many individual and local contextual responses. After the first days of paralysation (staring at screens and in endless conversations with everyone around me how bad this feels), I had a lightbulb moment: “Haven’t I just learnt so much about me being a coach and facilitator in processes dealing with a big global crisis? Couldn’t the learnings from the Coach Training Circle also help me as a person and as a coach in the current situation?”  The answer was yes, yes they were, and tremendously helpful. The following questions and reflections are those that stayed with me beyond the Circle.


Question 1 – Which values are guiding me? What do I want to see more of in the world?

The reality is (and has always been): The world is ever-changing. It has and will continue to do so. Things are and feel complex. And solutions to the several crises we are (and will continue to be) facing as humanity usually don’t come with easy fixes that one could clearly justify as ‘the right ones’. It is confusing and it’s sometimes damned hard to accept that the truth is not black and white.

Because the effects of the COVID-19 crisis are so immediate, it is currently inevitable to ask myself again and again ‘Who do I want to be in times of crisis?’ The past weeks showed me in very immediate responses what my heart wants and considers right (instead of my head). That makes it very easy for me to re-discover what my core values are, and that I want to strengthen and see more of in the future.

For example: Benevolence. I am noticing that I admire those leaders who truly try to do good for society. Which often means showing vulnerability, daring to admit that they do not know all the answers.

Solidarity and responsibility. In my network and community, I highly value those who show solidarity, who put the safety of others above their own interests. I appreciate those friends and family members with safe incomes who offer financial support if I need it. Those landlords that dispense rents. Those politicians that cut their salaries in solidarity with those most affected.
Empathy. I deeply respect those who continue conversations even though we might have a different view on what is right or wrong.

This is a compass for me: past COVID-19, I will still be inherently motivated by those values. These (and some more) core values are and will strongly be guiding me in the future.


Question 2 – Which big emotions am I noticing within me?

In the Coach Training Circle I was introduced to this quote by psychologist Susan David: “When we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity, we lose our capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be”. It emphasises that it is normal and healthy to feel and show strong emotional responses towards the current global situation.

With COVID-19, I couldn’t escape from all the big emotions because that crisis came directly and inevitablu into my life. I felt, and sometimes still feel, mainly scared that the elder ones in my family or friends of mine with chronic diseases might get sick; that they won’t get the best medical treatment possible and that they might die. I feel scared that society will show it’s dark face and that egoism, anger and segregation will win over the good.

Differently, my experience with the sustainability crisis is that we often don’t even open up that window of big emotions (probably because we pretend that the effects of that crisis are not going to impact our lives or those of our loved ones). But when I allow myself to let those big emotions emerge, I feel scared about wars that could happen because of scarce natural resources. I feel sad about the uncertain future for our oceans and woods. I wonder if, as an old lady, I will still feel happy to jump into the Baltic Sea! And I feel anger at representatives of older generations who make fun of courageous and brave young activists.

Yet as the optimist that I am, here is the positive part: allowing big emotions makes space for a perspective shift. The anger, grief, fear which find their way out from time to time, resulting in tears, melancholic days, and clear words of discomfort, create space within me for new questions and possibilities: what if I focus on all those things that are still there? On those things that still will be there? On the new possibilities emerging?


Question 3 – Whom and what do I need to stay healthy? How do I build up resilience?

As I want to be a good coach and facilitator, a good support for others, I want to make sure that I myself can stay sane and healthy in these crises. Self-care is tremendously important if you do this kind of work and it does feel like a huge privilege to be able to do that.

To build and keep up my resilience, I focus on those patterns and people that give me energy. I keep up connections with the people I love and trust. If (as is currently the case) this is not possible in person, then I make time for calls, letters and postcards to share thoughts.

I also regularly need moments to just be by myself. I used to enjoy those moments of quiet when swimming in the pool (currently closed) or when traveling by train (currently not allowed). So now I am trying to find new moments for that alone time, perhaps by simply listening to music on my sofa or going for a walk in the sun (if only for 10 minutes in the morning before my first call). I also need to disconnect and switch off my phone at night. I have learned that it helps me to read the news only twice per day and not the COVID-19 news feeds.

I am truly grateful for these learnings that the Coach Training Circle allowed to happen. Who would have guessed just a few months ago that ‘coaching in times of crisis’ would take on a whole new meaning so quickly? The questions above have not only helped me throughout the current COVID-19 crisis. I am also noticing that they are already strengthening my facilitation and coaching in processes concerning the sustainability and climate crisis in the longer term. I hope they might be beneficial for you as well.


Meret Nehe is a professional coach and facilitator based in the North of Germany.  Meret works with corporate and private 1:1 clients as well as with groups such as young leaders through the influential, European Climate-KIC programme ‘The Journey’.  She was part of our second Coach Training Circle cohort in 2019 and we are really delighted to hear her reflections and that the training continues to be useful in both the coronavirus here-and-now and the climate-future.


Perhaps you would like to reflect on these questions too?

1 – Which values are guiding me? What do I want to see more of in the world?

2 – Which big emotions am I noticing within me?

3 – Whom and what do I need to stay healthy? How do I built up resilience?