Often, it’s harder for men (than women) to seek out a coach. If they’ve been asked to work with a coach by their organisation, men start of being resistant and not as engaged. Research also demonstrates that retaining men in coaching is harder. As coaches, we can feel that we’re not doing something right! However, some insights on this behaviour, typical of men, is provided by masculinity ideology and gender role theory. In simple terms, this theory states that men are socialised, right from childhood, to adhere to a persona in which they are supposed to be tough, strong, not show emotion, fear, or failure. They are taught to be self-dependent and independent, and seeking help is akin to admitting failure. Think about your very successful, high achieving, powerful, alpha-male client. Envied by the world, they may struggle with relationship issues, a feeling of loneliness, finding meaning and purpose, and a fatigue deep within.
No doubt men differ on how much they internalize this ideology, ranging from very traditional (to those who adhere strongly) to more egalitarian (those who are open to questioning, and refusing strong adherence). The challenge is with those who adhere strongly to masculinity ideology (even though they may put up a façade that supposes otherwise). Such men face anxiety and stress as they struggle to deal with the conflicts that arise when their adherence to masculinity ideology puts them in situations that demand a different response.
In such situations, men find it easier to go through intrapersonal and interpersonal distress rather than seek help. Research points to the harmful consequences of this: higher alcohol intake, use of drugs, increased sexual risks, loneliness, less relationship satisfaction and so on. Such men also find themselves in higher social conflicts, personal animosities and so on. These create additional psychological strain and a vicious cycle starts. Another contributor to the emotional turmoil that men struggle with is the stigma attached to needing and asking for emotional and psychological support. Therefore, coaches need to understand that a man’s social context and worldview can limit an effective coaching engagement. Interested stakeholders (such as HR and L&D) can aggravate the situation by selling coaching as the ‘help’ that this high achieving male needs, thereby setting up the relationship for sabotage and failure.
When working with men, some strategies coaches can use is to build safety and security around the process of coaching, build the confidence of men as they start the engagement, address some of their concerns and defuse the stigma around them by pointing to successful men who work with coaches, help them focus on the goals and objectives that they want to achieve in the process, be patient as they work through reorienting their beliefs.
As a coach, you can improve your own effectiveness by working with a coaching supervisor who can help you think through your cases, provide additional perspectives, knowledge, tools, and resources. And help you manage your own feelings and anxieties – all in confidence. Connect with us on firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Sobiraj, S., Rigotti, T., Weseler, D., & Mohr, G. (2105). Masculinity ideology and psycholgocial strain: Considering men’s social stressors in female-dominated occupations. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 54-66. doi:10.1037/a0035706
McDermott, R. C., & Schwartz, J. P. (2013). Toward a better understanding of emerging adult men’s gender role journeys: Differences in age, education, race, relationship status, and sexual orientation. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14(2), 202-210. doi:10.1037/a0028538
adult men’s gender role journeys: Differences in age, education, race, relationship status, and sexual orientation. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14(2), 202-210. doi:10.1037/a0028538