In my previous blog post I described the e-coaching conceptual views, which were shared in our linkedin e-coaching community. The second theme that was addressed in our group was media preferences in coaching. According to our members, media selection might be influenced by several factors, such as “familiarity with the medium, time, type of coaching issue, typing speed, internet connection speed, and value of having a record of coaching sessions. “
Several coaches, members of our group expressed a preference for telephone and/or Skype coaching. Out of 40 members who shared information about their preferred coaching modalities, 26 mentioned telephone and 18 skype. The graph below represents a breakdown of media preferences of 40 e-coaching practitioners, members of our community.
Graph A: Media preferences in our e-coaching community (n=40)
The impact of distance on the coaching relationship – Members´views
Establishing a strong relationship is essential in coaching. But what might be the impact of distance on the coaching relationship? This question was raised in our group. Effective communication is certainly key to rapport building. However, miscommunication may occur when coaching at a distance or face-to-face. As our members argued, “all interactions, whether virtual or face-to-face may be subject to miscommunication”. Moreover, the quality of the coaching relationship depends on various factors:
- “the skill of the coach”
- “the motivation of the client”
- “the frequency of interaction”
- “clarity of goals and expectations”
- “selecting user-friendly media”
What experiences have we made with different media in coaching?
Members of our e-coaching community shared their experiences of coaching through various communication media, particularly phone, skype, and email. Below a summary of the experiences they shared.
- Intimacy and focus:
As there is lack of visual cues in telephone coaching, the focus in telephone coaching sessions is different than in face-to-face coaching. The coach is attentive to the words, as well as to the breathing patterns and silences of the client. The process is, according to our members, more intimate than face-to-face coaching. As one member stated: “telephone coaching allows both, coach and client to focus on the words” . Another member expressed: “…there is often more intimacy over the phone. It´s right in your ear somehow.”
There is often more disclosure in telephone coaching than in face-to-face coaching. Presumably, distance makes clients feel safer to disclose information. Our members confirmed: “…clients feel safer with sharing over the phone as there is some distance…”
The coach becomes an effective listener, perhaps compensating for the lack of visual cues. One learns to listen, not only to the words, but also to the breathing and voice tone of the client. According to our e-coaching community members: “…you do become a more effective listener because you are listening to the tones, breathing patterns, and words used, rather than picking up all the subliminal clues, which could potentially overload both the coach and the client.”
Coaching over the phone can be challenging, as attentive listening and understanding the client´s emotional states without any visual clues is difficult. Quoting our members:
“..listening and staying engaged is difficult over the phone..”
“..sometimes it may be difficult to gauge the clients´ emotional states when there are no visual cues..”
Despite recognizing the challenges pertaining to the missing visual cues in telephone coaching, the popularity (among our members) of telephone as a medium for delivering coaching shows that this challenge can be somewhat overcome. Several techniques and strategies were suggested:
1. The lack of face to face contact can be compensated for by developing effective listening skills:
As one member wrote: “All of my coaching is by phone. Hearing tone switches, voice intonations, energy changes and resistance enhance the richness of the call. I do most of my coaching with my eyes closed.”
“…you do become a more effective listener because you are listening to the tones, breathing patterns, and words used..”
2. Developing sensitivity to silence and to breathing patterns
The importance of allowing for silence was mentioned by several members. Two examples below:
“..becoming more sensitive to silence and to breathing. This brings a different emphasis to non-verbal cues.”
“I believe (telephone coaching) teaches coaches not filling in all the quiet gaps.”
3. Using audio-visuals
Audio-visual techniques can help the coach by providing additional clues. As an example: “A coach might ask: ‘ I am wondering what kind of silence this is – when you feel ready could you tell me what you think I would see if I was looking at you now?’ “
5. Having an initial face to face meeting with the client, before going into a virtual relationship.
An initial face-to-face meeting can be helpful: “I like to meet people face to face or at least with a video skype link for the first session if possible so I can use all my senses initially, and then rely on only some of the senses after that.”
6. The power of metaphors
Our e-coaching group also reflected on media preferences from the clients´ point of view. Clients like coaches, have sensory preferences – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic: “I am aware that for clients and indeed coaches, whose learning and information processes are more visual, that phone and Skype being more auditory based ,may not suit them… ” Techniques for overcoming this problem might be to use vivid, descriptive language and metaphors: “..when I become aware that a client has a visual preference because of the kind of language that they are using, I ensure that I use very visual, vivid language and imagery, with the addition of metaphors etc. which can help to create visual images.”
Members´ experiences with skype coaching were also positive.
1. Skype coaching offers less detail than face to face, and this can be helpful.
The lack of detail when coaching via Skype can be used in a positive way, as the coach prompts the client to provide a detailed, reflected description. Bringing in some insights from other groups, a member of the group- “Coaching at Work” on Linkedin wrote:
“I sometimes ask the client to bring something to the session, perhaps a picture or something they ‘ve made in response to the coaching process. When I ask them to fill in the details and describe how it feels, sounds or smells etc, this description can bring up a layer of other feelings and associations to work with. It´s the same in person, but my experience is that on Skype people are more willing to be flexible in their communication.”
2. Skype coaching offers different levels of communication.
Quoting another member of the group “Coaching at Work” on Linkedin: “I consider Skype has four levels and when the technical problems start to occur I drop down a level and continue with a back up of a phone handy! …
i) The basic level is text, when the voice is not working I can still often maintain presence with the text option to agree how to continue.
ii) Add voice and this is more than adequate for a great coaching session
iii) Add video to include eye contact and body language
iv) I have used screen sharing and there are other tools”
3. Skype can be used effectively
Some practical tips of how to use Skype effectively, which were shared in our e-coaching group, included positioning the camera correctly and stopping downloads to avoid reducing bandwith use:
“Using a camera angle of less than 5 degrees between the projected image and the camera gives the impression of ‘real’ eye contact. Stopping downloads at both ends reduces bandwidth usage and further improves the call quality.”
Email coaching. Members´ views below:
Asynchronous communication via email can enhance reflection. Having time to reflect on their responses, clients are able to provide more detail in their answers. Quoting one of our members: “A detailed and considered response can be given by email “.
2. Email allows for openness and disclosure:
Openness of the client during email coaching may be attributed to the fact that, not having to verbalize a response makes it sometimes easier to express oneself. Quoting one of our members:
“… often what’s written maybe a more honest and succinct form of what they are trying to say – I suppose it takes away a form of judgement – and it could be a different sort of courage to let people see what they write rather than having to verbalise because they aren’t overloaded by how a person is going to react to what’s been said.”
“…young people are so familiar with e-communication that they find it an easier context for open and honest conversation than face to face work.”
3. The value of keeping a record of interactions:
Keeping a record of interactions is enabled in coaching via email. This can be helpful for both, coach and client. Here is a quote from one of our members: “…being able to refer back to what’s been said as it’s been recorded is also very useful. “
4. The challenge of missing cues:
When coaching via email, not only visual cues are missing, but also auditory cues. All the focus is on the words the client chooses to express him/herself . Obviously, “email coaching lacks emotional cues”. However, as one of our members argued: ” ..a lot of undertone and benchmarking of how a person is feeling can be read from the words they do use, and by language, whether used in a verbal or written form, can tell us a lot about what they are thinking and feeling. ”