September 2013 Themes

A positive forecast for e-coaching.outlook

Members of our e-coaching community forecast an increase in e-coaching. E-coaching according to our members, will become the preferred choice “of mentoring for Small Business Enterprises and coaches” and of “enterprises who are facing a talent shortage and need to develop tomorrow´s leaders”.

The increase in the demand for e-coaching, is expected to lead to an increase in the number of innovative e-coaching tools being developed. Having a wider variety of e-coaching tools will open up new possibilities of delivering coaching at a distance. As our member Matt Poepsel mentions in his article (The Genesis of an E-Coaching Software Platform ) : “..over time, I expect to see innovative examples of how software can enhance and extend the availability and delivery of coaching inside organizations and beyond.”

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A comparison between face to face coaching and e-coaching. 

Last month, the Positive Psychology Coaching group on Linkedin discussed the benefits and challenges of e-coaching, compared to face to face coaching, and collected a variety of opinions on this matter. Among participants, there were at least 8 proponents of face to face communication, whereas 9 participants favoured distance coaching, and 12 participants saw benefits in both, saying that they currently mix/ or would consider mixing face-to-face and distance coaching sessions.  Furthermore, the role of technology in presence coaching was seen as enhancing the process. According to one participant: “..using power points to address common questions or problems assists the coaching.” A closer look into this group´s discussion reveals 2 main considerations that influence decisions on how to deliver coaching (i.e.face to face contact or at a distance):  quality and practicality.

1. Qualityquality

Trust, rapport building, non-verbal cues, disclosure, reducing status differences and  coaches´ skills were among the aspects discussed, concerning quality in coaching. Opinions on how to ensure quality varied:

  • Non-verbal cues are essential for establishing a trusting relationship. 

Several participants felt that face to face contact is essential for establishing trust and rapport. During face to face coaching, the practitioner  is “immersed in the surrounding environment” and gathers both, verbal and non-verbal cues, all of which are helpful.

Citing one of the participants: “For the development of any relationship and subsequent trust, communication and mutual understanding, all signals need to be available both verbal and non-verbal.”  According to another participant: “The warmth of body language, eye contact, feeling and emotion can be lost through the use of electronics thus becoming impersonal and cold. Since the success or failure of coaching depends on the trust and bonding between the client and the professional, it is therefore necessary to ensure this by the methods used. ”

  • Non-verbal cues can be distracting. 

A contradictory view, which several participants supported, was that visual cues in face to face coaching can be a distraction. According to this view, the lack of visual distractions in telephone coaching can actually improve the quality of coaching and ensure a stronger focus on verbal cues: “..I find that the phone coaching works best.. The conversations seem to be more focused and both the client and I are more engaged. It feels like the conversation can have more depth because the client isn’t trying to read you and your reaction to their comments, they just flow.”

The lack of visual cues in telephone coaching was also considered to enhance the listening skills of the coach: “I have to listen more deeply without the visual cues and be more intentional about what I say …In my experience, the trust bond develops just as strongly on the telephone. Not seeing someone takes away a lot of the superficial cues and conversation that can occur with visual cues.” On the other hand, such a situation is not risk-free: “The downside is having to listen so closely… it is easy to misjudge emotional health, and the danger is beginning coaching with someone who needs referral to other services.”

  • Attentuation of status differences. 

Several participants mentioned that distance coaching reduces status differences. For this reason, clients often prefer a neutral space, such as the virtual space offered in distance coaching.  As one member illustrated: “My office is interpreted as “my space” by the client and it implies a hierarchical relationship and infers an expectation of compliance with my direction” and as another participant argued: “..they are in their own environment and more relaxed than at my office.

  • Disclosure.

According to two of the participants´ experiences, clients disclose information easier when communicating at a distance. They “ up more from a distance” and  “disclosure may be more difficult to achieve in person.” 

  • Coaches´ skills

Several participants emphasized the important role coaching skills play in affecting the quality. Whether face to face or coaching at a distance, the effectiveness of coaching depends largely on the coach.  Quoting one practitioner: “Both can work extraordinarily well, depending on the skill of the coach.”

2. Practical issues.practical

Several practical issues were raised in the group´s discussion, all concerning flexibility such as:  alleviation of geographic barriers, offering just in-time coaching, matching, reducing travel. E-coaching was considered more appropriate than face to face coaching in solving all these practical issues, and flexibility was a significant factor affecting decisions on delivering coaching at a distance or face to face.

  • Alleviation of geographic barriers and matching

E-coaching provides wider selection opportunities, as clients are not constrained to finding a coach in their region. This implies higher chances of a good match between coach and client.

“.. the right coach connecting with the right client. When the whole world is your territory, the opportunity to connect the best coach with the best client is multiplied by thousands.”

  • Just-time coaching

Another practical issue which was raised concerned the possibility to offer just-time coaching. E-coaching certainly enables this.”…it is more valuable to work with clients by telephone when they feel in greatest need of support, rather than waiting for the scheduled appointment, which could be several days later.”

  • Time and cost effectiveness

An important consideration in deciding between face to face and distance coaching sessions is reducing travel, as it implies benefits in terms of time and subsequently costs. This is a benefit for both parties, the coach and the client.  The world is a busy place and we weigh our valuable time as to how we can get the best and most outcome“. 

Overall, the Positive Psychology Coaching group´s discussion showed that there are both, benefits and challenges associated with coaching at a distance. Technology is an enabler, both in presence and distance coaching, however, not all views were congruent on whether technology-mediated distance coaching, i.e. e-coaching can provide a optimal solution. The practical benefits associated with e-coaching, such as time and cost effectiveness, alleviation of geographic barriers, matching possibilities and just-time coaching,  are undeniable. However, in regard to the quality of coaching, opinions were divided. Quality depends on effective communication, rapport building, and trust that is established between coach and client. Can e-coaching facilitate an equally trusting and strong relationship between coach-client as face to face coaching? Does the strength of the relationship depend predominantly on the skill of the coach? Can it be that e-coaching allows more disclosure, reduces status differences, and enhances the coach´s listening skill? Are non-verbal cues a distraction afterall? Leave a comment to tell us your opinion..

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