He Came. He Coached. He Conquered – as Julius Caesar nearly said. But what if the coach didn’t come? What if the coach phoned you up instead? Or Skyped? Or emailed?
I started a discussion thread on this topic on the Coaching at Work site on LinkedIn and the results have surprised me.
My post said….
Coaching on the phone – anybody agree with me that they find it easier to really listen than face-to-face coaching? It’s more draining, but I can hear the pauses, the sighs, the doubts more easily. Any thoughts?
I have received 65 comments from coaches all over the world and they’re still coming in. This is obviously not a statistically valid research study but it shows an overwhelmingly consistent response.
Given that international firms have such a focus on offering face-to-face coaching, I was surprised that the coaching community is overall so positive about telephone coaching.
Here is a summary of the main themes of the findings:
1. The quality of coaching can be higher using the phone
It was thought that clients can be in a better state to be coached and that many coaches can listen better without the visual and other distractions. There were some thoughts that this might be related to whether the individuals were auditory, visual or kinaesthetic in preference.
Here are some typical verbatim comments:
One of my client’s objectives was to become more influential and engaging. Half way through the [phone] session I realised that I was slouching in the chair because his tones were so soporific. I decided to call this and it had an amazing impact on him as we delved into ’how and why’ he was being like that. This would have never happened if we’d been face-to-face as I would have been very careful to look and feel engaged!!
I thought that I would miss things like body language but, in some ways, I’ve found that clients are more forthright when they are not in the room.
I do find it easier to listen more intently on the phone, and to hear more of what is being said/not said
I only offer 50 minute telephone coaching and have found that I cover much more ground than on face-to-face sessions of 1.5-2 hours where distractions seem to be more common. I feel able to drive the session more and to be more challenging. I can also take copious notes which often reveal interesting patterns and issues.
I think that telephone coaching is a great way to coach, as it allows the coach to be far more objective. It facilitates greater challenge and also the coach is less likely to become content seduced as a greater mental capacity is required for listening and assimilating the information so that the right questions are asked to help the coachee with their thinking.
It’s interesting that clients who have initially been reluctant [to phone coaching] actually embrace it once we get started and it ceases to be an issue once they have challenged their own perception.
I find that one of the advantages of coaching on the phone is that it acts like a sort of security feature, often encouraging coachees to open up more. Some coachees feel uncomfortable with face to face coaching, finding it hard to talk freely under the gaze (however empathetic) of another person.
I do most of my coaching over the phone, working with clients who I have never met face to face. The coaching is exactly the same as it is face to face – contracting with the client, building rapport etc, but it uses our more intuitive side of coaching. We fine tune our listening skills and listen out for the non verbal, non physical cues. It seems to create more safety for the client and it creates a space for them to be more intuitive with their own responses.
Most of my clients come to telephone coaching because their need dictates it. Some of them come feeling sceptical, nervous about it, particularly if they’ve experienced face to face coaching in the past. We always discuss this and contract around how we want to work together and I would say that 99% of those clients leave the coaching having got huge insight and made great progress with their goals… and become fans of telephone coaching!
Initially I was quite skeptical about phone coaching. However now I agree that it is whatever method works best for the client and I do find that it has honed my listening skills tremendously and I tune into my client as I listen for the non verbal and the silences. I also use a variety of tools/exercises that work just as well on the phone once the rapport and trust is there. On the subject of cost – I charge the same for telephone and face to face.
2. Telephone coaching is restricted and certain meetings are better held face to face.
Many coaches pointed out that it can be important for the coach to see changes in the coachee’s physiology and that there are several techniques that require the coach to be present. Also it can be important to have the kick off meeting, perhaps including the line manager, face to face.
Typical comments on this theme include:
Whilst I’ve received some great coaching over the phone, there are limitations. You can’t see the colour change in your coachee’s face. You can’t see when they seal up their lips with their fingers. You can’t offer them a crayon and suggest they draw something. You can’t show them a model via a diagram. You can’t get them to step through their changes. I work intuitively and creatively, and I don’t feel I’d be offering a full service if I coached by phone.
Being in the same room gives me more insights about the coachee’s non-verbal responses. It also gives us more options to use paper, flipcharts and other methods to organise complex information. I also feel that the energy levels are higher when in a room together.
I have at least 5 senses and I want to have them available for the benefit of my client, in whatever way and combination that works for them. Sometimes I can be working with someone for 10 minutes or more, without them or me saying anything – watching, feeling, sensing and hearing every nuance and vibration as they are going through a process of integration; noticing their physiology change.
My preference would always be to start with a face to face session to contract and define goals. I also find the triad meeting with the line manager easier when the three of us are in the room than a conference call.
3. There were mixed views about the benefits of coaching using Skype video.
Some thought the benefits of seeing the coachee outweighed the dysbenefits of the distractions from the technology glitches and visual delays. But others disagreed:
The quality of the line is really important when you are listening for what they don’t say, so I tend to use a landline rather than skype. I don’t like using webcam, as I find the technology can often be a distraction, if my band-width is slow for example.
There is no doubt that coaching is developing and that different media are being explored. We’re all likely to have pre-conceptions and preferences. However I don’t think we can ignore the overwhelming positive confirmation that coaching on the phone can be extremely effective.
Sherwood believes that telephone coaching can play an important part in providing support to those in senior positions. We have 6 fully trained coaches and would be delighted to talk to you about the benefits of coaching, either face to face or on the telephone.
Finally, there are clearly some hazards coaching on the phone. One respondent told us:
Only once have I, upon hearing the long pause after a question, thought “that seems to have hit the spot”, waited a bit and then realised…..the line had gone dead!