'Connecting' in the Virtual Coaching World

Given the amount of virtual coaching I do, I often wonder how my clients and I manage to have such strong connections and seem to be able to just as effectively work together as we would during in-person sessions.

What is it that allows us to basically ignore thousands of miles when so much of the coaching work is about trust, chemistry, “tuning in,” and being comfortable about showing vulnerability? I am not sure my answer is comprehensive, but it is one that I can give based on my experience.

First of all, it seems to me that most clients I have worked with in that capacity take a very pragmatic stance when it comes to working virtually with a coach. They were either selected as part of a leadership program or geographical reasons would make it hard for them to work with me or another coach in person. Although I don’t inquire about it, my sense is that they still have some preconceived notion about coaching via the phone, Skype, etc. and that there is still some degree of caution at play at first. They simply decided to not let it get in the way. Some make it quite explicit and others are just mentioning that they were pleasantly surprised by how well it works for them to talk about these things over the phone or video. In the case of telephone, we have all heard the argument that it can actually help to not see the other person and that it allows us to be more open than as if we were looking in someone’s eyes and had to possibly endure that sense of shame or fear or any other uneasy feeling. Since I have the majority of my virtual coaching engagements via video call, that “hiding opportunity” doesn’t exist.

To build more on the practical aspect, my sense is that most of my clients are very much driven by efficiency and want to cut to the chase quickly. In virtual engagements even more so, as these tend to be shorter than in-person ones and therefore offer less opportunity to go slowly. I have also often noticed that there seems to be less rapport-building time desired by the clients, as we often have less mutually relatable experiences to share due to the geographical and often cultural distance, e.g., sports, politics, weather, or local events.

And more critically, the majority of my coaching clients show a commendable degree of openness and self-awareness. They are eager to learn, grow and stretch and what that means is that they do not need a lot—if any—handholding when it comes to talking through their development areas. Sometimes, they become more aware of those in the form of a 360-degree feedback process and as part of one of our first sessions, I walk them through their reports. Most of my clients are very comfortable taking in such kind of data, both the quantitative part as well as the written-out comments. For anyone who is very self-conscious and fearful of learning about what others might think about them, it would most likely be a terrifying experience and particularly off-putting, if discussed over a virtual media platform. I have not had a single such experience. On the contrary, not being in the same room allows us to stay fully focused on the data, the goals and actions identified based on the new information and then we agree on what next steps the client could take until the next session.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the same room with my clients. Nothing beats the “real thing” for me, which is the chemistry you can achieve by sitting across someone, but in terms of effectiveness and feeling still connected, virtual coaching is in my experience definitely the next best thing!

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