Coaching World Issue 12: November 2014 - Page 9

Virtual Etiquette All coaches seek to establish credibility and create safety and trust. We may begin an introductory session by describing our approach, credentials, experience and so forth. In virtual coaching, clients particularly need this introduction to the coach’s way of working and the ethical principles underpinning the coaching conversation. This is a kind of “virtual etiquette” that sets the ground rules for the engagement and creates a safe space for a skillful, free-flowing exploratory dialogue. Emotional Connection Experience shows that, when being coached virtually, many clients quickly leap to the topic they wish to explore without any friendly preliminaries. The fact of communicating via technology often prompts people to behave more formally than usual. Before we address what the client wishes to discuss, virtual coaches might begin with an emotional check-in, asking questions, such as, “How are you today?,” “How are you feeling?” or “What’s your mood today?” Why is this important? When meeting in person, we can smile, shake hands, make eye contact and chat. In virtual space, we may be looking at a blank computer screen. The check-in process reminds the client that she is talking to a real, live, attentively listening and empathic human being. Listening with Curiosity Listening at the deepest level of awareness is a core skill for coaches. But in virtual space, how do clients know we are paying attention, especially if we’re silent and invisible? Even with a webcam, cues such as body movement and facial gestures are often unavailable. Listening with curiosity means paying deep attention to the client’s words and nonverbal utterances (coughs, changes of tone, hesitations, pauses—all of which we hear more intensely when physical contact is missing) and sometimes asking questions about them (e.g., “What is the silence telling us?”). We might take care to ask “nudge” questions (e.g., “Yes? And so … ? And then … ?”), and perhaps ask these more than when physically present. We might even share reflections that indicate our physical presence (e.g., “When you said that, I closed my eyes. I felt quite surprised …”). and changes of tone and pace to make distinctions, underline uncertainties and open conversational doors to new possibilities. Working virtually is an excellent opportunity to develop vocal presence in an authentic way. (Learn more about developing an authentic vocal presence during coaching in the video below.) Engaging Visually When coaching via telephone or computer, ensure that first-time clients know what you look like, especially if you’re not using a webcam. Exchanging photos or posting these on slides if using online technology is very helpful. Including a friendly, welcoming slide at the start of the session rather than a blank or generic meeting screen is another way to create visual presence. But visual presence refers to more than how you wish to be perceived by the client. Without face-toface contact, the imagination may sometimes play more freely, its insights shared via scribbled words or drawn or cut-and-pasted images on the slides and whiteboards some online platforms offer. While coaching in any context is led by the client’s agenda, coaching virtually offers a particular opportunity to explore visually with the client her questions, dilemmas and achievements. Technology Yes, knowing how to operate your technology matters. But practice will get you there, and in some situations (especially a larger team coaching engagement), the services of a technical producer may help. Finally, take heart. Technological failure rarely damages coaching presence as long as we remain calm and flexible with alternatives when working with our clients across distance. Vocal Presence In virtual space, establishing our coaching presence requires a new awareness of the impact of our voice—its ability to bring energy and show connection, understanding, enthusiasm, warmth and concern. We may need to speak more slowly and use pauses Watch as Jude Tavanyar demonstrates the use of a virtual coaching platform while interviewing her colleague, Marieke de Boer, about the role of voice in virtual coaching. Coaching World 9