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.
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.)
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.
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.
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