The surprising truth about virtual coaching

Many people assume that face-to-face coaching must be better than virtual coaching (by telephone coaching or skype).  But a 2011 research study* featured in Consulting Psychology Journal shows that coaching at a distance is just as effective as face-to-face.

Coaching by telephone is more effective than face-to-face

In my experience, coaching by telephone is actually MORE effective than face-to-face.  If you have never experienced virtual coaching, you are likely pretty sceptical about this claim.

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Virtual coaching quiets the mind

Selby (in Quiet Your Mind) suggests that telephone coaching engages the “integrative intuitive perception of a quiet, peaceful mind” and this affects both coach and coachee.  You see, although you might think that you are missing out on the available information of face-to-face coaching, such as facial expressions, body language, clothing, environment, smell, touch, etc, it can be a distraction to the goal of quieting the mind such that deep thinking can occur.

For example, if either one of us is worried about how our outfit looks to the other person, we won’t be fully focused on the issue.  Coaching is transformational when we can focus without those distractions.

Virtual coaching creates strong presence

A great coach will pay attention to creating a positive energy field between them and their client.  You may think that is easier face-to-face, but my years of experience as a virtual coach have enabled me to consciously hone this skill virtually.  Presence is demonstrated throughout the session with paraphrasing what you heard, questions that arise from where they are now, intuitive observations etc – all things that help the coachee know you are right there with them.   That, in turn, helps them to feel deeply heard, more heard that they might ever have been heard before.

As Nancy Kline says, “the quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking”.  So that leads them to be even more honest with themselves, such that they are working on the most pressing and relevant issue, rather than sub-consciously covering up something they don’t think they “should” say/think/be/want/believe/feel.

telephone-coaching-focuses-mindVirtual coaching heightens our listening

I rarely use webcam for coaching, partly because of bandwidth issues causing distractions, but also because it allows me to close my eyes when I am listening.  Somehow, I hear more that way, perhaps because I am blocking out any of my own visual distractions.  I hear what is said, what is not said, the choice of words used, the sighs, the changes in tone, the changes in pace, the quality of the silence.  I tend to miss the subtleties of this when I am face-to-face, because of the overwhelm of visual and environmental data in front of me.  The less we need to pay attention to, the more effective we can be.

Virtual coaching heightens our awareness of our own body’s signals

Great coaches access data from their own somatic intelligence.  And without the overwhelm of the face-to-face distractions, that data can be easier to access.  It can be very powerful to offer up to a coachee that my chest has suddenly tightened for example, and ask them whether that offers them any insights.  It doesn’t always; but more often than not, that is useful data and moves them forward as they reflect on it.

You are discovering that the absence of data that face-to-face coaching affords us is actually a good thing, as this allows us to quiet the mind, be fully present, fine-tune our listening and raise our awareness of our somatic signals.

So the quality of coaching virtually is clear.  What other advantages are there?

Additional advantages of virtual coaching

  • Increases access to a larger pool of qualified coaches, by eliminating geographic constraints
  • Affords shorter, more frequent just-in-time coaching that you would not necessarily do face-to-face
  • Laser-focused due to intense, shorter time periods – work well for driven individuals/cultures
  • Sustains momentum
  • Creates safe environment where the individual can be honest and vulnerable
  • Convenient, flexible time-slots, especially when the coachee is travelling for work
  • Time-effective, as the coachee can choose a time of day when they are most focused
  • Cost-effective, as organisations do not incur travel costs and time; nor the opportunity cost of being away from their desk
  • Models good practice in virtual working which is particularly helpful for people working on virtual teams

virtual-coaching-heightens-listeningOutcomes of virtual coaching

Practically all the coaching I do is virtual.  You can read about the outcomes of some of those virtual coaching conducts here.  Oh, and let’s not forget the recent Indian wedding I attended of the team member I had never met, but with whom I have forged a strong relationship – completely virtually.
Still questioning the potency of virtual coaching? Give it a try before you make assumptions. You’ll be surprised.



Post inspired by Edna Murdoch, Virtual Coach and Mentor Supervision, 2010

*Berry, R. M., Ashby, J. S., Gnilka, P. B., & Matheny, K. B. (2011). A comparison of face-to-face and distance coaching practices: Coaches’ perceptions of the role of working alliance in problem resolution. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63, 243–253.