Career and Life Coaching Online – Advantages and Disadvantages – Some Questions and Answers
I was asked recently about providing coaching services on line and I thought you might be interested to read my answers
Interviewer: How do you communicate with clients online and what are the strengths and limitations of each approach?
Wendy: I use three different ways of communicating with clients on line; telephone, email and instant messaging.
Telephone The strengths of telephone coaching include the convenience and comfort for the client of being able to receive coaching where they choose. For most, this will be at home or somewhere else familiar to them. They do not have to add travel to a coaching location to the end of a busy working day. The phone can also provide privacy for those who feel shy and exposed sharing intimate feelings with someone else. The disadvantage is that we have to work without visual clues and being able to see each other’s body language. So, authenticity and trust is important.
Email The major disadvantage of email is that it is asynchronous – it can take time to get a reply. Both coach and client need to achieve agreement about when replies can be expected and how privacy will be managed. The initial relationship can be much harder to establish and requires patience from both coach and client. As well as having the convenience of being able to choose the location and time for communicating, a major advantage of email is that both the client and the coach have a record they can refer to. Plus you can take time to reflect on what you want to write.
Instant Messaging Communicating by instant text messages has the benefit of immediacy. Again the client can choose location they write from. But again there can be issues of privacy if other people have access to the same computer or phone.
In my own coaching practice, the telephone is my main method of communicating with clients. I usually combine this with email between sessions and occasional instant messaging.
Interviewer: In your opinion, what elements need to be in place in order to create a coaching relationship online, and in what ways does this differ from face-to-face coaching.
Wendy: Coaching on-line or off requires an agreement between the coach and client about the service to be provided – for on line coaching this is a priority. The parties need the right environment in which to work! They need privacy and the opportunity to develop trust in each other as well as in the medium and in the confidentiality of information shared. Both need to understand the risks and what coaching and coaching on-line cannot provide.
The coach and client are only very exceptionally likely to be in the same physical space. Both need to be comfortable and know that they will not interrupted (this can be a difficult with a computer on the kitchen table or even sometimes in the home office). They need to know they cannot be over-looked or over-heard and they need to be confident in using the machinery. The equipment needs to be reliable with good security cover.
With phone coaching, you need to agree not only what time you will ring but who calls whom and on what number. Before beginning a conversation, a coach needs to move very quickly into active listening.
In using email, there needs to be clear agreement about turnaround times and the client needs to understand that messages can go astray. Special arrangements need to be made for the coach’s absence when on holiday, for example.
I use instant messaging rarely with clients and certainly never with a new client. The use of language needs to be careful and the culture from which the client communicates becomes particularly important – the coach may have to learn a whole new language.
Wendy Smith is a career consultant, life coach and business coach with depth of experience in helping people lead happier lives and feel more fulfilled. She has worked in management as well as coaching and personal development, as well as starting up her own businesses. That means she is equally at home helping clients find a new career direction, starting-up a new business or dealing with life’s more challenging personal issues.
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