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Virtual conversations that count (ITWS#4)

For the last three years or so I have been a member of the coaching community at Know You More (KYM). It’s a brilliant group of around 100 coaches who deliver coaching across all sectors for the most part using a virtual means of connection. It’s an amazing talent pool of coaches. I was thinking that, across the whole community, there is the equivalent of 300 years of KYM virtual coaching experience! Although a crude estimate I reckon there is a total coaching experience pool of around 1000 years, only exceeded by the number of collective years of broader professional experience. What a resource! You really should check us out and find out more about KYM and find out for yourself and your organisation that KYM is all about having coaching ‘conversations that count’.

While doing the maths on the level of virtual coaching experience in KYM I was taken back to one of the first times that I did virtual coaching. I must confess that I was a little dubious about it. To a degree, I was wedded to the notion that I could only pick up on all those sensory signals if I was in the same room as my client. I was not sure that I would be ‘in touch’ with them if not physically sharing the same space.

Through a very bad piece of diary management I threw myself in the deep end! I had a coaching session booked with a senior manager of an international organisation and only after agreeing it found that it was at a time I was travelling between jobs! I asked if it would be okay to have a virtual coaching session and made it clear that I would be connecting from my (parked) car. He was okay with this, provided the conversation was private, so we agreed to go ahead.

I found myself in a quiet corner of a Tesco’s car park somewhere in Gloucestershire and we connected at the agreed time with both sound and vision. I was conscious as our conversation started that at least some of my attention was on calming my own nerves, dealing with my own sense of uncertainty. I tuned down sensing of my own status and concentrated entirely on my client and had the distinct impression that the same was happening on the ‘other side of the screen’.

On a sensory level although we had the screen image as a reference point it was listening that became supercharged. It was a great example of how we have the capacity to upgrade our sense perception from one sense to another, towards the one capturing the most valuable and clear information. I had the sense that both of us were careful about our assumptions and I felt there was more clarifications sought in the early part of the conversation. It helped establish a platform of shared understanding that is perhaps more taken for granted in the face to face situation. It felt authentic.

I have since wondered if in virtual coaching you get to the point of authentic sharing more quickly. There is less need to role play, or stand behind some form of façade, in the journey towards the true openness to challenge that is important in coaching. Whatever the truth of the reason there is a difference.

The was a further test when the signal collapsed and would not sustain a video link. Once again, we agreed to carry on with just the audio. Curiously, because we had started with video there was a sense of a presence behind the screen that made this slightly different from an ordinary phone call! The conversation continued and deepened in terms of where my client was prepared to go with his thinking. It was more challenging but never with a sense of undue danger. The silences where massive. I let them play out however strong the urge was to ‘fill the void’ with a narrative of my own. We were both rewarded with something surfacing that he was curious about.

This one virtual coaching conversation was a huge experience for me and one that absolutely persuaded me that virtual connection was just as powerful as coaching completed face to face. They both rely on establishing a relationship, creating a thinking partnership and these are achieved in subtly different ways in each method of connection. I am not sure that I have the words to describe those differences, apart from recognising the way that my senses naturally re-orientate to find the best method of coaching connectivity. I feel at ease being in the service of my client’s thinking in the same room, on Zoom, or by phone. However, I recognise how my intuition, something I use a great deal in coaching, nudges and challenges in subtly different ways between face to face and virtual conversations. I think the same person will respond in different ways depending on the method of connection to the extent that if a client is stuck with face to face coaching I will suggest changing to virtual. At one time I would have only considered the reverse of this to be a sensible option.

I have a lot to thank Tesco’s for in terms of loaning me a bit of external office space and to my client for being open to new experiences. My awareness of Know You More followed on fairly shortly thereafter. I was attracted by their virtual coaching approach and the sense it has of its social purpose. It has been great fun playing my part in building up that 300 years of virtual coaching expertise! This level of experience is the difference between having virtual conversations that count and having an online chat!

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