Why I only coach by phone
Virtually every time I mention to a group that I only coach by phone, someone asks “How can you be sure you’ll be as effective as you possibly can be when you only coach by phone?”
A few years ago I started noticing that my face-to-face coaching appointments seemed to be less effective than my phone appointments. This really puzzled me, at least at first, and I wrestled with why. The way one coaching conversation played out the convinced me that it’s not the phone—the problem is really personal, in fact, it’s me. Something I consider a strength of mine was getting in the way. And that stength makes the phone a much better option for my coaching practice.
I was sitting in the office of one of my clients at a church not far from home. My client was telling me about the plans his church had made for the upcoming holiday season. They were creative, connected to the neighborhood, and required a reasonably high commitment from the existing congregation-which he was getting! It looked like a dream scenario. and I found myself getting more and more excited about what he was telling me. The thought that I could help with this started running through my head. My wife and daughter could help too. I even thought out loud “Who else I could invite to be a part of what they were working on?” Do you see what happened there?
Somewhere in the course of this pastor’s plans, I stopped thinking about what he was telling me and started focusing on what I could do to help them. I had slipped out of my coaching mode. My purpose there wasn’t to get involved, I was there to help draw out his plans. I wasn’t doing that. It was a rather epic fail.
Afterwards, I realized that the distraction of sitting across the table in the same environment wasn’t helping. My boundaries had gotten muddy, and I began to put myself into his situation. That’s only helpful when a coach uses their personal view of the client’s situation to help the client gain clarity, and not to plan their own personal steps. My enthusiasm for his plans was getting in the way.
Further reflection showed me that I often had challenges—because of a positive quality of mine, my enhtusiasm—staying in coach mode. Over the next couple face-to-face conversations with this client, the same pattern happened every time. When I got energetic and enthusiastic about what he was saying, I started projecting myself into his plans. I was no longer coaching.
A deeper pattern has since become clear to me. Over the years, I have masked this unhelpful application my natural wiring by claiming more to be introverted than I appear (which is true). But in reality that introverted-ness doesn’t have anything to do with why I don’t coach is effectively in person as I do on the phone.
The real reason is that unless I am very disciplined, my enthusiasm for kingdom plans overwhelms my coaching skills. If I let it go unchecked, I start thinking about the contribution I am going to make to my clients project and missing the plans/actions we’re talking about.
If coaching is a relationship with a purpose focused on facilitating change, my role in the process is facilitation not active contribution. My role as a coach is to help the client figure out what they are going to do next, not what I am going to do next in their project. For some reason, that’s just harder for me when I’m sitting across the table from someone. I want to believe it’s because I really do care for the results my clients get, but I do have to care in a way that’s helpful for them and not just a self oriented, Jonathan-focused, way.
After those specific coaching conversations with that pastor from the Cleveland area, I stopped committing to face-to-face coaching conversations (a practice I still hold). I wish I could tell you that my energy and enthusiasm immediately became strictly an asset in my phone-based coaching conversations from that minute on, but I still have to sometimes re-direct my excess enthusiasm. But I’ve learned to channel it into listening or asking a bold question so that it’s helpful, and not a distraction.
Please know that I’m not suggesting that no coach should ever coach face-to-face. A better lesson is that good coaches do everything they can to tailor their behavior to serve the client. The bottom line is I was much more able to focus on what was important to the client when I was on the phone. My mind wandered – and still does – when I coach in person. So, managing external stimulus so that I can focus is directly tied to coaching effectiveness for me. The phone helps me focus solely and completely on the client.
What can you do to focus your energy and attention on your client? What external stimuli can you eliminate during your coaching time? How can you provide your self a distraction free environment for every single one of your coaching conversations? And maybe most important of all, how can you measure the difference in your effectiveness when you’re coaching in a distraction free environment as opposed when you have other things going on?
In the comments I’d love to hear your thoughts. Specifically I’d like to know if you think a distraction free environment would help you listen more effectively or ask better questions? Loooking forward to hearing from you.