Can “online” improve traditional coaching and mentoring?
Blog by Anne Ribbers
When I made my first effort to understand whether or not online coaching could benefit my practice, I was very sceptical. My view of online was: “we will do some Skype and maybe e-mail”. I couldn’t really see how I was going to work with my clients without actually being in the same room and being able to assess non-verbal communication. Like with many new things I couldn’t see the benefit just yet. This is why I want to share with you my experience of the potential online has to offer.
E-coaching and E-mentoring
In today’s digital world, technology provides many opportunities for communicating online. Communicating online can take place synchronously and asynchronously. In my journey I have learned that integrating online communication in traditional coaching and mentoring can offer several benefits for the development process of my clients.
Job embedded learning
Psychological research suggests that to achieve sustainable results, learning and development is best embedded in the clients’ daily practice. By using e-coaching, I experienced that the process becomes time and place independent and easily accessible, for example from the workplace. The online guidance process also has a potential to increase contact frequency, engagement and helping the development goal to stay on top-of-mind in the day-to-day context. Aligning to the clients’ circumstances and needs accelerates the coaching process.
Adding online implies the use of technology, web tools and the Internet in daily coaching. This requires new skills, but also a new attitude from the coach, because the engagement becomes continuous and the dynamics of the coaching or mentoring relationship change.
Three basic pillars of e-coaching and e-mentoring
When people are asked why they would work with integrating online in servicing their clients, most answers are about increased flexibility and reducing costs. These advantages of course make a difference; however there are other more profound elements that have significant added value. Together with Alexander Waringa (also a psychologist) I researched the topic for years extensively and we identified the three pillars of e-coaching and e-mentoring. The three fundamental elements are:
- Social anonymity
- The power of writing
Adding asynchronous communications (not communicating at the same time) to coaching and mentoring creates a time and place independent process due to the fact that the client can work on his development where and whenever it is most convenient. Also the process can be broken down in several contact moments per week, which creates a continuous development process, including a continuous flow of exercises reflection, feedback and reinforcement moments. Adding asynchronous communication results in my clients working on their coaching goal during the day, the evening or over the weekend.
Social anonymity refers to the client being able to work in his own private and safe environment where no social desirable behaviour is provoked and disclosure is stimulated. In my experience this often helps my clients to speak even more freely and openly, which advances the development process.
The power of writing
The power of writing is proven in scientific research as a way of expressing that leads to profound changes in existing cognitions and emotions. The benefits of writing are thoroughly researched by Pennebaker et.al. Expressing oneself through writing, structures thoughts, gains access to emotions and stimulates the reflective capability. Moreover, the a-synchronicity factor that is created by writing, creates the possibility of a higher contact frequencies, and working in small steps. My clients pick up writing very naturally and also express how much value they experience in the power of writing and on top they are able to re-read their reflections again and again.
In this short video I discuss the above elements and some practical examples. If you like to have a look, please watch the video: