Social anonymity in e-coaching

Social anonymity in e-coaching

Social anonymity is often metioned as one of the benefits of online guidance. Why and what does it mean?

Social anonymity

In the 1960s, the psychologist Robert Zajonc, conducted a famous experiment that showed how people have more difficulty carrying out complex tasks in the presence of an audience. The explanation given for this is that the person experiences a physical reaction (tension, alertness) to the other person’s presence and that they feel like they are being judged. The presence of an audience can therefore be detrimental to your ability to perform complex tasks.

Opening up during a coaching session and attempting new behaviour are challenges that often prove difficult for clients. Coaching via e-mail or chat enables the coach and client to interact without actually meeting in the flesh, which creates Social anonymity. With this type of anonymity, clients don’t feel like they’re being watched and they do not feel the need to observe the constraints of socially desirable behaviour. It also enables coaches to relax more and be themselves. They no longer have to concentrate on playing a certain role, and as such energy required to maintain that role can instead be focused on the issues at hand.

Experience of the client

“I would prefer online guidance, it gives me the opportunity to be more open.” Anonymous (client)

“The anonymous aspect takes away any obstacles which is really nice.” Anonymous (client)

“My confidence in my coach grew quickly and it is easy to focus on my learning goals.” Anonymous (client)

Due to social anonymity it is possible to get quicker to the core of the problem. Emotions can be freely expressed without fearing negative and/ or disapproving reactions. This reduces social inhibition and shame and encourages openness, candour and intimacy, which makes it easier to discuss taboo subjects. In everyday situations, aspects of physical appearance play a role in how people interact.

With asynchronous communication, there is less chance of developing such prejudices as you cannot see the person you are talking to and any physical clues are hidden. Due to the lack of physical aspects, the parties are not distracted by superficial matters and can get straight to the point focusing purely on the client’s coaching objective. Online communications gives both parties a voice but liberates them from stereotyping. As the client doesn’t have to worry about their appearance and presentation, and hence how the other person will judge them, it is easier for them to open up.

Being in their home or work environment gives the client a feeling of familiarity and invisibility. They don’t feel like they’re being watched or judged. This gives them a feeling of immunity as they can get out at any time with no questions asked an no need to explain themselves. All of these factors provide a great sense of security, encouraging clients to reveal more about themselves and to explore hidden aspects of their personality.

Want to integrate online coaching in your services? Sign up now for a free account in Pluform and try it yourself:

Source: E-Coaching, uitgeverij Boom Nelissen, 2012,

Authors: Anne Ribbers en Alexander Waringa,


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