Why I Only Coach By Phone


April 12, 2013

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?”

coaching by phoneA 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.

iphonePlease 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.

For more from Jonathan Reitz, please click here.

Jonathan ReitzJonathan Reitz has a number of impressive titles at CoachNet Global (Chairman/CEO/Guy with Coffee).  Jonathan has been coaching since 1996 and has worked with over 500 clients in the church, the non-profit sector and the business world. 

  “Coaching plays a part in the kind of leadership the world needs,” says Jonathan Reitz.  “I want to be a part of that.”

For a daily coaching question from Jonathan Reitz, follow him on Twitter @jonathanreitz  Or, you can email hime at jonathan@coachnet.org or by phone at 440.550.4374.

Comments (7) - Post a Comment
It's true Jason...the phone can be a great equalizer. The safe distance a phone connection provides can be just what you need to coach effectively...because it allows you to focus on what the client actually needs with all of your energy. Good luck!
Jonathan Reitz at 8:03pm EST - February 10, 2014
This is very interesting. I have been getting critiqued about "faces" I make during coaching and my "affect" not seeming like I am for my clients, etc. I am internalizing information I am getting, etc. And I am now finding that I spend a lot of energy/time thinking about the posture/faces I'm making to project positivity. Weird cycle. I think this goes away over the phone and I never get those types of comments. Something to think about.
Jason Smith at 3:35pm EST - February 10, 2014
I hope to someday go back to face-to-face work, and the whiteboard might be my solution! Great tip.
Jonathan Reitz at 1:09am EDT - April 24, 2013
Those are good thoughts, Scott. I agree in some ways the phone is a separator that gives me appropriate and useful distance. I am learning to be more intentional in using that distance so that I can serve my client better, and not to get lazy and just have the distance be just distance.

My hope is that the distance can be a tool, and not just a separation. Thanks for the encouragement.
Jonathan Reitz at 1:07am EDT - April 24, 2013
It sounds like you use the phone like some counselors use a desk. The desk serves as a separation between the counselor and client so the counselor does not allow himself to become part of the client's world od issues. The client must come to conclusions and make next step plans, not the counselor.

I personally use the method of writing on a dry erase board, my ipad, or a piece of paper to keep the session focused on the client and their situation. By writing in a manner we both can see what is being written, we are both able to stay on topic and when an occassional sidebar occurrs we can easily get back on topic.

Good thoughts and well spoken.
Scott Gray at 8:56pm EDT - April 23, 2013
Thank you for sharing your thoughts
Michelle DeLaughter at 3:46pm EDT - April 22, 2013
Great read, I will reflect on this more.
andy at 2:29pm EDT - April 13, 2013

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