The reality of our modern and connected world is that many coaching sessions happen virtually these days, either by phone or by using extremely effective and affordable technology like Skype and Facetime. Overall, the use of technology in coaching is fantastic – it allows us to connect with more clients, more often and more affordably. However, there is still something to be said for maintaining the human connection with clients when possible, especially at the outset of an engagement while the relationship is being established. This is intuitive for many of us though we often struggle to articulate the difference between coaching virtually versus in-person.
Author and positive psychologist, Barbara Frederickson, in her book Love 2.0, does a great job of explaining the physiology behind interpersonal connection, something that can help us more clearly understand the difference between in-person and virtual interactions. The physiological dance of connection between two humans is possible in virtual settings but can be more difficult and happen more slowly. To understand why, let’s take a look at the three major things going on physically whenever we are interacting and truly connecting with another individual.
• Brain Coupling – First of all, in conversations with other people, mirror neurons and the insula, a region of the brain involved with emotion and sensation, enable us to empathize with each other and share an emotional state. This sharing of an emotional state with another person is often called “limbic resonance”.
• Oxytocin – Additionally, during positive connection with others, the hormone oxytocin surges enhancing our feelings of trust and cooperation and making us more attuned to positive social behavior, like eye expression and smiling and less attuned to threatening behavior.
• Vagus Nerve – Finally, during connection with others our Vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that connects the brain to the heart, enhances our connectivity with others. It does this by moderating our facial muscles so that we are better able to make eye contact and mirror facial expressions and better able to track the vocal tones of the person we are connecting with. Overall, it helps increase the odds of our resonant connectivity with others.
This physiological connectivity can happen via the use of phones and technology like Skype and Facetime. However, it is still somewhat restricted as screens provide a limited or blurred view of our facial expressions, body language and tone, all of which are vital to producing positive emotions and enhancing connection during conversation. Faceless communication like email, instant messaging and text are even more limited. As coaches, understanding this is particularly important because so much of our work relies on the strong and trusting relationship we form with our clients. It is this relationship that serves as the foundation for effective and true change.
So, while we have all used phone and web technology for coaching and will continue to do so, it’s worth a second thought as to whether our coachees might benefit from more of the original face time.
Lindsey is a consultant and coach at Teleos Leadership Institute. Teleos Leadership Institute is a leadership development and organizational transformation firm that believes leaders are at the center of change. To support leadership capacity, we have developed a research-based approaches that sparks and supports transformational change. We are industry experts, executive coaches, executive coach trainers that consult and support organizations as they build internal capacity. Beyond consulting and coaching, Teleos has extensive experience delivering leadership trainings, conducting organizational research, and facilitating culture change.