Coaching virtually

Almost all of the coaching I do is virtual, and in many cases, I have never even met my coachee face-to-face.  So it can be done!  Here’s how…

The skills – contracting, ethics, powerful questions, listening, trust, intimacy, and presence, direct communication, designing actions and planning and goal-setting, and managing progress and accountability – are exactly the same, no matter whether you are face-to-face or virtual. 

What’s different is how you apply those skills.


For example, it can be tempting to multi-task when the person is not right there in front of you.  But then it is absolutely impossible to be 100% present.  They will know this on the other end of the phone – don’t think you can get away with it.  That presence is one of the elements that builds trust, and helps the coachee to fully open up to you.  If they hear you are distracted by IM or emails, they will conclude that you do not care so much about them and their issues.  DO NOT MULTI-TASK.


I find that my listening skills are heightened when I am coaching on the phone….especially when I am fully present.  I seem to hear what is not said much better on the phone than I do face-to-face.  I can hear the different tones that suggest emotion.  I can hear when they sigh, when they gasp, when they need time to think, when they are smiling – yes, I can hear that.  You might think that having the body language signals of face-to-face coaching would amplify all of these things, but I find myself getting more distracted by those things rather than less when I am coaching face-to-face.  So make the most of being virtual – it’s amazing how much emotion you can get from voice alone.

To webcam or not to webcam

I don’t use webcam when coaching.  I find it more distracting than not, partly for the reasons above, but especially when the technology lets us down.  When you have to mess around with sorting out the webcam, you lose the coachee’s train of thought.  When they are in mid-flow, that can be a real blow to their thinking process; it takes some time to regain the deep and meaningful perspectives.  And it takes band-width away from the audio line, which means that your ability to listen is compromised too.  So I say, no to webcam. 

Holding them accountable for progress

So you might be thinking….but I have no idea what they are spending their time on, and whether they are making progress, because I am not with them all the time.  You don’t need to be.  That’s what the managing progress and accountability questions help you to find out.  Remember, the ones that go:

Last week, you said you would do x.  How is that going?

What challenges are you facing?

What are the risks?

How can I help you?

What actions will you take next week to move this forward?

What are you learning?

You’re encouraging them to tell you what is working and what is not; where they need help; and what to do next to achieve their goals.  And over time, as you use these questions each week, they will know to come prepared with answers to these.  Ok, they might miss out some detail, but the more trust you build with them over time, the more they will start to tell you the truth. 

Building trust

I’m reflecting on how I build trust virtually.  I think there are a number of aspects. 

  • Being on time, every time
  • Being fully present
  • Summarising or paraphrasing what I heard them say (shows I have been listening); people often say that this is the first time they really feel heard
  • Recalling relevant details from previous calls that have a bearing on the current subject, and helping them to make connections (shows I have been listening)
  • Keeping everything between us confidential
  • Helping them to move forward – people love to make progress, and that encourages them to come back to you again for more coaching, as they see that you helped them to do that
  • Recognising their emotions – not sweeping them under the carpet
  • Providing the right balance between support and challenge – they tell me in the contracting phase how they need me to be that day, and I endeavour to be that way for them
  • Sharing something about myself (when appropriate, but not to take away from the importance of their issue)
  • Following through on anything I promise to do (eg, share a resource link; introduce them to someone who might be able to help them)

I’m sure there are many other things that build trust, but those are the ones that trip off my tongue immediately, and they can all be done virtually.

Does this post answer your questions about coaching virtually?  What else would you like to know?  Let us know in the comments, and we’ll get a dialogue going.

If you just stumbled across this blog, and want to learn more about creating a coaching culture in your organisation…
Step 1. Receive Clare’s blog posts in your inbox – subscribe below

Step 2. Follow Clare’s Conversations on twitter at @clareenorman

Step 3. Find out how coaching could support your organisation at

And pass this post on to all your friends and colleagues, so they can join the movement too.

Be the first to like.

3 thoughts on “Coaching virtually

  1. I agree with you that when on the phone you can hear much more than when listening in the same room. Distractions are far less and you can really “zone in” to the conversation. However, I do think that you are missing a trick with video. One may not have such a constructive conversation but its a great bonding tool which in turn can enhance mutual trust.
    Would that occasional video call not be beneficial? I wonder if your video call provider is offering the call quality it should?

    • Yes, I do think there is a time and a place for video. I do use it sometimes, but rarely when I am coaching, as I prefer that “zoning” in to all the nuances of their tone of voice, intakes of breath etc.
      What do other people think?

  2. Pingback: International Coaching Week - Clare Norman Coaching Associates

Comments are closed.