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What do I say first? Establishing rapport in text coaching

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Starting off a text coaching session

Whilst most coaches are comfortable working with clients over the phone or Skype there is a kind of built in assumption that text coaching is just the same – just maybe a bit slower.   However in reality there is a new set of skills to be learned when you are using just text as the medium for coaching and, as a coach, you need to be aware of them from the very start of the session.

The point where you say hello or send your first question is vitally important as you are setting the tone for the whole session.  Especially if you have not have much opportunity to establish a relationship before that point.  Both coach and client will be attempting to ‘suss’ each other out.

The sub text for the client might be:

  • Does this coach know what they are doing?
  • Can I trust them?
  • What sort of person are they?
  • How can I be with this person?

The coaches dialogue might be:

  • What sort of issues is this client going to bring?
  • Will I be able to help them?
  • Can I give value?
  • Will I be able to understand the client?

All these questions are just as relevant in a face to face session but with a text session, without the visual clues there is more opportunity for misunderstanding so the coach has to be particularly focused on setting the right tone for the interaction.

You’re not going to get a second chance to make a first impression, so that first point of contact is vital if the session is going to work for the client. Although a client may not be able to see or hear you, your attitude and tone can play a big part in how they perceive you.  The words you use and how you use them can convey a lot of meaning.

Here are some things you should keep in mind in your first contact with clients:

  • Be positive and respectful. If you have not had prior contact you might not even know what sort of issue the client is going to bring.  Or the session could start off in one direction and then go into another.  The client might want to work on losing weight, building a business or dealing with depression.  So you have to be prepared and your initial interaction has to take account of all these possibilities.
  • Use appropriate emotion.  Depending on what the client wants to work on and how they seem to be you might need to make a very empathetic response, a neutral one or a slightly challenging one.  If in doubt empathy is usually the best response.
  • Be aware of cultural differences.  Don’t assume that the client shares the same cultural values as you do.   It is easy to make a cultural faux pas by assuming the client is ready/not ready to open up about an issue.  What could be a perfectly normal request for someone in California for example might be impossibly rude for someone brought up in some Asian cultures.  Because you can’t see the client’s reaction it is easy to miss these.
  • Check the client’s language ability.  Until you have had a few exchanges of messages don’t assume that the client has as good an understanding or use of English, if that is the language you are using, as you do.  Their understanding might be better or it might be worse. If in doubt mirror the client’s way of using language but be aware of the danger of becoming too casual.
  • Check how comfortable they are with technology.  It might be first time the client has used text for conversation so they might be quite uncomfortable.  Doing a ‘tech check’ with the client can ease a lot of these concerns.

If you follow these pointers you will get the session off to a good start and in subsequent blogs I will be discussing how to get to the crux of an issue and coach effectively using text.