In Virtual Coaching a bit of Paranoia is a Good Thing

Try speaking out loud each of the three words below with a lot of emphasis and leaving a short gap between each one and most emphasis on the last word. Like this.


Sounds pretty clear. Someone wants to stop something.

Now speak the 3 words quickly together with the same emphasis on each word.

“No don’t stop”

If that has worked you will have discovered how the emphasis on words and the pace they are spoken can dramatically change the meaning of a sentence from a definite prohibition to a desire to continue. The emphasis we have given the words completely changes the meaning. You might think that in a coaching session a client or coach would understand the importance of how they emphasised words in a message but this is not always the case. Generally we tend to assume that others will read into a message the meaning we intended when when they could be reading it in a totally different way.

If you are reading a text message from someone in a coaching session you need to be aware of how the message they want to convey could be completely different depending on how they intended to stress words and the gaps that were in their head when they wrote them. And we do not have this information in text.

That is why we have to be so careful in how we approach virtual coaching and why a bit of a paranoia is a good idea.

When I read a text message from a client part of me is asking “Am I sure I understand what they intended to communicate when they wrote it?” And if not I might ask a question back to clarify. When I write a sentence back to a client I will often experiment reading it in different ways to ensure that I have used the best words to convey the meaning and sentiment I intend to convey.

Lets look at this passage from a client’s session talking about getting her children out in the morning.

‘I make a lot of plans and try to plan for every contingency yet they will always find something to ruin it :-(‘ Where my client says ‘they will always find something to ruin it’, I wonder how much emotion she has about the situation. She could be looking at it with detached irony or she could be bitterly hurt about it. My guess is she is quite hurt so I will keep that in mind for the rest of the session.

It is often assumed that using text means that you do not have enough information to definitely understand meaning. But we do get information from text and often more than we commonly think. Lets take a minute and see what information you do have with text.

You can be aware of:

  • A record of the actual words and punctuation the client uses. These can be used to infer emotions but you may need to check with the client.
  • The fonts, italics, capitals and colours a client uses
  • How quickly they reply to your questions
  • The length of their responses
  • The client’s skill in the choice of words, the actual sentences, paragraphs and how they are all chosen, constructed and laid out on the page.
  • and now of course their use of emojis.

By heightening our awareness we can develop virtual presence but we should be aware of the skill and awareness that is necessary in order to be an effective virtual coach.