Ok, let’s start off with some self-disclosure (which by the way, if used strategically, can be a great way to establish rapport).
Yes, I have coached a client in my pyjamas – more than once. At least they were the “pants and suit” type. Fortunately, in telecounselling, my choice of uniform has no bearing on my client’s perception of my services; they can’t see me! (However, it may have a bearing/impact on my perception of self, which can have an indirect effect on the client, so this is not a habit I encourage.)
As the world adapts to the impact of COVID–19, there has been a surge of counselling and coaching now being done through phone. This article will aim to answer some common questions I have often been asked: Can a telecounselling session be as effective as in person? If there are no visual cues, how can you build rapport with clients and students?
As a Telephonic Life Coach and Career Counsellor, here are my tips and strategies for providing an efficient and successful telecounselling session with your clients.
1. Presence and focus
Just because no one can see you does not mean your physical behaviour and manner are not important. To build a connection with your client, the client needs to hear and “feel” your presence. Presence is about you creating a professional, prepared, comfortable and focused state letting your client know that 100% attention is on them.
Things to consider:
- Body posture: I advise maintaining the same body posture you would in an in-person session – relaxed and leaning forward a little.
- Eye gaze: As you are relying much more on your auditory senses you may want to start off with some self-awareness and make a note of where your eyes go while you are in session. What did you find yourself focusing on during the appointment? It is important to limit distractions or any visual ‘prompts” (ie, staring at your desktop) so that you can really home in on your auditory senses. Everyone has a different preference, so find something that works for you.
- Facial expressions: No, you cannot roll your eyes (which I hope you would never do anyway!), yawn or scowl. Your facial expressions not only affect your own mental and emotional state, but can make a difference in your tone. A client can “hear” you not smiling. Try this out: Make a large grin and say, “How are you feeling about this?” Now, neutralize your expression and repeat the question. If you cannot hear the difference, try recording yourself. It may surprise you.
2. Understanding preferred learning preferences
At an intake (if it is a new client) or before the telephone session (if it was an existing client you previously met in person), it may help to understand your client’s preferred learning mode and tailor your methods to the client. There are several theories on learning styles and I tend to refer to the VAK model: visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Ask your clients about their learning style and preferences (eg, if they prefer to receive resources via video or written articles) and let the client decide what actions will align with this. (Check out this site for a list of activities recommended based on learning styles.)
It is also equally important to understand your own learning preferences and implement techniques and strategies that work for you so that you can best serve your client. However, this does not mean you cannot operate with other senses and learn to develop different learning styles.
3. Listen with your other senses
With telecounselling, there needs to be a shift in how you take in and gather information. Without visual cues, you have to rely more on your auditory senses and listening skills. Here are some tips:
- Listen not just to what is being said, but to what is not being said. A client often chooses not to share something for a reason.
- Learn to use your intuition as another sense to help you gather information, uncover “blind spots” and help your client gain deeper clarity.
- Listen for breathing, sniffling, sighs and background noises.
- Use techniques like backtracking, paraphrasing and summarizing to make sure that you and your client are in sync.
4. Embrace silence
Even if you are comfortable using silence as a technique, you and your client may find it more challenging during a phone session without visual cues to fill in the gap. However, it’s still a worthwhile approach. Being comfortable with silence is a possible indicator that the client feels comfortable with you (a sign of rapport and trust) and it allows room for the client to process thoughts, feelings and generate ideas.
You can still check in with your client as you get accustomed to using silence over the phone. Let the client know you are with them. If you are not sure where you client is at, ask them, “What is going on for your right now?”
5. Help your client feel at ease
A few suggestions:
- Try telling them verbally what you are doing. For example, if you need a moment to write notes, say “I am here and listening. I am just jotting down a few notes.”
- Ask them how they feel about telecounselling at the beginning of the appointment and if they have any concerns or questions.
- Ask them at the end of the session how it went for them. What worked and what didn’t? Ask them what might help to make the telephone process more helpful for them.
6. Ensure empathetic responses are expressed
We often use our posture and facial expressions to evoke empathy. You will likely still do this as you listen to your client, but they will not see that. They can hear it, however, and you may want to brush up on verbal-based empathetic responses* (including sighs, deep breaths).
*Some statements in this list may not be suitable to use in a professional relationship so please use your discretion.
I hope you are successful in using these suggested tips. Remember that this takes practice, and to take time to reflect and evaluate your performance with each call.
Want the best of CareerWise delivered to your inbox each week? Subscribe to our popular CareerWise Weekly newsletter to receive top news and views in career development every Tuesday.