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Can we please turn the video off?

Can We Please Turn the Video Off?

“Can we please turn the video off?”, she said. I immediately felt intense curiosity shooting up my spine.A couple of years ago I was coaching a senior consultant via Skype, and this is how she started one of our sessions. Something told me not to explore her request further at that moment, so I just said “Yeah, sure.”

About 10 minutes later, she brought it up herself:  ”I feel compelled to explain my earlier request. I’ve decided that I prefer not to have the video on during our sessions.  When I can see you, I find myself looking for your reactions, and this distracts my thinking process.”

We both found this fascinating, and discussed how —  with video — we tend to not only watch the other person’s reactions, but also to manage our own body language and facial expressions. In other words, ‘we observe and we try to behave’.

With all this visual activity going on, imagine how many aural clues we probably miss such as silence, wording, breathing, sighs, hesitation, changes in tone/speed/volume, etc.

During our coaching session,  I found myself not only appreciating the absence of the visual data (almost relief!), but also noticing things such as silence, and tone of exasperation that I might well have missed had we had the video on.  As a result, I was able to dig further in a couple of discussion points, which resulted in important discoveries for my coachee. And I found myself managing my own silences, intonation and wording more attentively.

So how can we, as coaches, sharpen our non-visual skills and become more alert to these clues when the video is on, or when we are meeting our coachees face-to-face?  We can:

  • Before the session, mentally commit to staying aware of what we hear
  • During the session, make a physical or mental note of things we hear such as ‘long sigh’, or ‘uncomfortable silence’
  • During the session, put these on the table: “I just heard a deep sigh.  What’s that about?”
  • After the session, reflect on which aural clues we noticed and what they might have meant

So the next time you are coaching with video or face-to-face (or not!), remember to consciously pay close attention to the non-visuals. Otherwise, you might render yourself deaf to a rich source of information.

CSA graduate: Julie Johnson