Time is Up. Let’s Continue Online

Jackie couldn’t sleep for days. She is about to terminate her lab’s collaboration with an industry-renowned professor. During the three years of leading the lab and collaborating with him, he utilized one third of her funding but produced very little progress, and repeatedly failed to heed her directions in research. She read her drafted termination email over and over again, hesitating about whether the tone was too harsh and whether that would burn a very important bridge. The nasty words she received from her last attempt to reject him were still giving her unpleasant chills. “Saying No is simply not in my nature.” Jackie concluded.

Jack had not been promoted for 5 years. Although he knew perfectly well that to get promoted to the Director level, he needed to be performing responsibilities at that level first, he was reluctant to ask for such opportunities. They were usually a stretch for his capabilities. He was not sure if he could succeed. If he failed, he was not sure whether the feeling of shame and incompetence would be worthy of the potential of getting promoted faster. “I cannot allow myself to fail after being the department’s top performer for 3 years in a row.” Jack reflected.

It only took 2-3 coaching sessions for Jackie and Jack to realize that the fundamental commitment behind their behavior was a deeply engrained loyalty to their eastern cultural roots. In Jackie’s case, it was a collectivistic trait of never disturbing the harmony in key inter-personal relationships (See Hofstede’s Five Dimensions of Cultural Differences). In Jack’s case, it was a fixed mindset where performance trumps learning and an assumption that to fail is to bring shame to self instead of to learn and grow (See A Growth Mindset VS A Fixed Mindset). After the sessions, they both gained profound awareness of what’s causing their behaviors, and are ready to embark upon a methodical journey of adopting new ones. Although they do not lack motivation for the journey, it is nevertheless a lonely and difficult one to tread on, and they have little support other than that from their coach, who now seems to be the only person other than themselves that is fully involved in this very personal and emotional adventure.

Have you ever coached individuals who came to you for different reasons, but ultimately shared the same goal as a way to get out of their predicament? Have you ever wished there was a place where your like-minded clients could support and learn from each other? Given the siloed and confidential nature of coaching, clients often form a one-to-one relationship with the coach with no contact with each other even if they share the same path forward, such as a profound personal change of mentality in Jackie’s and Jack’s case. Coming from various industries, different age groups and gender roles, they often feel alone in their predicament as they don’t visibly share it with anyone else in their day-to-day communities. In a way, a coaching relationship is no help on this matter, since it is a learning environment deprived of peer interactions, mutual inspiration and a sense of belonging to a larger community.

Can social media create such an environment for these individuals, who share a commonality that is often not “bucketed” in any social organizations that they are grouped into? I say it can, and there is no better form than a social media platform to keep such interactions anonymous.

To effectively leverage social media to create such an environment as a coach, we need to understand the three key objectives of doing so:

  1. To articulate and celebrate the commonality. For someone going through profound personal change such as that in a cross-cultural integration, it is often hard to find peers who relate to the same transformation. Being a fellow engineer, doctor, assistant professor, a fellow man or woman, or a fellow Asian American alone does not grant a shared understanding, hence the loneliness of coping with the predicament. The social media community should first and foremost articulate the commonality amongst the participants and create a sense of belonging that a coach alone cannot create.
  2. To create a safe environment for experiments. A common first step in the journey of overcoming false assumptions that hinder growth is often to design a series of experiments to disprove its validity, so that the client can form new beliefs and shift away from old mentalities. Why can’t the social media platform be the first incubator where the client tests the waters in a safe and anonymous fashion? When Jackie practices new behaviors of being strategically more assertive in saying No, for example, she can experiment with the new behaviors first in the coach’s social media community before moving on to the real world.
  3. To continue the coaching momentum online in between sessions. In a way, the social media platform can be treated as an extension of the 45 minutes’ of one on one coaching session with the same strategically placed support and challenges for certain thoughts. Such support or challenge can be as simple as an encouraging “Like” from the coach when the client shared something that highly aligns with her target behaviors and a probing, curious question when she is not. For this to happen, however, the coach needs to be highly conscious of the impact of her gestures in the online forum, and consider all the possible moves – “Like”, commenting, sharing a post, tagging someone, pinning posts as key insight – strategic tools to leverage in this extended, informal coaching environment.

How exactly do we meet these objectives? What is a coach’s role in such social media environment? What potential challenges might arise?

Why don’t we experiment and find out? For the time being, I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Time is Up. Let’s Continue Online”

  1. Chao, I think this idea sounds fascinating! On the three topics I think there is a lot of value to be gained but some things to explore are the impact of trust and privacy. Although all of these things could be anonymous maybe you can explore a setting where there is a progression in the coaching process and students feel like they can share their experiences with strangers like we have done in the MSLOC community. I think it could be a powerful motivational tool as well. Looking forward to how this keeps taking shape!

  2. Chao–Thanks for this. Your post made some things clearer to me. I currently coach in a context were my coachees reflect on what they are learning and on their “small wins” in a semi-private, on-line platform. They read and comment on each others’ posts and so inspire each other in between coaching sessions. I hadn’t considered how siloed the coaching experience might be in a different context. My experience says that although not everyone takes full advantage of the opportunity for vicarious learning and connection/encouragement, those who do benefit richly (and make quicker progress than those who don’t). Now, that’s a Capstone study just waiting to happen! 😉 Thank you for highlighting this aspect of the coaching experience. It makes me think of how siloed coaching can be for the coaches as well! –Michelle

    1. Michelle, it would be awesome if there is a community for the silo-ed coaches! It gets lonely out there. The question is: how to find commonalities beyond the fact that we all coach people? Since the word “coaching” is used so carelessly nowadays, when someone self-identify as a coach, it often doesn’t mean any specific type of methodology, shared assumptions or list of client challenges. How to make the community more cohesive and relevant?

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