by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

Face-to-face, telephone or email?

You can coach people in a number of ways – face-to-face, telephone or email – depending on the application and what is possible and practical. Each has benefits and challenges as well as some key points to be aware of.

Face-to-face coaching

A highly effective way to coach people is face-to-face.

When you are face-to-face with someone, your coaching can take account of the totality of their communication. You can check if their words seem to match their body language and you can develop rapport and trust easier than on the telephone or via email.

An opportunity for face-to-face coaching might present itself in a number of ways and in a number of environments, from a defined coaching session in the office to a few minutes with one of your people before or after a meeting. Wherever possible, you should give some thought to the environment to get the most from your coaching.

Where should I coach?

For coaching to be most effective it is best to have a quiet location away from distractions. This may not always be possible, but you do need to consider the nature of the coaching conversation in planning where you hold it.

Coaching is often confidential and may be around a subject that is personal to the individual. You need to respect this. Is it appropriate to have the meeting in your office, their office or on some neutral ground?

Try to think as if you were in their shoes – what would be appropriate in their eyes?

If you do choose to use neutral ground, then consider the environment – have you somewhere to sit, is it private enough for the matter being discussed and is it convenient for both parties?


Any number of distractions are around in an office environment. When planning to coach someone, be aware of the following distractions.

  • Telephone

While you are coaching, divert your phone or enable the messaging system so that it does not interrupt the session.

  • Mobile

Remember to switch your mobile phone off. Nothing is more distracting to both coach and coachee than to hear your mobile ring while in the middle of a coaching session. Remind the other person to do the same.

  • Email or PC

Switch your email programme off or have it silent so that new messages don’t sound that irritating ‘ping’ when they arrive.

  • People ‘popping in’ to your office

Remember that a coaching session often gets into a flow and can be negatively impacted by someone popping in to the office. To avoid this, either put a sign on the door or let people know that you are in a meeting.

Field-based coaching

While a lot of face-to-face coaching might occur in an office, perhaps around specific topics, there is also often an opportunity to provide face-to-face coaching in the field, especially if you work with sales teams or employees that attend client meetings. This type of coaching is particularly useful in developing softer skills in order to maximise an individual’s effectiveness in field-based tasks.

The principles of coaching in the field are similar to other coaching opportunities, except there is likely to be more of a focus on feedback as a starting point for your coaching. Here are some tips to help you with coaching in the field when accompanying someone to a meeting or visit.

Before the meeting or visit

  • Be clear on your roles; get specific on why you are there and what your role is in the meeting.
  • Ask the other person what they would like you to watch for and give feedback on.
  • Tell the other person what your specific expectations are. Be clear about this, if it is a behaviour, tell them specifically what they will be doing if they are exhibiting what you want to see.
  • Help them to understand what you are looking for; maybe a simple form will help here.
  • Ask them what their expectations and goals for the meeting are.
  • Agree how you are both going to interact as a team in the meeting.

During the meeting

  • Focus on observing objectively; be specific in your observations.
  • Keep to your agreed role.
  • Only contribute in areas you have agreed on or where you see a significant problem arising if you do not contribute.

After the meeting

Ask the coachee for their opinions first:

  • ‘How did you feel it went?’
  • ‘What did you think went well?’
  • ‘To what extent do you think you achieved your goals for the meeting?’

Ask permission to give feedback

Give your feedback using a suitable model, such as BOOST, to ensure objectivity and maximum benefit to the other person.

Balance positive and developmental feedback

Avoid falling into the trap of saying: ‘It was broadly OK, but here are some things I want you to do differently next time.’

Telephone coaching

Telephone coaching is useful when working with remote teams and to supplement face-to-face coaching.

When you are coaching over the telephone, it is important to eliminate any distractions that can get in the way. Turn off your PC and mobile; make sure your attention is totally on the coaching and the coachee. Nothing can break rapport and detrimentally affect coaching more than the coachee hearing you tap on your keyboard or the ‘ping’ of a new email on your screen!

Look at the topic on Telephone Skills for ideas on how to use the phone successfully.

Email coaching

Sometimes circumstances may mean that email coaching is your only option. While this is the least personal and, therefore, is less preferable than the other formats, it can be useful.


Take much more care than you usually do when composing and checking your emails.

When using email, focus on phrasing a few powerful questions and on being explicit in what you want the coachee to do in terms of their reflection and thinking. Be clear on your feedback to their responses and notice the particular language and words that they use because you can then reflect this back to develop deeper rapport. Remember, with email coaching you only have words to go on, so look closely at how these are used and what they might indicate.

A combination of methods

In practice, a combination of these methods is likely to be appropriate. Use face-to-face coaching wherever possible, however, as this will give you maximum information from the other person and the opportunity of developing the most effective coaching relationship.

Where you need to combine other methods of coaching, we suggest that you signpost that it is a coaching conversation to the other person. If you have lots of interactions with them, of which only some are based on coaching, then signposting enables them to get into the right frame of mind for the telephone or email conversation.