Connecting through the screen..

By Elisabeth Goodman, 30th January 2021

Illustration inspired by Dr Robyn Vesey’s webinar for the Association for Coaching on 21st January 2021

Having conversations through the screen has now become a way of life for most of us, whether having a work meeting, pursuing our learning and development, or socialising with friends and family. Some of us have a love / hate relationship with the medium, many of us suffer from ‘Zoom fatigue’.

Dr Robyn Vesey’s webinar was an excellent opportunity to help me crystallise my own experiences and gain insights for making it a more positive one for others.

The psychological positives and negatives of connecting through the screen

I know that being on a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call often makes me conscious of how much I miss being in the same location as people when I’m coaching, or delivering a training course. However I’m not alone in saying that the conversation can seem more intimate too somehow, with more rapport between myself and the other person. That can tip over into feeling more exposed too. The strangest moments for me are when I come back into the physical room after a break only to see one or more people from elsewhere seemingly in the room too!

As Vesey pointed out, it can be more tiring interacting with people in this way because the interaction is somehow more concentrated. There’s less scope to ‘escape’ eye contact. The technology often requires a more formal approach to taking turns. There might be a time delay. People might feel more self-conscious about their image. If either party is sharing their physical space with others, there are more distractions to filter out.

Vesey also mentioned dissonance as something I had not really been aware of but makes a lot of sense now I think about it. How we drift in and out of being associated or present with the other person, and disassociated with or absent from them. It’s almost as though I have to remind myself every now and then that I’m not watching someone on a television screen. They are as real as I am, and what they are experiencing in this given moment is a direct result of my interaction with them and vice versa.

Finally, there is no denying that interacting with people in this way can be very convenient. Several people have mentioned to me the benefit of not having to lose time and energy in commuting. Some people also feel a greater sense of control, of reassurance even, from being able to interact with others from the comfort of their own physical space.

What the coach, manager or other ‘host’ of the conversation can do for a more positive experience

Vesey mentioned three things that we can do as coaches, that could also be adopted by managers and others hosting a conversation through a screen.

Create “containment” for the person we are interacting with

One of the most valuable things we do as coaches is to provide a quiet space for people to think. Vesey likened this to developmental psychology, where a parent soothes and enables a child to think.

We can all create this kind of “containment” through the quality of the attention that we bring to the conversation. We can provide emotional support by responding thoughtfully and generally enabling a productive outcome.

Manage the transition into the conversation

Many people are having back-to-back online meetings, without some of the transition time that physical meetings would normally allow. Or they may be making a sudden transition from whatever they were engaged in, which could be home-schooling, squeezing in a quick walk in the sunshine, dealing with last minute deadlines or other things.

We can do a lot to help others manage the transition to their conversation with us: giving them time to catch their breath, release some tension and generally settle in. Taking some genuine interest in how they are feeling, asking an open question, just listening, could make an enormous amount of difference; make this interaction more special. We might also share a little more about what we are experiencing than we would normally do, to help create genuine rapport.

Increase our awareness of the “systems psychodynamic”

Vesey described this as the whole context that the other person is experiencing and which will have an impact on their perspective and on outcomes: their organisation, their role, their emotions, the changes they are experiencing. It can be harder to tune into this when not co-located with the other person. So we might need to work harder to pick up this information through dialogue and observation.


How do these reflections relate to your own experiences? What might you do the same or differently as a result?



Vesey, R. (2021, January 21) UK Virtual Masterclass: The screen in-between: Coaching at depth online. Association for Coaching, webinar

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through coaching, courses and workshops, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.

She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to be true to themselves and exercise choice in the workplace by enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth recently completed her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester. She is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.

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