Not so long ago, I agreed to do an NLP consultation over Skype. The client was based in Scotland, a long way from Oxford. She was studying for an exam that she had failed several times and was dreading her next re-sit. She had only two more opportunities to re-take the exam and if she failed, her chosen career was not going to be an option any more. Even thinking about it, she was starting to sweat.
I must admit I wasn’t too confident either. I trained to do NLP talking to people in the same room, at a range of not usually more than a yard or so. The principles of NLP apply to almost any form of communication, to some extent. However, there’s a lot of information available when you’re right next to someone that you just don’t get through other media. I also have a long-standing distrust of electronic media for communicating anything that has significant emotional content. Recipes, party invitations, business communications: great; but I was reluctant to talk about real human stuff through a computer screen. I once fell out with a close friend after trying to talk through some difficult personal issues via instant messaging.
Skype’s just a narrow field of vision with somewhat distorted sound and sometimes there’s a distracting time lag. There’s an awful lot of body language off screen if the other person sits close enough for you to see their face properly. Worst of all there’s that little window in the bottom right hand corner where you see a video of yourself. I just cannot help looking at the damn thing. Maybe I don’t spend enough time looking at myself in the mirror in the morning (not a pleasant sight, first thing) but my eyes keep getting drawn back to mini-me in the corner. It’s oddly fascinating but it’s not where my attention should be when I’m working with a client.
Still, Skype is a much higher bandwidth medium than plain text and I think it’s a good idea to try new things. I was surprised how well the session went. Before too long we were laughing and joking at the process she went through to get anxious about the forthcoming exam. By the end of the session I was pretty confident we’d nailed it.
It’s a testament to the power of the human imagination that we’re able to have a meaningful conversation with a little two-dimensional image of someone whose voice sounds like they’re talking through a Pringles tube. But then we’ve been talking over the phone for a very long time and, Indian call centres aside, that seems to work, mostly.
When I followed up the session a month or so later, I was glad to hear that things had worked out well. She’d felt fine in the run up to the exam and during it. No anxiety at all… until afterwards when she thought she had failed before she got the results. Thankfully she did pass.
So I shall offer Skype as a medium for consultations from now on, although I think face-to-face communications are a better bet. But next time I am going to put a bit of masking tape over that damned little video of myself in the bottom right hand corner.