The poverty of Video calls and how it can be improved
Online guidance and treatment using various means of communication
You can hardly get around it. In recent weeks, several online video calling services have been offering their services at low prices or even for free. The care and support industry is jumping on it en masse. The fact that people are now reaching for online video calls is logical: it comes closest to face-to-face contact. Video calls seem to be familiar almost immediately. However, the lack of non-verbal communication is difficult to compensate for. Video calling is therefore a "poor" version of face-to-face contact. You can argue that limited contact is better than no contact at all. But a better and more intensive contact is possible: by combining image calling with other means of communication.
We are temporarily no longer allowed to get together. Where this is still possible, precautions are taken, such as keeping a distance of 1.5 metres or sitting behind glass. You can still see and hear each other via video calling. The non-verbal communication remains visible. The many positive reactions also create the impression that it is a balanced substitute for face-to-face contact. However, the question is whether this is the case.
Misconceptions about image calling
Because the camera shows an image of the client, there hardly seems to be a difference with a real physical encounter. However, the projected image is not complete. In general, only the face and part of the torso are visible. Hand and arm movements are beyond the reach of the camera. There is also the illusion of eye contact. In reality this is not the case. When you look into the camera, you don't really look into the eyes of the other person. Usually your conversation partner is looking at your image at that moment. If, on top of that, the internet connection fails or disappears, there is even more noise in the communication.
A complete representation?
Due to the reduced visibility of body language and the lack of real eye contact, non-verbal communication is limited. However, both parties can assume that the non-verbal behavior they do observe is actually a complete representation of the non-verbal behavior of the other. Take, for example, a client who appears to be quietly visible in the picture. This while he actually has trembling legs. Unfortunately, they remain out of sight. For a coach/conductor it is therefore important not to rely solely on the non-verbal image, which is only visible to a limited extent. In addition, the continuous (unabashed) viewing of the other person can create an uncomfortable situation. It is also possible that your conversation partner takes screenshots (images of the screen) of your image. The chance that you will be photographed by a client in your consultation room is small, but online it is a lot more realistic and easier. It is therefore wise to think carefully about what your conversation partner is allowed or able to see. The same applies to (private) objects that are hanging in plain sight and may cause distraction or invasion of your privacy.
Compensating non-verbal communication
By sitting in a quiet place with little ambient noise or distractions, potentially disturbing elements can be minimized. However, the lack of non-verbal communication is difficult to compensate. What we often see happening is that the camera is often only turned on at the beginning of a conversation. This ensures a personal start. After that, the camera can be turned off. In fact, you then switch from video calls to telephone guidance with even less view on the non-verbal signals.
Video calling is therefore a "shabby" version of face-to-face contact. You can argue that limited contact is better than no contact at all. But a better and more intensive contact is possible: by combining video calls with other means of communication.
Additional means of communication
We have been providing online guidance for many years. Integrating online communication with traditional face-to-face meetings is a matter of course for us. For this reason, in addition to visual calls and telephone contact, we also use chat, sms and e-mail to shape our processes. At first this seems counterintuitive. After all, with chat, sms and mail almost all non-verbal communication has disappeared. As a result, you might expect these forms to work less well than videoconferencing or telephoning. Our research and years of experience with thousands of clients show the opposite to be true. The switch from spoken to written communication activates new processes that are not present in (picture) calling or even face-to-face conversations.
The three basic pillars of asynchronous online communication
We distinguish three elements why the additional use of chat, sms or mail communication within online work has a significant added value.
These three fundamental elements are:
Through written messages, communication is more asynchronous because there is more time between communication (except for chatting). By communicating asynchronously, time and place guidance can take place independently. It offers the client the possibility to have more control over the process; he can determine the pace and time when he wants to contact the counsellor. This has a positive effect on the self-reliance and self-management of the client. The process can also be divided into several contact moments. This creates a continuous development process, including a continuous flow of exercises, reflection, feedback and reinforcement moments.
In the case of image calling, the client is literally in the picture. This is not the case with written communication which allows the client to communicate in relative anonymity. In this way, there is no need for direct socially desirable behaviour and the client does not have to suppress his emotions (social inhibition). The client does not have to tune in to the (non)verbal reaction of the counsellor or practitioner. This means that boundaries are lost and "open communication" is easier. Feeling less inhibited in one's own behaviour online is also known as the 'online disinhibition effect'. In summary, the client can be more self-confident within the communication.
The power of writing
The power of writing was proven by the research of psychologist-investigator Pennebaker as early as the 1980s. Expressing yourself by writing structures your thoughts, gives you access to your emotions and stimulates your reflective capacity. Moreover, writing leads to more self-insight, optimism, feeling of control and self-esteem. Another advantage of writing is that it is written in black and white and can therefore be read back. This helps the client to perpetuate the insights gained and reduces the chance of relapse into old patterns.
Closer to the ball
By combining different communication channels (each creating different possibilities), a situation is created in which more contact moments are possible, for example several times a week. This creates a continuous guidance dialogue: the client is invited to continuous reflection and (inter)action. He also gets the opportunity to try out new behaviour in his own relevant context, at home or on the work floor. The client is no longer 'let go' between two image sessions, but can take small, manageable steps. He can also report back online again and again, get feedback and reflect with his supervisor. In this way, the counsellor is closer to the ball (the client's development process) and, if necessary, can make adjustments faster.
Blended online coaching
A combination of image bubbles with other forms of online contact is also called 'blended guidance'. See the figure below how this can look like:
We use our own online platform Pluform to safely guide our clients online. When designing a blended trajectory, it is also very important that the communication tools, treatment platforms and/or applications to be used are AVG-proof. Simply turning on Skype or using your mail program does not comply with current privacy legislation. Finally, blended counselling requires a different role of the counsellor because there are more frequent contact options. Also, additional digital (writing) skills are needed to manage the online process. As it turns out, online coaching can offer a whole new world full of opportunities and possibilities.