The world that faces the sport psychology consultant has evolved significantly over the last 20 years. Twenty years ago consultancy happened face to face, or at a push over the phone. Electronic communication was limited to email, and long conversations on mobile phones came with health warnings as the phones often ended up burning yours ears if switched on for too long. So, the consultant sport psychologist had reasonable control over when and how they communicated with their clients, and the form that these communications often took. With the advances of new technology and social media this has evolved significantly. Whether the communication is via text (SMS), blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Viber, Skype or Facetime there are a wide range of options that mean that clients can access the consultant any time and where.
Emails are a widely used form of communication, but suffer from the same issues that phone calls do. Anything other than a face-to-face conversation is a compromise. Much of the important information from clients comes from body language and vocal emphasis, so talking on the phone is not quite as informative, and emails are even less so. It is very easy to misunderstand or misrepresent information in emails as you are completely dependent on the language both parties use. Also, emails are permanent, so you need to make sure you always say the right thing, easy right? Although here at least new technology and software are helping with both Skype and Facetime offering the opportunity to have video calls in real time, although sometimes due to connections you can’t pick up too much in the way of non-verbal cues.
With the increased use of Smart Phones and Tablet computers you can be permanently up-to-date with your inbox. But is this a good thing? Always being aware of who is contacting you is not necessarily useful. There are issues about work-life balance and there is increasing acknowledgement of a technology addiction. This is where consultants feel compelled to check who might have emailed them when ‘off duty’. This means that the consultant is in danger of carrying their work around with them permanently. In the UK sending text messages has become the most used form of communication, surpassing phone calls. This is another form of communication that is instant, and can also be used any time from almost any location. The question though with texts is where do you draw the line? Can clients expect (or should you offer) to be contactable any time any where? Do you charge extra for giving advice via text or having text conversations?
Social media is a great way to communicate with Twitter and Facebook status updates you can keep many people up-to-date with your life. But how can this work in consultancy practice? Should you have access to your client’s Twitter or Facebook information? Should they be able to access yours? Another question when using Twitter is who should you be? Do you have a Twitter account just for your consultancy business? There are lots out there who will tweet daily with some motivational phrase or sound bite. Or do you tweet about you? This might be about sport psychology, but might also be about other aspects of your life? To what extent should clients be able to access this, more personal, information about you.
The other challenge in terms of a standard approach to your practice relates to how comfortable different generations feel communicating in this way. Increasingly younger groups are feeling most comfortable with text and social media communication. As a result, the question has to be asked about the most effective way to communicate? Is it using the form that the consultant feels most comfortable with or what the student feels most comfortable with?
Obviously the answers to these questions are not necessarily clear-cut. There are times when communicating by text message is effective, and other times where it might even be inappropriate. Some clients might want you to follow them on Facebook and Twitter while others would prefer you not to. All this does raise the questions though for the consultant, when should you communicate, how, and how much? If you don’t have a plan and your own boundaries the one thing that is certain is that you will end up never switching off, which ultimately is not good for your health. So the potential for using this technology is exciting, but you really need to be clear on how this can work for you and your practice.