Coaching, like many parts of our lives are being changed by rapid advancements in technology. I believe that it’s not a case of whether or not artificial intelligence will influence coaching. It’s more about understanding what and how AI can support coaching. That way we can be ready to make the most of it! Looking to the future is always a creative endeavour of what could be and might be…
Clever gadgets are already everywhere in our lives
It feels like the development and application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is impacting every part of life.
- AI is the smart speaker you call “what’s the weather like today?”
- It’s the chatbot on the website that pops up and answers your questions.
- It’s the navigation app in your phone that tells you directions and how long it will take you to get there.
- It’s the recommendations on your streaming service that tells you what you need to watch, before you even know yourself.
- Got a smart watch on? Buzzing at you to move or close a ring? AI!
What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?
AI is not about aliens or robots. It’s about empowering machines, including computers, to have the capacity to perform, exhibit or simulate intelligent behaviour (Oxford English Dictionary).
AI has the ability to have the cognitive function that we usually associate with human minds, but in a machine form. These functions — perceiving, reasoning, learning, interacting, problem-solving — even creativity, can be done with the power of a machine and AI (McKinsey & Company, 2023). The bonus is also that learning plays a vital part in AI — it learns patterns, predictions and recommendations and can adapt to improve over time.
What could coaching look like with AI?
The pandemic has forced distance and online coaching like never before (British Psychological Society, 2022a). There was just no alternative when restrictions created remote-only meetings. It helped coaching become a more acceptable practice online along with the rise of platforms such as Coachhub and Better up which provide affordable and accessible options to employers. The benefit in accessibility via online coaching helps with scale, reach and availability. More people can get an hour session via a coach on a screen, compared to what that coach could manage in person.
Just an intelligent note taker?
With the power of AI, further benefits could be added to online coaching sessions with simple adaptations such as live transcription or a summary of the sessions. While helping with the coach’s admin and practice it could also potentially help those with disabilities or neuro diversities be able to adapt the format into something that works better for them, and helps quickly refresh what has been covered in past session.
Artificial Intelligence can monitor a coachee’s progress towards their goals
AI also has the power to process and analyse large amounts of data and with more analysis and insight we could see greater knowledge, reflection and awareness available. There is plenty of data that Artificial Intelligence could capture during a coaching session; imagine AI as an assistant that could analyse the coachee’s language, body movements, even heart rate throughout the session. And it’s not just from within the session either.
Say a coachee wants to work on a specific goal such as building confidence in the workplace for example, AI could measure their confidence through presence in meetings, collect perceived confidence from others, track performance as well as sending reminders and holding them accountable for putting their plans and ideas into practice. All this would give greater knowledge and information for reflection.
AI can support the coach to help their coachee
Add this monitoring data together with an individual’s strength analysis or other psychometric or measurement tools, and AI could give the coach further data, prompts or feedback. AI could see the patterns and tell you what you need to see before you’ve seen it yourself — like the recommendations on a streaming service! As a coach you could have much more information to hand during a session and the right application and exploration of that could help the furthering and tailoring of the coachee’s experience.
Technology featuring virtual reality is already bringing together the remote coach and coachee. Newer models of messaging are more readily available through technology (British Psychological Society, 2022b) which could move coaching sessions from a verbal 1:1 time-bound setting into something really quite different.
Even something as simple as AI organising diary and appointments could aid coaches’ business and operations, or matching of coach and coachee in platform or group settings — aiding the connection of ideal matches. There is so much potential!
Virtual AI coaches could democratise coaching
Google DeepMind is testing a tool that would become a “personal life coach” (Farah, 2023). The concept includes life advice, ideas, tips and even answering questions about people’s lives. It’s easy to extrapolate from this the real potential for an AI generated coach, asking open questions or working through a specific coaching model.
Data even suggests in some circumstances humans might even prefer to use AI for advice, given they do not hold the judgement that humans do. Virtual AI coaches could provide on-demand support that no human (or no human with contracted-boundaries) could. A real-time space for that reflection and suggested paths for exploration. No need to set up a mutually agreeable time, but an always available approach. It’s been suggested that a next step for this could be towards chatbots for coaching (British Psychological Society, 2022a), and built to be always on and available.
Used in this way AI could also make coaching and supervision considerably more accessible. One of the future thinkers of coaching tech, Isaacson talks about the benefit of scale and in terms of democratisation, where availability to all means it is also affordable to those who earn the least (Isaacson, 2023b) and particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Once the system is set up, the cost would likely be lower for the user, lowering the barrier of price that is a reality coaching. This could also be applied in the Supervision setting too, where again price may be a barrier in practice.
Artificial coaches might also suffer from human biases
But these possibilities are not without risks, and there is due concern around privacy and data access. There is evidence that AI tools can repeat the same mistakes and lapses in judgement of humans, adding to the racism and discrimination evident in our society today (Raikes, 2023). It will be key to know and account for this in future AI programming and mitigate creating or copying the real-world bias into the artificial world.
Are coaches going to be replaced by Artificial Intelligence?
To me, the idea of AI can feel in complete opposition to the very human interaction of coaching. Coaching is all about human connection, replacing that with something non-human could take the joy out of the interaction with people and all their complexities. A chat bot or virtual coach risks the interaction feeling transactional and perhaps a superficial process, rather than the reflective process we often seek in coaching. All these concerns lead to impacting the coachee’s engagement, progress and benefit being diminished.
As humans, we bring our human element to coaching, our humanity. And while developments are being made, AI cannot be a human — it can’t emulate imagination and intuition (Clutterbuck, 2023). AI simulates intelligent behaviour, not human behaviour. Humans are just what we need for the human element we need in coaching. The technology of AI is getting smarter and better, and there is so much potential for learning, analysis and assistance for coaches.
Coaches, I encourage you to fully embrace and explore the remarkable potential of Artificial Intelligence. It serves as a valuable support tool that continues to evolve and become more intelligent. Its influence on our profession is inevitable, and we must prepare to welcome it. Join an interactive discussion on AI in coaching in January 2024.
Share your thoughts below!
The British Psychological Society, 2022a. Episode 1 What has Psychology got to do with coaching? The Coaching Psychology Pod. 1 February 2022
The British Psychological Society, 2022b. Episode 10 How is coaching changing for the future? The Coaching Psychology Pod. 1 June 2022
Clutterbuck, D. 2023. The integration of AI and coaching: A vision of a not-so-distant future. 21 March 2023.
Farah, H. 2023. Google DeepMind testing ‘personal life coach’ AI tool. The Guardian 17 August 2023.
Isaacson, S. 2023b. How to reach the utopia of coaching democratisation. Linkedin 8 August 2023.
McKinsey & Company 2023. What is AI? 24 April 2023.
Raikes, J. 2023. AI can be racist: Let’s make sure it works for everyone. Forbes 21 April 2023.
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