The transcript reflection technique

The transcript reflection technique arose from the observation that some coaching sessions seem to cover so much and be so rich that there does not seem time to do it justice within the session itself. It also addresses a gap found in many coaching techniques: to recognise and harness the temporal dimension of coaching, i.e. coaching happens in sessions that follow each other in time. This time progression can be harnessed as a tool in itself, providing emotional distance and a reflective space.

The technique has phenomenology (a branch of psychology based on existential philosophy) at its core. Phenomenology holds that we can experience things in different ways: some aspects of a phenomenon, such as “my role at work”, or “procrastination” may be hidden from us at one point, and reveal itself at another. We may think of a phenomenon hypothetically, or comment on it in the present or in the past. We can consider what it is like in absence “not having this role at work” and in presence “having this role at work” (Sokolowski: 2000). The transcript reflection technique acknowledges that the phenomenon or ‘thing’/experience/situation discussed in one coaching session can present itself differently later on – it can be seen in a different light which can help the client make sense of it and to understand its significance.

The technique is to record the session, and to type up the transcript (there are various ways to do this – sending it off to a transcription company who charges per minute of audio, typing it yourself by listening and pausing the transcript or using a computerised dictation programme like Dragon Dictation, by leaving the audio to play whilst the application is running on the computer). The transcript is then sent back to the client, and both the client and coach read it individually, some days after the original coaching session. Then the method of analysis below is followed, based on interpretative phenomenological analysis (Smith et al., 2009).

Both client and coach “mark up” the transcript, writing comments in the margins. This can be done on a number of levels, depending on what your client is trying to achieve. For example, a client who is trying to make some quick changes to their situation, may reread the transcript, noting down all the action points that were mentioned, and check they had carried them out. A client who wanted to become aware of their thought patterns or approach to a situation would take the analysis up a notch, and look for themes in the transcript, writing comments on the side, perhaps underlying key phrases and sound bites.

For example, are they describing something very dramatically, or repeatedly describing events negatively? They might look for contradictions and paradoxes and consider the significance of these. A client who wanted to examine their values would analyse the transcript and identify key relationships, processes and assumptions that structure the text, and by extrapolation, their world and identify what these mean for them.

They can also look at the language used. Smith et al. draw on the phenomenologist Heidegger, pointing out that “our interpretations of experience are always shaped, limited and enabled by, language” (Smith et al., 2009:194). This means that the way we frame experiences impacts how we feel about them and that we can change language in order to change how we feel. For example, a metaphor could be identified in the transcript. Metaphors capture the meaning made from a situation and turn it into a nugget of personalised meaning which forms the basis of how we act. Client and coach could look at the metaphors used in the transcript and try to unpick them. In a subsequent session, the client can try to change their metaphor, enabling them to understand their situation in a different way. This in turn will help change their attitude and actions.

Here is an example:

Susan: I joined the company because I agreed with its ethos and I felt like it was unique and we were really valued. I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel like they are parasites feeding off me in that there’s literally no end to what they will take from me.

We may annotate the transcript, identifying the metaphor and questioning whether this metaphor could be construed in terms of taking more on at work in a positive way, for example, stepping up to a new role and demonstrating ability.

Coach and client could also look at the fluency and hesitancy of passages in the transcript and consider the significance of this. Fluency may indicate a positive engagement with in an idea and clarity of thought and hesitancy may indicate that the client is unsure of their position on an issue or perhaps are holding something back.

Interpretations are necessarily subjective. The subjectivity will not only vary between people, such as the coach and client, but also between readings by the same person. It is this subjectivity and temporality that is harnessed in this approach – it relies on the coach and client finding something new in the transcript compared to when they were in the session. This adds depth to the analysis. The client and coach could summarise the main themes and discuss it as part of the next coaching session.

The benefits of the technique are wide ranging. At its most superficial, it prompts the client to carry out action points that they may have ‘parked’. The technique may highlight specific attitudes and stances that the client was taking, which can be built on or reassessed. The client may be more insightful and also willing and able to take comments on board after the session than during it, when they are in a less emotional space. The coach and client can point out specific phrases in the text that support observations and they may spot a glimmer of an issue in the transcript that the client may want to explore further at another point.

The passage of time may help contextualise the problem. For example, it may be that the client was having a bad day on the day of the session, but that they now feel more positively about the issue. Realising that issues do look different on different days is useful to learn for dealing with other issues moving forward. Reading the transcript could alert the client that they would like to revisit certain points or address missed points in the next session. Furthermore, the technique may help the coach to see how they could have improved in their questioning, emphasis (was there something that they did not pick up on at the time?) and pace.

If using this technique, the coach should make it clear that everything discussed is confidential and remains between the coach and the client. The coach should always ask the client for permission to record before a session, and clients are free to decline. The transcript reflection technique encourages reflection by the client and coach and recognises that insights can develop over time.


Smith, J.A. Flowers, P. and Larkin, M. (2009) Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, London: SAGE Publications Ltd

Sokolowski, R. (2000) Introduction to Phenomenology, United States of America: Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication Data

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