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A key to successful coaching is to avoid judgments, to remain non-judgmental. A good coach authentically cares about results and does not focus or dwell on the actions of the past. The best coaches leave the judgment at the door. The best coaching sessions are those where the coaches critically judge their actions. The best coaches get the subject to judge themselves.

When in a room, 1-on-1 with someone, I am careful to offer a safe place, where a person can let down the shields, be vulnerable, and bare all.

To get a person into that safe place there are major words, phrases, and positions that trigger a defensive response. These must be avoided. Some techniques can soften a blow.  Here are a few tricks of the trade.

  1. Why – The “WHY” word is a major cause of defensiveness? When a person hears why, they often hear, “justify your actions to me.” It is not the coach’s job to question the subject’s motives or reasoning.” The coach’s job is to help the subject articulate and determine their own goals and then figure out how to achieve them. A better way? How about this. What was your goal at the time? Do you think that was the best way to achieve that goal? How else could you have handled that?
  2. Telling versus Asking – Instead of telling, you’re better off asking questions like:
    1. So was that the best result?
    2. How else could you have handled that?
    3. Was that the most effective way to deal with that?
  3. Should – Use “should” carefully. You are a coach and not the subject’s parent. Should is a word loaded with judgment. If you are shoulding, you are telling, and telling is not effective. If you’re asking as in, “what do you think you should do,” you’re on solid ground. You should do what I say and not what I do when I tell you that you should not use should.
  4. But – But negates everything said before it. “You are a great worker but you can do better,” is better said as “You are a great worker and you can do better. “Try to use the word “and” instead of but.
  5. Holding Up A Difficult Mirror – When shining the light on difficult issues to a subject, use allegories or stories about yourself in similar situations. For instance instead of saying, “you seem to have a difficult time admitting you’re wrong;” try something like, “I use to think it was a sign of weakness to admit I was wrong until I was shown that I was hurting myself. Then I realized the fear of being wrong is a self-limiting belief that is harmful….. could that be what’s going on here?”
  6. Absolutes – Always never use absolutes because they are always never true. Ban these words from the coaching discussion – Always, Only, All the time, Never, Constantly,  Impossible, Forever, Everybody, None, Totally, Every Time, Everyone
  7. What Would You Do – Don’t go there! The answer to a client, team member, offspring, or coachee asking, what would you do, is,

“I can tell you what I’d do and it would work if you were me… what we need to decide is what would you do.”

When a leader works with team members, there is a time for coaching and a time for correcting behavior. Coaching is not the same as disciplining or giving feedback to an employee.  Some rules on feedback.

  1. Don’t speak in generalities – Cite specific examples of behaviors or activities you want to be corrected.
  2. Don’t get personal – Talk about the subject’s behavior and actions and don’t talk about the person. Example: Don’t say, “you just don’t seem to get it.” Do say, “this chart is still not right and this is the third review.”
  3. Make a feedback sandwich – Start with something good, then the corrective feedback, and then good. Example: Tom, you’ve made good progress, yet your activity level is not high enough. I need you to make fifteen sales calls a day. With your talent fifteen, you’d likely crush your numbers.
  4. If you say, you’re fired and it’s a surprise you failed – When you terminate someone’s employment and you’ve never had the performance improvement question… you failed. If the employee didn’t know what you expected and when it was expected and didn’t know they were falling short… you both failed.
  5. Negative Feedback Should Be Positive – Letting a team member know that they aren’t performing up to expectations doesn’t have to be a negative event. Remind the person that you want them to succeed, that they are important to the company and that they need to achieve specific goals and exhibit specific behaviors, and that they aren’t meeting the job requirements. Let them know you want them to succeed and that their success is important to you, the team, and the company. Then let them know what they need to improve to be successful.

For a laugh, you might watch the video from this post: It’s Not About The Nail about listening versus solving.

Want to have a professional listener listen and guide you through issues? Try a free coaching session.