Executive coaching is all about asking questions. Executive coaching is about being critical without criticizing. Judging without being judgemental. Good executive coaches don’t tell clients what to do, they get clients to figure out what to do. People have a higher probability of succeeding on plans they’ve developed themselves than on plans developed for them.
When a client asks me, “What would you do?” My answer is, “I could tell you what I’d do and it would work… if you were me. What are you going to do?” and then we work on a plan.
Great coaches can give critical feedback without putting the client on the defensive. Great leaders, coach. They know how to give feedback like a coach. They know how to tell a member of their team that they screwed up without saying to them, you suck. A good coach gives critical feedback without forcing the recipient to close their ears. A good coach inspires with critical feedback and does not offend. How do you do that?
A few general rules. Keep it private. Keep it specific and not personal. Focus the conversation on the behavior or action and not the person. Don’t let too much time lapse between the observation of the infraction and the conversation about it. With those tips in mind, let’s go through the four-step process.
First, think about why are you critiquing this person’s behavior? Because you hate them? Because you want them to fail? If that’s true, why give them feedback, why not just can them. You are working with them because you are dependent on their success. You need them to perform so you can succeed. The first step in giving good critical feedback is to let the person know why you’re criticizing them. It goes something like this,
“You’re a member of my team and I care about my team. I need you to succeed and that’s why we’re having this talk.”
Second, speak in specifics. Don’t talk about abstractions. Don’t use absolutes like always. Talk about the specific behavior or action you observed and want corrected. Say something like this.
“When I listened to you with that customer, I was wondering if you could have spent more time asking questions and getting the client to open up.”
That works better than saying, why don’t you ever shut your mouth!
Third, show some empathy. Get in the boat with the person. Disarm them with a story about you. How? Like this,
“I remember when I was new to sales, I thought the key to selling was telling. When my mentor pulled me aside, and let me know that getting the customer to sell themselves by asking questions had a high success rate, I realized I was missing a huge opportunity.”
Fourth, get buy-in and a commitment. Discuss what you just went over and make sure the target of your criticism gets it. Then ask them what they plan to do about it.
There are judgemental phrases you should avoid.
- Why – Asking someone why they did something like, “Why did you do that?” Asking someone why puts them on the defensive. It sounds like you’re asking them to justify their actions. You can soften it with a, “I was wondering why?”
- Should – Is a directive void of choice. You should ask more questions! You should let the client talk more. I’d rather hear something like, you might try getting the client to tell you more about their pain.
- Always – It’s always a good idea to avoid the term always which is always usually not true.
So once again, the process goes like this.
- The reason you’re having the conversation. Because you care about the person and want them to succeed.
- Speak about specific behaviors and not the person. Don’t make it personal.
- Soften the blow, show some vulnerability and let the person know you’ve been there too.
- Get buy-in and a commitment to take action.
That’s how a good executive coach gives feedback and now you’re ready to give feedback like a professional executive coach.
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