Coaching With Feedback

Helping Your People to Improve Their Performance

Coaching with Feedback - Helping Your People to Improve Their Performance

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Be honest when giving feedback.

Most managers are aware that the way they coach their people can play a big role in ensuring their team's success. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to giving feedback, many don't know how to coach, and simply resort to telling others how to improve.

This is NOT coaching! It's unlikely to be effective or to be acted upon; and it won't uncover any deeper problems or incorrect beliefs that may lie behind unhelpful behaviors.

It's often much more effective to adopt a question-led approach when you provide feedback. When you do this, you'll better understand your colleagues' outlook on their work and their career, and their feelings about the organization you both work for. This helps you to engage with your team members as partners and stakeholders in the organization, which helps you to improve each individual's performance and anticipate performance issues before they arise.

It can take time to perfect the art of coaching, but it's worth persevering because one of the most valuable ways that you can encourage new ways of working is to provide feedback to members of your team. If you follow the guidance below, you'll soon be on the right track!

How to Take a Coaching Approach to Providing Feedback

Most of us have been on the receiving end of both constructive and critical feedback at some point in our careers. So you'll likely know that when it is delivered well, feedback can be inspiring, and it can stimulate people to develop new skills or knowledge. However, when it is poorly delivered, feedback can irritate or demoralize people, and even push them to quit their jobs.

These steps will help you to provide effective feedback, thereby building a more talented team.

Step 1: Know what outcome you want to achieve

It is all too easy for a coaching conversation to degenerate so that it delivers little more than a long list of perceived performance flaws. This is totally counter-productive.

Why? Most likely the person you're coaching will feel attacked on a personal level, and will be overwhelmed by the volume of information.

By being specific about the desired outcome of the feedback session, you'll help the individual see the benefit of receiving the feedback, and remain focused on the precise behaviors to work on. For example, if you want your colleague to recognize the importance of keeping co-workers up-to-date on the status of a task, then keep to that agenda, and be open about that purpose with the individual concerned.


When you're functioning purely as a coach, you are not required to direct the other person (as their manager) nor provide expert opinion (as their mentor). You're acting as an objective provider of facts and questions that will support your colleague. Here, it is for your colleague to decide how to use the facts and what action to take next.

In the real world, though, this isn't always appropriate. You need to use your judgment to find the blend of coaching, managing and mentoring that best suits the individual and the situation.

Step 2: Be specific about behaviors you have observed, and their impact

Where you're addressing a negative behavior, inform the individual of what you have seen them do or heard them say. Be accurate and objective, yet sensitive, when stating the facts. Include specific dates or instances: it is important that there is no room for misunderstanding when giving feedback!

Next, provide information regarding the impact of that behavior on others. Do not understate or overstate the problem, or pull punches, or embellish the facts.

Although it may not seem that way, feedback can be a gift when delivered in this honest and open way. For the individual the solution, their solution, could involve signing up for skills training, or could just as easily involve adjusting the way they work or communicate. For instance, a worker who persistently arrives late to early morning team meetings may not be aware of the resentment this behavior can create. Once made aware of the issue, the individual has the opportunity to adapt their behavior, or recognize the need to explain their behavior to others.


To check whether your feedback is objective and free from emotional judgments, imagine someone delivering the same feedback to you.

How does it sound? How would you react to this feedback? Would the information prompt you to change your way of working?

We are all individuals and what works for you might not work for your colleague. However, this simple test can help you to shape the exact words you plan to use when delivering feedback.

Step 3: Use questions

Armed with specific, unambiguous and timely information about their behavior, most individuals can be coached to modify their actions. But first, it is essential that the individual "owns" the issue.

The key to turning a directional conversation into a coaching conversation is the use of questions. Questions can be used to come up with solutions, reveal feelings, or generate new ideas. Ask open questions to allow individuals to explore their own performance, and add information from your own observations when appropriate.

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Follow the GROW model, and focus in particular on establishing the ‘will' to change. What motivates this individual? And what is in it for them to adapt and develop?

Step 4: Be timely

Effective managers use periodic personal review meetings to providing detailed feedback to team members. But why wait for those sessions?

Most people value prompt feedback, because it allows them to change their behavior immediately. As a manager-coach you don't need to be in a formal situation to initiate a coaching conversation. As long as you ask permission from your colleague, spontaneous and informal coaching is an efficient way of helping people to improve their performance.


Alison is an account manager, and has just attended a client meeting with Graham, one of her team. The meeting was broadly successful, but Alison observed Graham talking over the client's representative in pursuit of additional sales. This scenario is fictitious so the dialogue is unlikely to match the words you might use in the same situation. However, compare the following possible "tell" and "coach" versions of the conversation Alison and Graham might have after the meeting.

"Tell" conversation

Alison: You talked right over her and most likely she's thinking about winding down the account with us.
Graham: I didn't see it like that, she wanted to know more about the new product and I was telling her enthusiastically.
Alison: Well you were wrong and I don't expect to see that behavior again in any meeting with one of my clients!
Graham: I tried my best to sell the relay product and meet target.
Alison: It wasn't good enough.
Graham: It seems like it never is with you. I don't know what I have to do.
Alison: Just follow my lead.

"Coach" conversation

Alison: So how do you think that went?
Graham: OK but I'm not sure she bought it.
Alison: Why?
Graham: I got the points across, but at the end she seemed a bit cold.
Alison: Mind if I give you some coaching feedback for next time?
Graham: Go on.
Alison: Well what were the points when the meeting ran particularly smoothly?
Graham: I guess when she was telling us about their new power plant.
Alison: Why was that?
Graham: Because she was excited, and wanted to tell us more.
Alison: What were the points when the meeting ran least smoothly?
Graham: Just after I told her about our new relay product. She seemed to listen, and I'm sure I got all the key points across, but there was a silence afterwards.
Alison: So what could that mean?
Graham: She wasn't interested, she didn't understand. I don't know. What did you see or hear?
Alison: I agree she seemed excited about the new power plant and looked like she wanted to talk some more, but then you started to speak about our relay product and continued for five minutes.
Graham: Was that too long?
Alison: Maybe, but, more importantly, why did you start talking?
Graham: I thought it was the right time. Or it was about time. We only had an hour and I thought we were running out of time. Did I really talk when she was still speaking?
Alison: Yes. Why do you think that was?
Graham: I got carried away on her excitement and at the same time got frustrated that I hadn't had the chance to talk about our relays. I should have waited.
Alison: What else could you have done?
Graham: I guess I could have listened to find a more direct link between their power plant and our relay. Back to basics – people buy when they have a need and a clear benefit from doing so.
Alison: How can you focus on that for future meetings?
Graham: Firstly, I could be clearer about my understanding about the purpose of the meeting up front. If I think there may be an opportunity to talk about our products, I should say so at the beginning rather than at a random moment in the conversation. I should also have my own clear list of buying triggers for the relay products, so that when these come in conversation I am ready to recognize these, and am prepared to refer back to this list when the client has finished talking.
Alison: That sounds constructive. Anything else you could note?
Graham: Nothing springs to mind.
Alison: OK. If you want any more feedback let me know.

Sure, the second approach might take a few minutes longer. However, the outcome is much more likely to be positive, and to promote continued development.

Key Points

Telling team members what to do has its place, particularly where time is scarce, when they're very inexperienced, or when safety-critical issues come up. For most management situations, however, it pays to invest a bit more time in coaching.

Combining coaching and feedback is a powerful way of motivating your people to improve their performance. Used wisely and with skill, coaching based feedback can help your people reach their full potential.

Apply This to Your Life

Would you like to receive feedback in this way yourself?

Even the most experienced managers can improve their performance, and learn more about how their behaviors are perceived by others.

So, if you're not already being given feedback using a coaching approach, consider asking your boss – or even a member of your team (provided there is someone who is confident enough to be objective) – to help you improve your performance using this approach.

You could ask for general feedback, or perhaps more specific feedback after a meeting, or in relation to a piece of work you've done.