Improving Coaching Conversations: Part 1 of 3


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Providing feedback is an essential part of the job description for a manager, leader, or coach; it can boost both individual and team performance. How can you improve the effectiveness of your coaching, to better create lasting growth? A research paper co-authored by Dr. Eduardo Salas of Rice University and Dr. Chris Coultas of Leadership Worth Following (LWF) proposes a very simple, 4-step summary:

1 Ask for coachee’s active involvement.

2 State roles and expectations.

3 Request reflection/re-statement.

4 Position conversation as collaboration.


Encourage Active Participation.

Start the coaching conversation by emphasizing that the coachee (or direct report) needs to be an active participant – not just a passive recipient of instruction/guidance. Doing this will make the coaching session significantly more effective.

Very simple statements can set the coaching conversation up for success. These might include statements like: “If you want to get something out of this session, you’ll need to really enter into the process by thinking deeply and creatively” or “These kinds of conversations are two-way streets, so will you commit to diving into this process with me?”

Before continuing, ask the coachee to reflect back, helping ensure the coachee understands his/her role is to be active and creative, not just passive.

Facilitate a Proactive Mindset.

This approach – called “role construction” or “identity construction” – encourages coachees (or direct reports) to adopt a more proactive mindset. By doing so, research found that coachees actually thought more deeply and creatively, shared more information, generated more ideas, and most importantly were more committed to their goals.

This finding has important implications for coaches and anyone else tasked with providing performance feedback. Even simple actions can dramatically increase commitment and engagement. These include positioning the conversation as a collaborative brainstorming session, rather than a coaching session, and allowing the coachee/direct report to take a more active role in guiding the conversation by helping identify goals and solutions.

Commit to Common Goal.

At LWF, this approach influences our manner of giving coaching feedback. We often request buy-in and ask the coachee to commit to our common goal because when we’re both working toward the same objective (i.e., solving the problem together), things go much smoother.

However, we also believe there are different schools of thought on this. While active commitment by coachees from the beginning makes coaching easier, at LWF we’ve also had success requesting just a degree of compliance. We’ve found that once the coachees start feeling improvements and realize the benefits of coaching, their mindset usually evolves into genuine commitment.

​The end goal is always the same; it’s important to adapt the coaching approach to best suit the situation and personalities involved.

Stay tuned as Part 2 will summarize two other perspectives on effective coaching; Part 3 will discuss the value of understanding a coachee’s values/drivers.

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