Better Coaching Conversations

Picture this…

You’re working on a project, and you’re giving what you believe to be your best effort to get things right and to deliver the project on time. One day, your supervisor comes to you to offer some “feedback” on your performance.

Where does your mind go? Do you think “great, I was looking forward to this conversation” or “what did I do wrong?” I bet you’re more likely to think the second thought than the first one.

That’s the problem with feedback. It generally triggers a negative response in the other person. This response creates a conversation where you must work hard to gain cooperation and they must work hard to hear you in anything other than a negative frame of mind.

In short, feedback generally creates push back rather than cooperation.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Feedforward – specifically positive feedforward. Feedforward focuses on what to do in the future rather than what happened in the past. Positive feedforward focuses on how to get better results.

Think about your real goal when you coach your team members: to create better results in the future. While we can learn from mistakes of the past, improvement comes from focusing on what to do better in the future. Feedback focuses on the past. Feedforward focuses on the future.

Here’s how to turn negative feedback situations into positive feedforward conversations:

  1. Ask questions tied to where current results are compared to desired results. For example:
    • What are we trying to achieve?
    • How are we doing on our timeline?



2. Help them identify performance gaps with questions rather than statements. For example:

    • Is this where we want to be right now?
    • Are we making the progress we want to make?
    • Are we getting the results we want to get?


3. Help them craft an improvement plan (again, with questions rather than statements). For example:

    • How can we close the gap?
    • What can we do differently in the future?

Frankly, it is easier to just tell people what they are doing wrong and expect them to fix it. And, that’s not generally an effective approach. If you’ll do the work of changing feedback conversations to feedforward (positive if possible) conversations, you will improve buy in, cooperation and results.

Your Now Step: Think about a performance conversation you need to have with one of your team members. What questions can you ask them to invite them into problem solving rather than into self-defense? How can you frame your approach so that you engage them in a conversation rather than you delivering a message? 


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