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Offering Coaching Feedback

December 7, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Coaching and Mentoring

Offering Coaching Feedback

Feedback giving skills are about the extent to which you offer useful and constructive feedback on performance – feedback that the other person can accept and act upon. It asks the question:

“How well do you utilize a range of guidance counseling, coaching and instructional methods to help people to return to performing at their best?”

When we attempt to influence others, it’s important to recognize that just because we have a goal or purpose in mind doesn’t mean that goal or purpose will automatically be achieved. This is because people typically respond to our influence attempts in a range of ways:

  1. At the first level or stage, people will often RESIST our attempts to influence them. Why? Because it often involves change, or there may be increased uncertainty, or they may feel threatened etc.
  2. At the next level or stage, people may simply COMPLY. While that may sound like a successful influencing attempt, this may only be a temporary or limited acceptance of the point or argument being put (in other words this is often only superficial acceptance).
  3. At the next level or stage, people may NEGOTIATE. Here the individual is engaged with the issue enough to try to incorporate it on terms they are more comfortable with. They may say things like “Ok, I’m happy to do that if …”
  4. At the ideal level we achieve SYNERGY: where the person contributes to the idea and its implementation, adding additional discretionary resources or effort that cannot be demanded or manipulated. Some synergistic behaviors include: new discoveries, reflecting on advantages and disadvantages of the proposed or alternative approaches, summarizing, putting it their own language, looking for wider applications, etc.

It’s important to appreciate these different responses, because while many of us automatically expect synergy (and are therefore frustrated when we get mere compliance or negotiation), some of us may only expect compliance thus missing the benefits of negotiation or (even better) synergy that can be had.

Getting to Synergy with our feedback

How we present our feedback when coaching another person has significant implications for how close we get to synergy with a person. Assuming that a coach has to provide feedback that has to do with a person’s need to improve their performance, there are some very practical principles that are likely to help considerably:

  • Having a “safe” atmosphere in place and a commitment to maintaining a calm, focused and direct discussion:
  • Pointing out the difference between present performance and required performance – the “performance gap”. It’s important here to focus on the issue, not the person – describe the problem or issue, don’t make the person the problem. You may need to rehearse this to ensure it is clear and objective.
  • Describing specifically the negative impact of the individual’s current performance. You are trying to help the person see the consequences of their current less than wanted or expected performance, helping them see the need for change.
  • Inviting the person’s response – his or her perspective on what you have described. You have to be prepared to discover new facts, but this invitation also helps you determine if the person in fact accepts there is an issue to be addressed and that he or she understands its effects. You are not yet asking for solutions, just ensuring the person is able to express his or her view openly and safely. And if they get defensive or start offering excuses? You can respond by bridging back to the central issue – have they responded to the key point, the specific performance issue. You might say, “I understand. Now, what about the specific issue we’re looking at …?”
  • Asking for ideas about how the person can correct the situation – add your own if necessary. This is an important step – you are placing responsibility for resolving the problem with the individual concerned. You are expressing confidence in him or her. Simply imposing a solution may work in the short term but may well dis-empower the person in the long term. In adding your own ideas, as much as possible stay with “how about …”, “what if …?” type suggestions rather than, “Well I think …”. Again, your listening and questioning skills are vital.
  • Explaining clearly any steps you plan to take – new goals, changes, support, etc. Sometimes this won’t be necessary or may simply be a summary confirmation of what they have suggested in Step 4. But sometimes the person may not have cooperated or may not have been able to generate ideas, so you have to take over the process (after, of course, giving them the opportunity to take ownership in steps 3 and 4). You should keep this step as clear and simple as possible so that there is no chance of misunderstanding. You will also need to document the steps agreed or outlined at this stage. Don’t rely on memory – yours or theirs!
  • Agreeing on an action plan and a timeline/date for follow-up. Again, this should be recorded to avoid misunderstanding.
  • Closing by expressing confidence that the employee can correct the situation. We remember “first and last” things more than what happens in between, so our greetings and farewells are important, not just perfunctory. Try to positively reinforce the action plan and the individual.
  • Within all of this, be sure to encourage the other person to talk as much or more than you – you should ideally be the facilitator of the conversation, not the “dictator”.

Sometimes when we say “feedback” we think about the challenging aspects – having to deal with problems or poor performance, but there’s also an important positive side to it (beyond the positive of being able to help people correct and improve). Some of the ways in which we can constantly provide affirmation include:

  1. Catching people doing things right – keep an eye out for positives not just negatives
  2. Saying thank you – so easy and yet so often overlooked; everyone wants to be appreciated
  3. Celebrating successes – look for opportunities to celebrate real achievements
  4. Publicly and privately acknowledging efforts – everyone needs and deserves to be acknowledge
  5. Encouraging ongoing development – finding ways to encourage people that they are capable of developing further (including developing others).
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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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One Comment

  1. Anne SandbergDecember 20, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Most people get stuck at level 3 at best when offering feedback. However, getting to synergy is difficult unless individuals can see the behavior modeled in some way

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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