Generally speaking, coaches strive to be nondirective. They must not interject their own opinion, put their own interpretation on the situation or take over the process. Yet there is a time for statements instead of questions—only after the other person has explored all their options and has come to the end of their own ideas. At that point, the coach may ask, “Can I give you some feedback?” The person is free to say yes or no. After feedback has been given, the person is also free to either accept or reject the feedback.
One important clarification about giving feedback: it’s still not telling someone what to do or giving them an answer. You still need to avoid falling into the “expert role.” After all, if you, as the coach, are the expert and what you told the person to do doesn’t work out well, it’s your fault. The idea in coaching is to put the ownership and the decision-making responsibility in the hands of the person being coached. It’s about empowering others to lead.
Good feedback isn’t, “Here’s what you should do.” It’s not even, “Have you considered doing X? That might work well in your situation.” First ask, “Can I give you some feedback?” Then, if there is permission, say, “I wonder if your staff might experience you as intimidating. That could be a contributing factor to their lack of initiative.” Then see what they do with it.
Feedback is not about answers, but about pointing out or highlighting areas that the person being coached may not be aware of. Often, when that’s done well, it opens whole new options for how to handle a given situation.
An Example of Strategic Feedback
Recently I was coaching a leader who was intent to make disciples with young adults with little or no church connection. A central part of his vision is to establish a culture of coaching in this emerging young adult group. There were a couple of points I felt I could contribute so I asked my client for permission to offer feedback. Here are the ideas I presented in the form of powerful, open-ended questions.
What would be the impact of presenting the coaching process to participants in your group so that they understand the vision more clearly?
What would the impact be if you challenged participants to pray for one of their friends who was not a member of a church and invite them to join the conversation (on relevant social issues)?
How could you leverage the opportunity to work with other college students that a church staff member mentioned to you and multiply your impact?
Do you think I crossed-over the coach-expert divide?
3 Tips to Help You Grow in Offering Timely and Strategic Feedback:
1. Use the Johari Window to identify blind spots
If you are not familiar with the Johari Window, do a Web search on the term and read up on it. Then reflect on these questions regarding your current coaching clients:
Who might need feedback regarding blind spots?
What would need to be in place for them to hear that feedback openly and non defensively?
How could you go about creating a safe place for feedback?
2. Discerning if my feedback is beneficial for a client
Take the situation you currently find yourself in with your client and ask yourself these questions:
“Will the client be better off pursuing the path they are on or taking the step I have in mind?”
On those rare occasions when what they have in motion (or in mind) is not going to get the result they are after, ask yourself a follow-up question like:
“What are the chances they will actually do anything that I recommend?” If the answer is slim to none, I will probably choose not to offer my feedback. Why? Because it will reinforce the behavior of not listening to their coach.
If you do decide to provide feedback, ask for your client’s permission in a disarming way like we suggested earlier. For instance: “Would you mind if I gave you some feedback?”
99.9% of the time they will not refuse your feedback. However, use this approach sparingly so that when the situation warrants that they really must consider your feedback, they are more likely to listen. The more frequently you provide feedback, the less likely they are to rely on their own ability to problem-solve and act.
Based on the answers to the above, what will you do?
3. When giving feedback, don’t give a grocery list
Keep it simple. Identify one important contribution that can open the door to greater insight.
These three coaching tips are intended to help you sharpen your ability to establish a strong foundation on the front end of your coaching relationships. If you want to take this a step further, consider personalized mentoring in these areas. Read more under the Personalized Mentoring GrowthTrack.
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