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How to coach someone you manage

The goal of a coaching discussion is to make agreements with a subordinate that will promote positive actions. It's the first of three stages for bringing about change (the other two are counseling and disciplining; see Ten tips for managing people well). As such, coaching should be both objective and positive in tone.

There are several phases to a coaching conversation:

1. Make it clear what the purpose of the meeting is:

- I'd like to talk to you about X.

- I asked you to come in so we could talk about Y.

2. Say why:

- It's a problem when X happens because . . .

- We've fallen behind by two weeks because of Y.

3. Say what you want:

- I'd like X to improve, so let's talk about why it happens and then discuss some ideas to solve it.

- I'd like for the Y problem to be solved, so let's go over why it happens and talk about some options.

4. Ask what their view is:

- Why do you think X happens?

- What's your take on how Y comes about?

5. Wait for them to respond:

- [This is where you make quiet eye contact with your subordinate, keep your hands and body still, and wait for them to say something.]

6. Clarify and repeat back until you and the subordinate agree on the facts:

- If I've understood you right, you see the situation this way: [describe]. Is that accurate?

- From what you've said, you believe that X came about because [describe]. Is that right?

7. Provide your own observations and compare notes:

- What I saw was [describe]. How do you think that fits with the situation you described?

- When I got so-and-so's email saying such-and-such, I concluded [describe]. Was that an accurate conclusion?

8. Go back and forth, repeating and clarifying, until you and the subordinate agree on the facts:

- So it sounds as if such-and-such happened at this point, and blah-blah happened at that other point. Do you agree?

9. State what has to happen and ask for their suggestions:

- Now that we're clear on what's been going on, in order for the project to move forward, we still need A and B to happen. What do you suggest as a solution?

- We both know that A and B are necessary at this point. What are your ideas?

10. Using the subordinate's ideas as a springboard and adding your own, make an agreement about what will happen next:

- I think your idea of doing D and E is really good. It would be helpful if you could also do F. What's feasible for you to complete over the next couple of weeks?

- The D and E ideas make a lot of sense, especially if you add F to them. How much of that can you do in the next two weeks?

11. Make an agreement to meet again for a follow-up discussion:

- Let's get together two weeks from today and follow up.

12. Provide feedback on the meeting:

- This was a good discussion. It made the situation a lot clearer and it's good to know you're going to be doing D, E and F. Thanks for coming in.

13. Document the meeting and the agreement:

- Dear Joe/Jane,

Thanks for coming in today to talk about X and Y. It was a helpful discussion. Your idea to move the project forward and resolve the X and Y problems by doing D and E over the next two weeks is a good one. I'll look forward to meeting with you two weeks from today at 2 p.m. in my office to follow up.

Regards,

Tom/Sharon

14. When you meet to follow up, provide feedback:

- It's great that you did D and E, congratulations. The X and Y issues have improved a lot just over the last couple of weeks.

15. Then you can make a new agreement for even more improvement:

- Let's talk about what you can do next.

If the subordinate hasn't carried out the agreement, you've documented your efforts, laying the groundwork for counseling him or her.

Tips for good coaching discussions:

- To find things out, ask.

- Your opening questions should be simple, objectively phrased, and somewhat open. Your demeanor and tone of voice should be entirely free of negativity. This creates an emotionally neutral "space" for your subordinate to advance into. If he/she anticipates being judged, you'll get nothing.

- Clarifying questions should be specific and explicit, but neutrally phrased.

- Be truthful, and do so constructively. Coaching discussions should be objective, not judgmental.

- Some of the input you get may be about your own behavior. Try to hear this objectively. It may be true.

- Eye contact and quietude are essential in coaching discussions - far more than in a normal conversation. Once you've asked a question, stop talking so the other person feels confident that you really do want to hear what they have to say. Don't interrupt.

- The subordinate will often be your best resource for insight and problem-solving ideas.

- Not all your interactions with subordinates will end happily. But if you teach yourself to listen well, you will almost certainly hear things of consequence that you didn't anticipate hearing.

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