Five Feedback Rules for Great Coaching

Good coaching is like good selling. It starts with knowing the right questions to ask and listening. If you want to get someone to improve their performance, avoid telling them what they should do differently. Instead, you need to master the art of giving appropriate and constructive feedback. Here are five rules that will keep you on the right path.

1. Always get the other person to self-assess first. In other words, before you gush your words of wisdom on a given situation, find out what the other person is thinking. "How do you think that went?" or some appropriate variation is good. As the coach, you'll gain valuable insight into the other person's judgment and knowledge. It also allows you to find common ground to expand upon. Of even more value, however, is that it forces some personal introspection and analysis by the other party.

2. Give balanced feedback, starting with the positive. To be effective, feedback must be balanced. If you lead with or focus only on the negative, the likely reaction will be defensiveness. If the other person is defensive, he will shut down, tune out or rationalize your feedback as "not relevant." On the other hand, when you start with positive feedback, you get a more open response to the negative feedback later on. The other person now does not assume that "you're out to get them." Instead, he views you as being balanced and fair in your assessment.

3. Step up to the challenge with courage. Handling the tough issues can be uncomfortable and difficult for both parties. Simply ask yourself, "Does this person deserve my help?" If you care about them, and you should, then you need to be honest with them. Even when it's painful. Remember, someone won't fix something if they don't know it's not working.

Some managers or coaches lament that their jobs would be easy if they did not have to deal with other people's issues. The reality is that is what makes someone a good coach or manager. In other words, that's why you're paid the big bucks. Anyone can avoid dealing with the hard issues. Unfortunately, taking the "head in the sand approach" will not make the issues go away.

4. Be specific with your feedback. Documentation with concrete examples is beneficial here. In other words, don't tell someone that they have a bad attitude and stop there. If you do, you're likely to get into a pissing match over who's right and who's wrong. No one wins in that kind of scenario. Instead, focus on the specific behaviors, actions, words or body language which supports your point. In addition, be very detailed by describing when, where and how these behaviors have manifested themselves.

5. Protect the confidentiality of others. Feedback is a very personal exchange and it should be kept that way. When you are giving feedback, make sure you're in a private setting free of distractions. In addition, make sure that as the coach, you let the other person know that what is said behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. And then you must honor that.

The human ego is a delicate thing, especially when taking constructive feedback. By keeping these five rules in mind, you'll find you will be a great resource and trusted advisor to those that you manage or coach.

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