Coaching Techniques That Inspire
Your People to Improve

By Sheri Jeavons

If you’ve ever tried to coach someone to stop doing a particular behavior or to change a certain action, then you know how difficult it can be to get adults to alter their ways. Why is it often so hard to help people improve, even when you specifically point out what they’re doing wrong is hurting them? Because most adult learners are self-critical, and they typically don’t learn by hearing negative feedback.

In fact, the natural tendency for most people is to defend their existing behavior, no matter how disruptive or self-sabotaging it is. If you really want to motivate someone to go to their own next level, then you have to do so in an authentic way, with positive, solutions-oriented language.  Here are some coaching techniques that inspire people to improve:

Coach the positive rather than critique the negative: In order to build your professionals to their own next level, you need to first identify what you want that person to achieve. Once you have determined the positive behavior, you can then determine the skill sets that can build the person to the desired outcome.

For example, in a selling situation, most new salespeople will naturally want to tell all they know about their company. They talk about the company, about the product, and about all the reasons why someone should buy from them. In the midst of all their talking, they neglect to ask the prospect open-ended questions that prompt dialog and encourage the prospect to reveal wants and needs.

In order to get the salesperson to change his or her approach, a typical manager might say, “In that last call I noticed that you did most of the talking and then ran out of time to ask questions. Do you really feel you know what the prospect needs? Next time ask some questions before giving an explanation and see if you can get them talking.” This kind of feedback focuses on the negative first, which could result in the employee shutting down prior to hearing your suggestions.

A better approach, and one that will motivate the salesperson to be more open to change, is to say, “For the next call, let’s talk about how we can facilitate more discussion with the client.” 

See the difference? Instead of criticizing what you don’t like, you’re stating what you’re going to help the salesperson achieve. With the criticism gone, the salesperson is automatically more open to your suggestions. Some other lead-in statements you could use are:

  • Let’s have you experiment with this process…

  • Let’s talk about taking you to your own next level…

  • Let’s discuss how we can engage the customer to create more conversation…

After the salesperson hears your willingness to build their skills, then you can give specific suggestions to help them facilitate discussion with the client. Keep it positive so they are motivated to listen to your advice.

Ask the other person what he or she needs to learn:  Asking people for their input regarding their own performance engages them about skill sets they want to fine tune and potentially learn.

After you ask someone what he or she would like to improve, have the person clarify in two or three statements some very specific things they would like to learn. This enables you to get agreement that change and improvement are necessary. Next, have the person prioritize what he or she feels the most pressing learning objective(s) should be. Lastly, give some coaching tips and learning ideas so the person feels they have some power in the learning process. Now you’re empowering the learner to have a say in their own change.

What should you do if one of your teammates often gets defensive during meetings? Instead of saying, “That meeting didn’t go very well. You were a little defensive,” simply ask, “How do you think the meeting went?” Most people will know (and admit) that the meeting didn’t go well. Then immediately ask, “How would you have handled that meeting differently?” Listen to what the person says and coach to those points.

If the person doesn’t seem to say anything of value, then refer back to the first point and say, “For the next meeting, let’s talk about how you can take your skills to the next level. In particular, how you effectively facilitate a meeting.”

Focus on the future: During your discussions with the person, always talk about “next time.” Never go back and recreate the bad situation. For example, with the person who becomes defensive during meetings, rather than point out when he or she became defensive, you could say, “Next time, when you find that you’re getting in a defensive conversation with someone, immediately put on your facilitation hat. At that moment, stop defending your position and start asking questions.”

Begin the coaching dialog directly after the behavior has occurred - within 24 hours - so the event is fresh in the person’s mind and he or she can grow from it. Never wait until a yearly performance evaluation to give someone feedback.

By using these coaching techniques on a regular basis, you will motivate and inspire people to improve. By providing feedback with positive language, people will look forward to your coaching sessions. When that happens, you’ll have professionals eager to change and achieve to their own next level of performance.

Read other articles and learn more about Sheri Jeavons.

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