Are you missing key opportunities to coach your team members?

Imagine this:

You’re watching your direct report suffer during a presentation…

Maybe you’re thinking this…

“This is going badly, I wonder if my boss is regretting putting me in charge.”

“I should really spend some time showing her the ropes…once I finish that big project.”

“She probably knows how badly things went, she’ll figure it out on her own.”

“I should mention this at her year-end review.”

And then you do nothing.

Why is it that – like most managers – you do nothing? Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Here’s the reason…

feedback – especially developmental feedback – is really hard to give, so most of us avoid giving it.

Even if we give feedback, we deliver it in a “sugar-coated way” and our coachee misses the point altogether.

Or we race through the conversation like we’re enduring a root canal.

I’ve spent over 20 years managing people and I’ve been a part of some great and some pretty mediocre and some really bad coaching conversations. And some conversations that didn’t happen at all, but should have.

Trust me, if you are not coaching on performance, you’re missing a golden opportunity to elevate the performance of your coachee, advance your team and your company. In fact, this is one of the most popular topics I cover in my Executive Coaching.

Why is Feedback Important?

A Corporate Executive Board survey suggests companies whose culture encourages open communication outperform their peers by more than 270% when it comes to long-term (10 year) total shareholder returns.

And employee engagement will lead that performance. Productive coaching conversations are the key to your success.

So let’s get it right with the five C’s of great coaching conversations.

The Five C’s of Great Coaching Conversations

1) Clarity 

Spend some time getting a clear vision of what you want to communicate before you sit down with your employee.

Get clear on the following:

  • What’s working well? How did your employee’s strengths feed that success?
  • What are the specific changes that will serve the employee in the future?
  • What specific words will I use to describe the positive and derailing behaviors?

It’s tough to be specific when you’re talking about “soft” skills: choice of clothing, posture, demeanor.

“You need to have more self-confidence,” isn’t helpful if you’re trying to tell your employee their body language is getting in the way of their success.

Try, “Your posture and your intonation reflect that you don’t have confidence in your own expertise, let’s talk about that.”

2) Compassion

An effective coach has to be compassionate: giving this feedback isn’t to benefit you, it’s a gift to your employee, one that you genuinely want to share.

But we tie ourselves up in knots because we’re averse to conflict, we project our own insecurities onto our employee. Or we have a desire to be liked so we avoid starting the conversation…

Practice compassion – for yourself because you’re on uncomfortable territory, and for your employees.

Don’t forget empathy comes hand-in-hand with compassion. When you put yourself in your coachee’s shoes you are that much closer to understanding how best to guide the conversation and deliver the feedback in a positive, constructive way.

Your “soft skills” come into play here: how you say something is just as important as what you say if you’re striving for an emotionally intelligent conversation.


  • Start your conversation with the mindset that all feedback is a gift
  • Let the employee know that you’re both working toward the same goal of helping them reach their potential
  • After you’ve shared your feedback ask the employee what support they need from you to follow through on the coaching your provided

If giving feedback is still a bit uncomfortable for you try being vulnerable.

An opener like, “I wish I was more practiced at giving feedback,” may create an environment of greater trust and authenticity for the conversation. Chances are they already sense your discomfort – might as well own up to it!

3) Curiosity

Quality coaching conversations are more about listening and asking good questions than talking.

The Two-Way Rule of 90/10

I like to follow the 90/10. Do 90% of the listening and 10% of the talking.

Ideally, your talking happens in the form of questions that help the coachee discover the answers for themselves.

If you’re the coachee, the 90/10 rule still applies. Make an effort to do 90% of the listening and 10% of the talking.

Two people doing 90% of the listening make for a great coaching conversation!

Stay Curious

In my book Wired for Authenticity, one of the seven practices of authentic leaders I talk about is to “Stay Curious”.

When we come from a place of curiosity – rather than judgment or attachment to our own point of view – new insights can appear. Collaborative solutions can be created that help us capture stronger commitment to the goals set.

It helps if you invite the coachee to give you their point of view first.

Here are five questions that foster curiosity:

  • “What did you do well? What strengths did you use to achieve that?”
  • “What could you have done better? What strengths can you use to achieve that?”
  • “Here’s what I observed in terms of what you could have done better (be specific). How do these resonate for you?”
  • “If you were able to master these behaviors how would this help you?” (this is a great question to understand what motivates your coachee).

4) Confirmation

As I’ve said, coaching conversations are difficult because our own emotions are often tangled up in the mix. When emotions get involved it’s hard to really listen clearly – check out “Listen to how you Listen” to learn more about this tendency.

So seek confirmation that you’re both on the same page. Pay attention to not just what’s said, but also what you observe in the body language.

Here are two great ways to seek confirmation that you’re on the same page:

  • Start by restating your understanding of what the other person said, then ask, “Did I understand you correctly?”
  • Or try, “I can see that you’re surprised by the feedback. Am I reading that correctly?” Acknowledging emotion is a great way to have a more authentic conversation.

5) Commitment

The end result of any great coaching conversation is a clear commitment to results and a strengthened trust in the relationship. You’re building a foundation for future growth and success – for both of you.

And we’re back where we started: be specific.

At the end of your conversation make a specific list of mutual agreements starting with these leading questions:

  • “What are the most important takeaways for you from this conversation?”
  • “What are the new behaviors that you will practice?”
  • “What are the important follow-up action items, by whom and by when?”
  • “What will success look like when these actions are taken?”
  • “How would this success help you?”
  • “What are some ways to track your progress?”

Finally, if you want to learn and grow from the experience, ask your coachee: “How was this coaching conversation for you? What did we do well, what can be improved for the future?”

Productive coaching conversations are within your grasp. Be clear, compassionate, and curious. Constantly seek confirmation and then get a commitment.

You and your employee will grow and thrive using these simple techniques.

Want to learn more? Book a workshop – I’d love to join your next corporate retreat or training session.

Did you find this article helpful? Subscribe to my blog and feel free to share with others.

If you enjoyed this article you might like these:

Listen to How You Listen
The Ultimate Guide for Asking Leading Questions
Want to Be More Emotionally Intelligent? Be Mindful

Showing 24 comments
  • Rosemary Griesmer

    Henna, this is a great topic for me as I start working with my new team. Perfect timing!

    • Henna

      Hi Rosemary – Good luck to you with your new team! Wishing you all the best in your new job.


  • Karin Hurt

    What powerful advice. I will share with my followers. Thank you.

  • Gaurav

    Hey Henna

    My name is Gaurav and i work as an AM Training with an MNC corporation , Just wanted to say that these topics that you have written on are just amazing and i normally keep checking all that you write on. I actually spent continous 5 Hours reading these topics yesterday , got tired but the heart still said that i wanna continue…..
    Wow you write amazing

    Kudos to such great work.


    Gaurav Bhardwaj

    • Henna

      Hi Gaurav – Thank you for taking the time to write. I am glad this is helpful to you. Please also share this content with others who you think would find it valuable. Good luck to you in your career.


  • Kari

    Great stuff ! Your guidance on coaching conversations was of great help

  • Nancy

    I was looking for a succinct way to present on the topic of coaching and this article provides a straightforward and clear outline with useful examples. Thanks!

  • Dawn Un

    Great information. I especially appreciated the wrap up of the feedback session. What a great way to make it a two way coaching session by asking the coachee how the session went from their perspective!

  • Bridget

    Great feedback and helpful tips.

  • Reese Evans

    Thank you Henna for this beautiful article. I loved this. The image given in the starting is really inspiring. I appreciate your thoughts and ideas. Great work.

  • James Smith

    Great article about Coaching Conversation. The article is very helpful

  • Robert Duncan

    Great Topics

  • Orenda

    Great Article

  • Prabhleen Gupta

    You cleared all my doubts with this post. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one.

  • Shubham

    Informative Blog and catchy title

  • Cindy Cox

    I love the video. I have trouble at times not listening all the way because I love to talk
    Thank you so.much, I’m. going to put this knowledge into my everyday life to be a better listener…

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