Give feedback or coach?

There is no doubt, the conversations we have with our team members are front and centre of our leadership. As a leader our job is to guide our people, tell them when they are on the wrong track, when they have stuffed up, praise them and motivate them. Sometimes we give feedback and sometimes we need to use a coaching approach. The awareness of when each of those interventions is the most useful makes all the all difference and will impact the outcome of the conversation. Here is what helped me as a growing leader:

Give feedback on behaviour, coach on values

What do we mean by that? It’s a little bit like when you try to understand different cultures, when, for examples, foreigners come into your own country. You tell them when they do something wrong, and you give them feedback, but you respect why they would have made the mistake and you don’t challenge the underlying belief or custom.

If we were an iceberg, what experience and see when interacting with us is what is above the water at the top of the iceberg. Our appearance, tone of voice, clothing, body language = our BEHAVIOURS. Underneath is everything that is not visible to people but is a huge part of makes us, e.g. our emotions, experiences, skills, strengths, fears, religion and belief = our VALUES.

When we give feedback to someone, we want to give feedback on what we see, their behaviour, not who they are. A proven and simple feedback model for this is SBI (Situation, Behaviour, Impact) where we talk about a specific situation that occurred, the behaviour we overserved and the impact that behaviour had.

I often see leaders giving feedback on what’s underneath the iceberg, for example on the emotions or skills. ‘You are a terrible listener’ goes straight to the bottom of the iceberg and is pretty personal, unhelpful feedback. ‘When I was talking to you about my challenge with my client yesterday, you kept on looking at your phone and didn’t help me with a solution. That resulted in the client choosing another supplier and I am pretty upset about it (Situation, Behaviour, Impact).
-Give feedback on the behaviour you observe.

If we observe behaviour like this all the time and we see a real problem with where the poor listening comes from and we know it’s a lack of skills, we need to coach the team member. We need to ask questions and reflect or let them give themselves self-feedback. It’s longer, more personal conversation that helps your team member to shift behaviour that is driven by what is underneath the iceberg.
-Coach on values

It’s about making conversations more effective.

I coached a client of mine in the retail business who constantly gave feedback on values and beliefs, everything that is underneath the iceberg. It resulted in the team member leaving as they felt personally attacked. I practiced giving feedback with SBI and also how to coach someone and the conversations improved rapidly and so did the retention of staff.

How do I know when to use feedback and when to coach?

Tune into others and find out what the problem is. Is it behaviour, simply something they did wrong? Then use feedback, and SBI.

If the challenge go deeper and is more personal and stems from differences in the belief system and value, then coach: sit down, build trust, build a connection, ask open-ended questions, and find out what the challenge is. Through holding them accountable and building a plan and a goal, you help them to overcome the challenge. That can, of course, include change of their own behaviour. But your approach and conversation will be different.

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