A successful relationship between coach and client begins with both making their expectations clear. Just as finding the best route on a roadmap requires that you know where you’re headed, developing a strong coaching relationship requires mapping out a plan. Part of this plan must include honest feedback between coach and client. And when feedback is negative, it’s important to present it with tact and compassion, or it will lead to defensiveness and resentment rather than improvement. The good news is that people who enter into a business coaching arrangement typically do so because they want in-depth, constructive feedback. Here’s what you should know about feedback in the coach-client relationship, whichever of those you are.

Business coaching

Without feedback, coaching isn’t very effective.

The Purpose of Feedback

Feedback helps both parties know how they are doing, which allows them to compare that with how they think they’re doing. For high-level executives, this is extremely important. Not many people spend their days at the top of the corporate organization chart, and therefore, it’s not always easy for executives to honestly discuss their effectiveness with others.

The people who directly report to an executive or other leader may understandably be reluctant to provide candid feedback, especially if it’s negative. And while organizations do performance reviews for executives, they don’t accomplish what coaching does. In short, the business coaching relationship provides executives and other leaders with valuable information they generally won’t get otherwise.

What Makes for High-Quality Feedback?

Whether feedback is positive or negative in nature, it needs to be constructive, and it needs to include some key elements. For one thing, it should reinforce, rather than undermine the feedback recipient’s value. Feedback should involve active listening to encourage trust-building and improve overall communication. If there’s a problem, the feedback should ask the recipient his or her opinion on solving it. It should include context and rationale, and should ultimately be supportive while reinforcing the responsibility the recipient of the feedback has.

Questions Are Important to Feedback

Feedback isn’t only telling, but asking too. In addition to communicating impressions and accomplishments, the coach should ask questions of the coachee. Well-worded questions can help the process of clarifying issues and developing actionable objectives for improvement. The type of questions that are most useful in the coaching relationship include:

  • What are the good and bad parts of your career as it is currently?
  • Have you been surprised by any of the feedback you’ve received so far?
  • What are some of the positive and negative themes of the feedback you’ve received?
  • What changes do you most want to make?
  • How do you plan to use the feedback you receive?
Coaching Relationship

A regular question-and-answer session can keep the coaching relationship moving forward.

Sometimes Feedback Is Rejected

Leaders and executives tend to have strong opinions, so you can’t automatically assume that the client will simply accept feedback as it’s given. It is possible for a client to become defensive, try to justify actions, or otherwise reject the feedback. Fortunately, there are ways to get the coaching relationship back on track. It’s essential that the coach consistently, through actions and words, let the client know feedback is information, and not a statement of the client’s worth.

Additionally, there may be situations where it’s necessary to remind clients that rejecting feedback is tantamount to rejecting change. When that happens, it’s important to evaluate the purpose of the business coaching relationship. Working with high-level leaders and executives requires remaining cool, and addressing defensiveness or justification in a constructive manner. Sometimes you have to say flat out that the feedback doesn’t appear valuable to the client and ask what the best way to proceed is.

Essential Skills for the Executive Coach

Some of the accomplishments expected of the executive coach include:

  • Identification of client strengths and weaknesses
  • Helping executives improve their effectiveness
  • Encouraging leaders to broaden their thinking
  • Setting goals and developing plans of action to achieve them

Clearly, this is a professional relationship that must be built on honesty if it is to succeed. That’s the only way the coach can truly help the client identify skills gaps and envision the difference between current performance and target performance. The coach who asks relevant, open-ended questions, and then listens to the answers helps take the first steps toward identifying solutions.

Business coaching isn’t something that happens once and is done. It requires both parties to be positive, flexible, and honest, and identify where there’s room for improvement and develop a plan for how to get there. If you’re interested in business coaching, feel free to reach out to me.

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