Coaching When the Going Gets Tough

Feedback is an important part of the coaching process and is critical to the successful accomplishment of goals. Feedback should be given on an on-going basis, whether you are coaching for support or improvement. Using the ‘LIFA’ model on-going coaching is a supportive way of keeping others engaged in their work and on track, but even the best employee sometimes goes off track. When that happens a more directive model of the coaching dialogue is in order, remember coaching is a continuum and a different conversation is needed when people go off track.

Coaching continuum: Supportive vs. Directive

Giving coaching and giving feedback when things are going well is much easier than giving feedback when things aren’t going as planned or when weak performance occurs. In fact, for many leaders it is one of the most dreaded steps in developing others; yet it does not have to be this way.  Taking the time to adequately prepare for giving feedback will help reduce your anxiety.

Remember, feedback is meant to be a constructive and collaborative process with a primary emphasis on the other person’s development and growth.  To help set a positive tone, remember to approach the conversation in the role of “Coach” – focused on the other person’s success!

Preparation is important.  Prepare for your coaching meeting in advance.

  • Only enter into the conversation if it will help – if you cannot think of a constructive reason for giving the feedback, don’t give it.
  • Deliver feedback promptly and consider the time and place – keep it private and make it positive.
  • Prepare for the conversation. Gather facts and documentation – be specific.
  • Plan for rough spots – if you anticipate difficulty with delivering feedback, seek appropriate help.

 Use the SOLVE Coaching Feedback Model to help ‘redirect’ the coachee to more effective action.

SOLVE Coaching Feedback Model

Five Steps for Delivering Effective Feedback

  1. State positive intent.
  2. Offer your observations.
  3. Listen and Link – Listen actively and Link to the Goal or expectation.
  4. Value the other person’s contribution.
  5. Engage them in defining a solution.
  1. State/Convey Positive Intent

When initiating the conversation, put the other person at ease – Conduct the conversation in a quiet, private place. Move to a table or sit in a chair next to the other person. Do not sit behind a desk. Demonstrate interest in them as a person.
Briefly state the topic – Keep this statement brief and succinct.
Convey your positive intent about the conversation. State the importance of working together for a common goal and your desire to support the other person in reaching the goal or meeting the expectation.

  1. Offer your Observations
  • State the facts and only the facts. It is important that this phase of the conversation be straightforward, clear, brief and to the point.
  • Focus on the behavior, not on the person. Use behaviorally-specific language. Refrain from casting judgment or stating assumptions. Remind the other person that your goal is to support them and help them identify what they need to do to achieve the goal or expectation.
  • Limit feedback to one topic. Keep your feedback on topic and to the point. Don’t muddy the waters by bringing up other unrelated issues.
  • Wait for the other person to respond.
  1. Listen and Link
  • Listen actively. Paraphrase what you hear. Strive to understand from the other’s perspective. Listen from your perspective, as well as the other person’s perspective.
  • Ask effective questions, using open-ended questions to encourage the other person to express their perspective. Avoid giving advice!
  • Watch for ‘Diversionary Tactics’. People become uncomfortable when discussing difficult issues and may use diversionary tactics to steer the conversation away from their role in the issue. If someone you are coaching tries to stir you away from the topic, simply state ‘right now’ I am interested in you being successful and in order for you to be successful.
  • Link to the goal. Reconnect to the goal, expected behavior or desired outcomes.
  1. Value the other person’s contribution
  • Acknowledge what the other person has done or is doing to meet the goal or expectation.
  • Ask them if there is any learning from past successes that can be brought to bear on resolving the current situation.

Example: “You are known for producing quality work under challenging circumstances. Can you think of a time when the pressure to do quick work was just as tough, and you were able to deliver a quality report?’

  1. Engage the other person in defining a solution
  • With the goal in mind – ask for a solution. Ask the other person what actions they can take to make improvements that will help them reach the goal or expectation.
  • Ask effective questions, and listen with an open mind.
  • Discuss areas for agreed upon action. Problem-solve together on how improvements can be made, and keep the discussion positive and future oriented.
  • Summarize points on which you are in agreement.
  • Create a plan of action together – ensure that the plan is specific, with actions, resources and dates.
  • Offer your support – ask what you can do to support them in their efforts. Set a time to check in to make sure progress is being made as planned.
  • Express your confidence in them and thank them for their efforts.

Follow Through and Follow Up

Follow through on your commitments. Make time to check in with the other person, if appropriate. Hold a follow-up conversation with them to check on progress and help them problem solve as appropriate.


“When we weave people together in a neighborhood of relationships, we have the benefits of the extended family.”
– Peter Block


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