Improving Coaching Conversations: Part 2 of 3

Improving Coaching Conversations | Leadership Worth Following

Part 1 outlined suggestions for more effective coaching conversations, including a recommended, 4-step approach. Simple actions – like encouraging the coachee to become an active participant open to finding solutions – can significantly improve the effectiveness of coaching conversations.

Part 2 will summarize two other scholarly perspectives on successful coaching conversations.

Take ‘Sandwich’ Off Menu.

A long-standing, well-known coaching approach is often called the “feedback sandwich”: constructive criticism layered between elements of praise. Before suggesting an alternative in his article, Wharton professor Adam Grant discusses several downsides of the sandwich approach.

He wrote that a coachee may interpret the opening compliment as insincere, just meant to “soften the blow” of the impending critique. And this critique may be easily forgotten because people tend to pay more attention to the first and last parts of a conversation.

Roger Schwarz wrote of the “feedback sandwich” earlier, in the Harvard Business Review. He claims that such an approach tends to undermine helpful feedback and is overly controlling. Instead, he recommends more transparency, such as by including the coachee in the plan. Coaches should also shift their mindset, in part by adopting an attitude of humility.


Focus on Task, Not Person.

A meta-analysis study by Kluger and DeNisi published in Psychological Bulletin reviewed more than 130 other studies related to feedback interventions/coaching conversations.

They found that feedback can influence: (1) what we learn, (2) how motivated we are, and (3) how we feel about the task and ourselves. Furthermore, they found that coaching feedback is most effective when it is:

1 Non judgmental (e.g., “That was correct” not “Good job!”)

2 Task-focused (e.g., “Do this differently” not “You were wrong”)

3 Immediate and specific


5 Steps to Success.

Based on the above articles, we’ve summarized these 5 recommended steps:

1 Explain why you are giving the feedback.

2 Be candid, genuine, respectful, and caring.

3 Focus on the task/outcome and the process/how it was done.

3 Don’t give “personal” feedback (i.e., “you are”).

3 Focus on solutions moving forward.

Everyone reacts differently to feedback – there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. As a coach, work on honing your listening skills, because active listening in conversations is the foundation for building and maintaining strong relationships.

Part 3 will explore how gaining a better understanding of the coachee’s values/drivers can play a role in making these conversations even more effective.