Feedback or Coaching: Which Comes First?

As companies do away with performance ratings, learning professionals are scrambling to equip their managers with the ability to offer coaching and feedback “in the moment.” Often the plan is to focus on feedback training first. And then add coaching later. That gets the cart before the horse.

That’s because feedback needs coaching to deliver results. First, we need to get clear on how feedback and coaching work together. There are three kinds of feedback:

  • Appreciative feedback can be used any time, inside or outside coaching conversations to encourage people to continue stretching their capabilities.
  • Remedial feedback is used to inform a person that his or her performance is below standard and there will be consequences if the standard isn’t met. This kind of feedback happens outside of a coaching conversation. Coaching can, and should, be used to help the person attain the required standard after the feedback is clearly delivered.
  • Developmental feedback is the most common kind of feedback. It’s a coaching approach that enables people to understand the unintended consequences of their behavior. It needs to be used within coaching conversations because coaching is required to translate the awareness of the limitation into new ways of thinking and working. 

How Coaching and Feedback Work Together

Whatever people are doing, it makes perfect sense to them.

Think of it this way, regardless of how crazy, annoying or off the mark a behavior is, it makes perfect sense to the person engaging in it. Whatever people do, they think it’s working, or they wouldn’t do it. They are simply unaware of the unintended consequences of their actions. For example, people talk over others in meetings because that’s the best strategy they can come up with to get their points across quickly. They’re unaware that they are likely annoying and offending the very people they need to implement their ideas. Trust me, if they had a better strategy they’d use it. So the behaviors you’re seeing are people’s best efforts, even when they’re pretty bad.

Behaviors are kept in place by a series of “nots”.

The strategy that a person uses to attain an outcome reflects the person’s assumptions and beliefs about how the world works, the person’s fears and concerns, and the person’s skill level. Added together, these elements describe a person’s worldview. The people who talk over others may “not recognize” that this approach offends others. They may “not want” to have their ideas overlooked, and they may “not know” how to express what they’re thinking any other way. So they keep talking over others assuming that approach is working for them. All of these “nots” have to be addressed for behavior change to occur.

Feedback without coaching tends to ignite defensive reactions, but little else.

When the people who talk over others are told that the behavior is annoying they may become aware of the unintended consequences of their behavior, if they believe the feedback. When feedback is delivered with an overtone of judgment, which is often the case, people tend to defend against it, discount it, or ignore it completely, so it doesn’t land as intended. Even if they accept the feedback, they still do “not know” how to express their ideas more appropriately, and they do “not want” their ideas to be overlooked. As long as those “nots” that support the behavior are still in place, people quickly go back to talking over their colleagues. That’s because the feedback alone didn’t prepare them to be successful at taking a different approach.

Solid coaching skills are needed to motivate people to change.

In order for people to put forth the sometime considerable effort required for lasting behavior change to take hold, they need to see that learning how to express their ideas in a more appreciative way will help them to be more successful. And, any fears or concerns they have about making the change have to be addressed, often by coaching them on how to adopt better strategies for sharing their ideas in a more respectful and effective manner. Coaching approaches are essential for motivating people to make the effort to learn new ways of doing things.

When feedback is inserted into coaching conversations, forward momentum for change is created.

That’s because through feedback and coaching people become aware of how they’re getting in their own way, and the benefit, to them, of embracing change. And, they get the support they personally need to overcome their fears and be successful.

That’s why people need to learn coaching skills first and then learn how to insert developmental feedback into their “in the moment” coaching conversations.

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient

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