7 Steps to Coaching a Great Conversation

by Sep 13, 2018Strategy | Entrepreneurship

If you’re like me, when you hear the word “coach” the first thing that comes to mind is sports. But did you know the title of “coach” goes beyond the arena? There are coaches, people willing to help you with challenges in all aspects of your personal and professional life. A coaching conversation can happen anywhere.

I never really put much thought into the role of a coach until I met Halle Simpson, a local business coach, at a networking event last week. Halle’s insightful presentation explained techniques for conducting a coaching conversation in the workplace.

She explained how a coach’s role differs from that of a mentor, counselor, or consultant. Instead of drawing from the same specific set of experiences for everyone, coaches consider the specific circumstances for each individual before providing guidance.

As I listened to the presentation I realized how easily these techniques could be applied to any professional field. If you are in a leadership position, chances are you are coaching your employees on a pretty regular basis without even realizing it. Awareness is half the battle, but much like a good sports team, you need a good plan to win the game. If you break your conversation down into 7 easy steps, you’ll have just that.

1. Coaching Agreement

Lay out expectations in the beginning and it will be much easier to guide the conversation down a productive path. Once initial concerns are on the table, figure out the desired outcome of the conversation for both you and the person you are coaching.

Remember, as a coach your role is not to control the conversation, but guide it, by listening intently and asking questions to keep the conversation on track. A good rule of thumb for coaches is to spend 80% of the conversation listening and only 20% speaking. More often than not, someone has all the tools needed to solve the problem and just needs help organizing their thoughts.

2. Active Inquiry

Once you have mutually agreed on the expectations of the conversation, the main goal is to work together to discover the real root of the problem. Now’s the time for you, the coach, to take a more active role. Ask questions and encourage elaboration on specific details that seem important.

Maintain an objective tone by asking questions which help define the problem. These are likely to be fact-based who, what, and how questions. Avoid asking “why” whenever possible, since these types of questions are likely to feel judgmental, making the other person feel defensive about the choice they made.

It is important to remain unattached to the final outcome, but don’t be afraid to allow yourself to take a genuine, almost childlike interest in what they are saying. Passion can be contagious; embrace it.

3. Explore Situations

Now that roles and goals are defined it’s time for the fun part, brainstorming solutions. Start by asking how the problem could be solved if all limits were removed. Help decipher where in the plan they are stuck and discuss solutions to the most abhorrent obstacles.

As the two of you continue to explore the “what ifs,” it is imperative for you, the coach, to contain feedback until verbally permitted to comment. Although you have their best interest in mind, an uninvited interjection can lead to one of many undesired outcomes. These range from a waver in confidence to a break in trust, and even sometimes emotional outbursts. That being said, remember that permission does not automatically guarantee your ideas will be accepted. Don’t take it personally if your suggestions are rejected. After all, this is their problem to solve.

4. Creating Awareness

About halfway through the conversation, take a step back to reflect on what’s been discussed. Highlight any new awareness that have come up and pinpoint how it relates to the initial problem. Is the conversation still on track, or have we discovered a new root cause?

5. Going Further

If the two of you feel that the topic has changed and wish to continue down this new avenue, you may want to go back and explore a fresh set of solutions for the revised focus. If you both agree that you’re on the right track, discuss any key points that may still be a bit unclear. Once both parties can distinctly see the possibilities in front of them, it’s time to organize all these thoughts into goals and construct a solid plan.

6. Planning & Goal Setting

Lay everything out on the table. Discuss which action comes first, and resist the urge to focus on more than one step at a time. Make sure there is an understanding of how each step ties together with the desired end result while also taking note of any falters in commitment to the end goal. It is also important to address and combat any concerns that pop up along the way.

7. Managing Progress & Accountability

Once a plan is in place, take a few moments to recap the main points from the discussion. Also, revisit the expectations that were discussed when you first sat down and clarify that your role in their plan has not changed. If you are not playing an active role after this discussion, find out who will be involved to boost motivation and maintain accountability.


What happens next? That’s totally up to you. No matter the outcome, be sure to encourage your team to pause before jumping into the next venture. Enjoy the victories, no matter how small. Or maybe things did not go as well as you had hoped? Instead of labeling the recent experience a “failure,” consider it as a learning moment instead. Pause and reflect to understand what went wrong, but don’t dwell. Once the “why” is established, you’re ready to try again or use this insight for future endeavors.

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