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Drawing the line between coaching and criticism

Employees make mistakes. Your job as their leader is to coach them so they learn from shortcomings to perform better in the future. However, you can't let coaching give way to criticism.

This caution isn't to say you don't have good intentions. You want your team members to succeed, and you set what you believe are reasonable goals to help them grow. The trouble arises from those moments where you let feedback go from constructive to uncompassionate.

Considering the 2017 Globoforce/Society for Human Resources Management Employee Recognition Survey found 93 percent of managers require employee coaching training, now is the time to brush up on your skills. Here are some considerations to get you started with keeping your talking points on the coaching rather than criticism side:

Go for encouragement
Before you even begin the conversation, remember that the goal is to give advice in a manner that will drive employees toward growth. Your language and tone should leave them with thoughts about what they can do next to develop, not what they currently can't do.

Talk about more than the negatives
It's easy to step into a feedback session and want to focus on only what needs improvement. Sure, you want to streamline the conversation. However, that goal can't mean you spend the entire meeting telling employees everything that's wrong about their performance.

Whether you start with positive aspects all at once or weave them throughout the talk, make sure you highlight what your team members do well. One approach is to ground advice in good examples from the employee. For instance, point out how proficiency in one area can translate to improvement in another with statements like "I've seen you navigate A, B, and C with email communications, and you can use B to work on phone interactions."

"Highlight what your team members do well."

Practice your listening skills
This point may seem obvious, but it bears repeating for a reason. Coaching is a conversation. Plan to spend the first part of a feedback meeting listening. That way, you can hear the factors working against employees and tailor your critique accordingly. You may discover underperformance stems from external factors.

Also, listening first ensures you understand how your team members want to grow. Coaching is as much (maybe even more) about long-term development as it is about short-term corrections.

Don't leave out details
Explain the what and why of your expectations for employees. Whether you push top performers to position them for promotions or communicate more frequently with underperformers to keep them off probation, state your intentions.

This approach gives you two benefits. First, team members may view your coaching as less critical. Second, you lessen the chance of perceived favoritism for employees who have fewer regular interactions with you.