If you combine observation with evaluation, people hear criticism


CriticismIf you’re in a coaching job or role, your task is to help your coachee discover himself and grow. There are many ways to do this, but giving feedback is the basis for all.

For giving feedback I can advise the feedback framework which is available in blog entry “A continuous flow of feedback“. The emphasis in this article was more on giving positive and/or constructive feedback, but this blog entry will focus more on how to collect and handover your feedback.

Let’s say you follow the coachee in different meetings ranging from meetings with the customer to staff meetings. If you take the role of passive observer, you will write down your observations of the meeting and your coachees behaviour. As passive observer it is also possible to focus beyond the content: body language of participants, group interaction, presentation styles, etc. If your coachee is the chairman of the meeting, he will also appreciate this feedback.

Observations with interpretations

Now, even as a coach you’re not completely neutral: during the years you have read books, gained experience and insights and grew as an employee and coach. So when you are writing down your observations, write down only the observations and avoid making interpretations. Don’t add remarks like the reason why you think it needs to be good, don’t add “good” or “bad” next to it, and so forth…

An example:

Observation: “The coachee gives orders during the meeting when topic XYZ was discussed.”
Interpretation: “Giving orders is not good (involving in the “how” of the assignment).”
Evaluation: “He should not give orders, but let people gain insights themself and coach them.”

When you’re taking this path, you will arrive at subjective evaluations. You’ve coupled an objective observation with your interpretation. When you deliver this message to the coachee, he will consider it as criticism and go into resistance. When in resistance the coachee will not listen to your observations, defend himself and the risk of emotional shutdown exists.

Tips for observations without evaluation

First of all: confirm your mandate to give feedback to the coachee and repeat why we are doing the feedback talk again (see “What to ask the person in the mirror” from Robert S. Kaplan).

  • During the meeting, write down your observations. Only observations.
  • Make your obseration SMART (Specific – Measurable – Acceptable – Realistic – Time-bound): don’t use generalizations like “always”, “never”, “often”, “sometimes”, etc. Write down what’s said or observed.
  • Discuss the observations with your coachee. Since the observations are neutral and objective, they are not open for discussion.
  • Tell your coachee how the observation made you feel: your feelings are also not open for discussion. Did he see that others felt the same? See if he can relate.
  • Focus on the result of the behaviour has on the group or meeting outcome and verify if that result was wanted.
  • Give the coachee time to process the feedback and put it in its context.
  • Look together for a possible improvement opportunity for the next meeting. Pick actions for it.

Additional reading

“Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” from Dr. Marshall Rosenberg

What to ask the person in the mirror” from Robert S. Kaplan

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One thought on “If you combine observation with evaluation, people hear criticism

  1. […] There’s too long time between event and coaching feedback. […]

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