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Best Practices for Coaching Conversations

Best Practices for Coaching Conversations

Learn to hold a powerful coaching conversation with our best practices, structuring tips, and preparation guide. Plus, find out what not to do.


Empathy, an inspiring attitude, and excellent conversational skills are traits of a great coach.  

So it stands to reason that we all can be effective coaches to peers (and even friends) by tapping into our most positive, compassionate side and sharpening our communication skills. 

And becoming an expert communicator pays off. Studies show that close communication generates trust in the workplace and encourages productivity — not to mention solidifies relationships.

Learn how to have deeper conversations because you want to improve your connections, and reap the engagement and retention rewards across your organization. Here’s how to hold coaching conversations worthy of a professional coach — whether or not you are one. 

What are coaching conversations?

Even the best communicators have much to learn when approaching coaching conversations. In these talks, you must do more than lend an empathetic ear and offer advice. Help others explore inner motivations, set goals, and decide on action items they can commit to. 

Coaching conversations have a specific aim, so you employ them in particular situations. These talks are helpful when someone wants to: 

  • Set goals 
  • Identify limiting beliefs 
  • Become more self-aware
  • Develop personally or professionally 
  • Get “unstuck” 

Preparing for a coaching conversation

If you’re about to have a coaching conversation with a peer, chances are the person wants support to combat a challenging situation. Or, perhaps you need to intervene and motivate or redirect this individual. In either case, the conversation is delicate, and you should prepare with the following tips:

  • Ask questions: Even if you offer great advice and have brilliant ideas, take a back seat in coaching conversations. Prepare to ask questions like “Can you explain what you’re feeling?” and guide the other person toward answers from within. Brainstorm questions before the talk so there’s never a lag. 
  • Prepare the other person: If the person you wish to coach won’t lean into the idea, the conversation won’t develop organically or comfortably. Ask the individual if they’re open to feedback and discussing their future before the sit-down. 
  • Consider timing: Plan out what you’d like to address in the conversation in relation to the time you have. If you have a lot of ground to cover, map out how you’ll use every minute. For example, in a half-hour session, dedicate 10 minutes to soul-searching questions, 10 to goal-setting, and the final 10 to action items. 


How to structure effective coaching conversations

We recommend planning ahead and considering timing because effective coaching conversations are based on structure. You’ll address complex ideas with someone potentially feeling stagnant, demotivated, or lost. If you don’t impose structure, you may have a heart-to-heart, which isn’t the same as a coaching conversation. Here are tips for keeping the discussion on track: 

  1. Pinpoint what you wish to cover: Identify the conversation’s goal. Doing so can be trickier than it sounds because addressing many issues simultaneously is tempting. In a productive coaching conversation, however, you should identify what you hope to achieve, such as discovering what’s preventing an excellent salesperson from accepting a managerial role.
  2. Actively listen: Remember that in your role as a coach, you have to ask pointed questions that lead the other person to discoveries. Focus on listening instead of talking, and use body language, such as strong eye contact and approachable gestures, to show you follow the conversation. Repeat the person’s own words back to them, using phrasing like “I hear you feel you don’t have the right skill set for this next step.” Echoing demonstrates your engagement and confirms understanding. 
  3. Move the conversation along: It’s an excellent idea to bring questions so you can propel the conversation if moving slowly or keep it on course if becoming tangential. 
  4. Be flexible but focused: Generate trust by respecting the other person’s right to talk. Don’t cut them off or forcefully redirect the conversation. Yes, you have goals to set and coaching topics to cover, but having a cold or hurried conversation is off-putting, especially when addressing sensitive topics, such as professional growth. 
  5. Use exercises: A worksheet goes a long way to helping another person discover inner motivations and insecurities. Consider arriving at the session with a tool, like the Wheel of Life, or a visual that helps individuals identify their satisfaction levels in areas like their careers, home, and relationships. 

Best practices for impactful coaching conversations

You’re prepared for an upcoming coaching chat. You know what topics of conversation you’ll cover, the questions to ask, and the session’s goals. And you’re ready to guide the talk and listen empathetically. Now, all that’s left is implementing the following communication best practices

  • Don’t give advice. Extract answers: Avoid imposing your opinions or telling others what to feel. People aren’t always satisfied when they follow a course someone else charts. Allow the individual to come to their responses, identify meaningful goals, and suggest action items they can stick to. 
  • Take notes: Stay present and maintain eye contact, but jot down key points with the other person’s permission. These notes help you create a goal roadmap or action-item calendar post session. 
  • Stay positive: Almost any phrase can turn two ways: positive or negative. For example, it’s demoralizing to say someone isn’t performing well but motivating to affirm your recognition of their potential to do even better work. Keep your phrasing positive, acknowledge the person’s efforts, and celebrate successes. A coaching conversation isn’t a performance review. It’s a talk that inspires change and confidence. 
  • Never assume: Like repeating the other individual’s words is an excellent habit, asking further questions instead of extrapolating benefits both you and the client. For example, if a person says they don’t feel confident in a leadership position, ask them to expand on the idea rather than saying, "Yes, I imagine you feel insecure about your public speaking skills.” Try, “I hear that. What would make you feel more confident?” Making assumptions can be off-putting and discouraging for the other person.

Leverage communication: your sharpest tool

Communication is one of the most vital leadership skills for coaches, managers, and role models. But the ability to maintain a productive conversation doesn’t necessarily come naturally. 

Learn to hold more profound, motivating one-on-ones with Practice’s wealth of educational materials on communication. Polish your skills with actionable tips, become an expert at professional talks, and find out how having better conversations get results. Try Practice today.

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