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Turning Mistakes into Coachable Moments

Rachel was all full of angst because Ken, another supervisor in the same department, was upset with her. (Wrongly, she felt.)

orange, white, pink, yellow roses, willow glen
Feedback and Coaching Without Thorns

She was explaining the story to Abe, her manager (one of my favorites of all time), with a fair amount of drama on her part. For some reason, I was in the same room. We might have been waiting for a meeting to start. Ken wasn’t there.

First, Abe let her vent about the unfairness of it all. (In reality, she had overstepped her bounds with Ken’s direct reports.)

And then, after listening carefully, he said, “Tell me what you learned.”

Five simple words said calmly. No drama.

This turned the conversation around instantly.

No more “poor me.”

Instead, Rachel sat up. She let the emotion go. Now she was thinking.

  1. She saw her part in creating the incident in the first place.
  2. She came up with a couple of behaviors that she should avoid in the future.
  3. She started looking at what happened in a whole new way. In short, she learned something.

Rachel, with just a little prompting, saw the point where her earlier actions had turned into the wrong strategy. Instead of dwelling on Ken’s negative reaction, she was now looking at the whole episode as a learning experience.

Abe didn’t take sides, didn’t tell her she was wrong, didn’t work through the pros and cons of who did what to whom. He just quietly turned the conversation toward learning. He turned an upsetting incident into a coachable moment.

If Rachel had remained oblivious to her part in creating the situation, Abe would have helped her to see it. Thankfully, Rachel had enough self-awareness to see it on her own.

Everyone was better off.

There’s research about giving feedback that suggests we should:

  1. Encourage the person to review what happened.
  2. Have her pinpoint where the strategy she was using failed to create the desired result.
  3. If she can’t find it, point it out.
  4. If possible, have her suggest what she should have done instead.
  5. If she doesn’t know, provide information, a demonstration, whatever is needed.

We’ve all seen feedback that didn’t work as well as this. In fact, much of feedback causes more harm than good. This is a simple set of steps to follow when you have a coachable moment.

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  • jeannefarrington

    And yes, I changed the names to avoid embarrassing anybody.