Want to know how to coach someone? A good place to start is to acknowledge the dilemma of how to set high standards and get people to perform, whilst at the same time allowing people to make mistakes and learn to improve. It’s a constant challenge for coaches and one that requires the coach to develop just as much as the person being supported.

Ideally, you’d be learning how to coach someone as part of a companywide philosophy and practice. Good coaching happens at all levels in an organisation and isn’t something you focus on as a quick training fix – it’s a way of life, a philosophy or code by which you operate. Done well, it’s an approach that makes organisations healthy. If you are being managed in an autocratic and controlling way, you might find it harder to adopt a positive coaching mindset with others.

The primary goal of good coaching is to raise awareness and facilitate learning and development. If you want to learn how to coach someone you must be able to raise the awareness of your coachee, such that they might be enabled to make choices about what they say, do, and own.

Often when things go wrong at work, we get off-track or perhaps miss an important development opportunity. This is because our awareness is subdued. We are on automatic pilot, we’re not thinking straight, we react unconsciously or impulsively. Helping coachees get thoughts and feelings into their consciousness, tuning into their choices if you like, is a key component of good coaching.

Here are 6 handy tips on how to coach someone.


Beliefs matter

What you think and believe in deep down matters in coaching. If someone holds a self-limiting belief (“I’ll never be any good with budgets because I just can’t count”) then that belief can trigger thoughts and feelings that lead to certain behaviours that get in the way of making change.

When learning how to coach someone, it’s important to recognise the impact of someone’s belief system on their openness to change. Beliefs are often based on assumptions that might not be true, so being able to ask questions that explore beliefs is important.

manager coaching employee


Don’t tell

When you want someone to change quickly, the easiest thing in the world is to tell them this by offering well-meaning advice. We’ve all done it – at work and most certainly at home!

Think about a time when someone told you that you needed to change. Chances are, your first instinct was to resist. Resistance manifests from many different places – irritation, anger, indignation, shame, guilt and indifference. This can create barriers to change before you’ve even got going.

Additionally, as a coach, telling someone the answer is another way of controlling them and removing ownership. When people work out an answer for themselves, they are more likely to own it. This doesn’t mean you need to withdraw or disengage, or as many people think with coaching, only ask open-ended questions. It means still offering to be a sounding board to play around with different ideas. Drawing out rather than laying on is a good way to think about effective coaching.


Listen deeply

There are very few people, if any, who are brilliant, perfect listeners! With coaching, too much noise just gets in the way – whether it’s your own reactions or the voice in your head, interruptions or other distractions. If you want to learn how to coach someone, you must acknowledge and develop your active listening capability. And this can be tough work!

Leaders and managers who might be coaching more junior team members can fall into obvious traps when it comes to coaching. One of these is thinking that you already know all the answers. Another is that you have nothing to learn from your side of the engagement. Then there are less obvious ones – you’re concentrating too hard, you’re writing copious notes or you’re thinking about another problem to be solved. To be a good coach, you need to acknowledge what is going on in the moment and stay focused.

a manager listening to an employee


Get prepared

To learn to coach someone, you need to be prepared. This means getting into the ‘zone’ or decluttering your mind before you start. If necessary, write a list of things that you need to attend to later. Just find a way to clear your head.

Switch off your judgement. If you’ve already judged the situation, you’re unlikely to hear very much. Build rapport with positive physical gestures such as nodding, eye contact and mirroring body language. Don’t forget to summarise and check back – did you hear the message intended? Focus on the use of language and seek to clarify. What you think about the meaning of ‘disillusioned’ might be different to your coaches.


Use slick questions

Questioning others is an important part of any good coaching process. Done well, you ask clear questions that open someone’s thinking rather than shutting it down. Ask too many questions and you might confuse your coachee. Ask them why they did something and they might become defensive. Good coaching questions are generally short, open, exploratory and supportive.

two people in a coaching session


Give and receive feedback

Finally, if you want to learn how to coach someone, you need to recognise and learn how to give and receive feedback. Feedback plays a critical role in leadership and management performance – not just for you personally, but also for your team. Fear often gets in the way of us giving feedback. This might be because of the fear of reprisal or being called a ‘bully’, even for someone raising a complaint against you.

Clumsily given feedback may well elicit this kind of response and make others feel nothing but criticised. To avoid this, remember to make feedback beneficial to the receiver in order to progress their development, make their job easier and for that feeling of success. Don’t overload someone with feedback. Pick one of two specific areas to discuss and stick within those boundaries.

You should also be factual and non-judgemental in what you have to say. Limiting your own emotional responses can help what gets heard. Ask the person for permission to receive feedback. While you don’t have to do this, it builds a coalition. Give the other person time to be heard. Listen and acknowledge what they have to say. And if you must express your feelings, describe only your experience by using the word ‘I’.


In an ideal world, you’ll be trained and maybe even qualified to coach others before you get going. However, in real life, leaders and managers are often left to their own devices. Follow these simple tips and your coaching practice will improve every time you coach.

Find out more about becoming a first-time manager.


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