Don’t Confuse Feedback With Coaching

Photo by nappy from Pexels

They can both be valuable but they are different…

Coaching almost always involves some sort of feedback but the reverse is not true — most feedback does not involve coaching.

Huh?

Precision in language is important and I’ve seen and heard a lot of imprecision over the years about those two terms “coaching” and “feedback.” Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Sometimes they are simply used incorrectly.

Here’s the difference. Feedback is providing information to someone about some aspect of their performance. It can be at the task level or broader and can call out perceived good performance or poor performance. It is brief one-way communication although it can evolve into a conversation, even if that conversation is simply a short response like “Thanks!” or “Why do you say that?”

Feedback is most valuable when it’s timely, specific, provided in a helpful spirit, and behavioral-based. “Behavioral-based” means that feedback should not be about whether the person in question is a “good” person or a jerk, for instance. Rather it should be about someone’s observable behavior or performance.

In short, it’s an info byte the receiver of the feedback can either accept or reject. That’s also why it’s important that it be specific so the receiver can choose to act on it if he/she chooses to. If you hear someone tell you “You did a great job in the meeting yesterday!” it might make you feel good but you don’t really know what it is that you did that was “great.”

On the other hand, if that person tells you, “In the meeting yesterday when we were all sort of stuck on the budget issue you made a suggestion to have a straw poll on the options and that got us all unstuck and we were able to agree on an option.” It’s specific about the situation (being stuck on an issue), what you did (suggested straw poll) and the result (“we were able…”).

In fact, feedback like the above example is often referred to as the “STAR” model: It contains a description of the Situation or Task; the Action the person took; and the Result. It’s an easy way to remember the elements of effective feedback, no matter what the content of the feedback is.

When feedback is STAR-specific you know exactly what you did that was appreciated — or in some cases unappreciated, and you can choose, if you desire, to take similar or corrective actions in the future. It’s usable information.

Hence, feedback can be valuable because it provides the perspective of another. And that’s important because we often don’t see ourselves as others see us. But it’s not coaching.

Coaching is different…

It’s a two-way interaction aimed at helping someone improve in some area of performance. It could be about tennis. Or becoming more effective at leading and managing others. Even overall “life coaching” has become popular in the last 10 years or so.

But unlike simple one-way feedback, coaching requires a conversation.

Coaching provides guidance and direction and can be highly prescriptive (the tennis coach tells and shows the learner how to grip the racket differently) or it could be what I like to call “guided discovery,” situations where the coaching takes the form of the coach asking insightful questions in order for the coachee to think through possible solutions for a situation. Feedback on its own does not provide guidance or direction.

Feedback, though, is an important component of coaching since coaching involves a two-way interaction. Feedback from the coach in the context of coaching helps the coachee know if they’re on track and responding appropriately to the guidance and direction. It helps the coachee make adjustments if necessary or confirms that what she/he is doing is right and it reinforces effective performance.

Coaching, then, is a deliberate or intentional process for helping someone improve in some area and the coachee is invested in the process. He/she is willing or has agreed to be coached in the hopes of getting better at something.

There is no such commitment on the part of someone who either gets or gives feedback. In fact, feedback which is critical of another is sometimes provided as a “gotcha” instead of in a helpful spirit.

This article opened with the proposition that “Coaching almost always involves some sort of feedback but the reverse is not true — most feedback does not involve coaching.” I hope that distinction was made clear in this piece and that it rings true for you.

If not, well, I’m open to your feedback…

About the author: Mike Hoban is a leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics, sometimes in a whimsical way. In addition to his 35+ years experience as a leader, consultant and business owner he has also published extensively in Fast Company and also wrote a business column for 12 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at mjhoban99@gmail.com.

Published by

Status is online

Mike Hoban

Leadership advisor and coach

Published • 3d

21 articles

#coaching #leadershipcoaching #leadershipskills #communicationskills

#managementskills

About the author: Mike Hoban is a leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics, sometimes in a whimsical way. In addition to his 35+ years experience as a leader, consultant and business owner he has also published extensively in Fast Company and also wrote a business column for 12 years. Many of his recent commentaries — including several about leading during the COVID crisis — can be found on his LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-hoban-b5756b6/ He can also be reached at mjhoban99@gmail.com.

Mike Hoban is a West Michigan-based leadership coach and advisor who also writes about business topics.