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Managerial Coaching: Soft Skills for Hard Results

Managerial Coaching: Soft Skills for Hard Results

By Dr. Jim Sellner


Coaching and developing exceptional employees is a key managerial skill.

Here are some results produced by the best manager/coaches from a Zenger- Folkman’s survey of 241,000 people.

  • 8x higher levels of employee engagement and commitment!
  • Over 3x more willingness to “go the extra mile” for the team or organization.
  • 5x higher levels of “satisfaction with my involvement in decisions that affect my work.”
  • More than 2x as many employees who were inspired to “put forth a great deal of effort every day.”
  • 2x as high ratings of managerial effectiveness.
  • Half as many employees thinking about quitting.
  • Dramatically higher levels of customer service and satisfaction.

The best coaches know what to do – and more importantly, they know how to connect with people.

Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

The key is to interact with people in a friendly and open way, even in “sweaty armpit” encounters.  A “soft” approach to “hard” issues applies to situations in which corrective feedback is being given.

With this in mind, here are some “language” tips you can use to make sure your message is more likely to be appreciated by the other person.


1. Your Words – as perceived by others:

  • When giving feedback try to embrace phrases like, “what if we” vs. “you need to!”
  • Use a simple “we” instead of “you!” so you come across as helpful, not condescending.

Other helpful phrases might include:

  • “I’d like to talk with you about …, is now a good time?”
  • “Would you mind if I shared an observation?”
  • “Help me understand…”
  • “Let’s explore a way to…”

Phrases to avoid:

  • Why didn’t you!?
  • What you did wrong was…!

How you bring up the issue is sometimes more important than what you bring up, or when you bring it up.


2. Listen for Understanding

  • Repeat back to the person what you are hearing her/him say.
  • “My understanding of what you’re saying is . . . “
  • Using this listening skill eliminated 60% of conflicts in the study.


3. Your positional arrangement:

  • Come out from behind your desk.
  • Many managerial coaching interactions take place with the manager behind her/his desk, with the employee in front of it.
  • Behind-the-desk-conversations can create a feeling that you are trying to intimidate the employee.
  • By sitting next to an employee, you open the situation up to a two-way conversation, not just a “telling-how-it-is” session.


4. Your Demeanour:

  • Make sure you use your emotional intelligence to separate your feelings from the issue or situation.
  • Focus on the issue, not the personality.
  • Focus on the needs of the employee and her/his development.
  • Engaging people with this set of skills will result in employees feeling more comfortable, less attacked and more open to improvement.
  • Because we all live in the room for improvement.


About the Author

Dr. Jim Sellner, PhD., DipC. author, Leadership for Einsteins: How to Bring Out the Genius in People While Becoming Great YourselfDr. Jim’s expert articles are ranked #1 in the world out of 6785 expert authors in business management at

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