Don't Be "The Coach"

Are your near-constant critiques making you a less effective coworker or leader? Here are tips on how to give feedback – and how not to give feedback.

I used to play basketball at a local YMCA during lunch, but when my travel schedule picked up a few years ago I decided the risk of getting hurt wasn't worth the enjoyment I got out of it. Over the past few months, I've been playing organized basketball with some friends again and have caught "the bug," so the other day I thought I'd head over for a little lunchtime hoops.

Everything started off fine, but after a few times up and down the court one guy on the team started giving me explicit instruction. "OK," I thought. "He's right, and I need to keep that in mind."

The next time down the court he offered a critique of me about a play I wasn't even involved in. The next time down, he yelled at me for missing a rebound that had jolted off the rim in an unexpected direction. This went on and on and on for about a half hour. Finally, I decided that there were other (more enjoyable) ways to get exercise and I left. I just want to play ball, have fun and get some exercise. This is not my world; it's just a pickup game of basketball. No identity on the line here.

As I was driving home, I was thinking about how many times in my life I've encountered "The Coach." These are the people who give near-constant feedback about work, to the point that they become annoying, and eventually irrelevant because no one listens to them. Their words lose all sense of urgency because everything is urgent all the time. They adopt the position of offering feedback about everything to everyone, whether or not it's needed. Worse, it's impossible to actually implement all of the advice because it never stops.

Profiles of "The Coach"

The overzealous manager: Hovers over you and offers course-correction advice before you have a chance to realize your mistake and learn for yourself. At the heart of it all is a compulsive need to control. These micromanagers simply can't let go.

The know-it-all coworker: Offers unsolicited advice, and often spouts obvious tidbits of "wisdom" after the fact in order to show that he knew what was coming before it happened. (Only he didn't, because, you know, he didn't say anything until afterwards.) This person is full of thoughts about how you can improve your performance, but rarely takes any correction himself.

The swooping executive: Will occasionally mingle with the rank-and-file employee, but only to offer a quick spurt of timeless wisdom (without any context for whether or not it's needed) before jetting back to the corner office. There is nothing wrong with sharing wisdom and advice, but it should be within the context of the relationship and a genuine concern for the other person's success.

The worst part is that "Coaches" are self-appointed. No one is asking them for advice, and after awhile no one really listens to them. They are just more noise to navigate.

How to Avoid Becoming "The Coach"

Before you give feedback, make sure the other person is open to it. "Hey, can I offer a few thoughts?" or "Would you be open to some advice?" can go a long way toward nullifying any anguish or hard feelings.

Don't offer constant critiques with no encouragement. If the only thing other people hear from you is what they're doing wrong, they'll tune you out. Also, make sure to comment on what they're getting right.

Contextualize the feedback. Explain why it's important not just for the other person, but for the team as a whole. Doing so makes it less about your opinion versus theirs, and more about raising the bar for everyone on the team. Don't let it be about you and your ego; make it about the outcome you're committed to.

Yes, we need coaches. However, don't be "The Coach." Instead, give feedback that is timely, contextualized, empathetic and helpful.

Todd Henry is the founder of Accidental Creative, the author of Die Empty and The Accidental Creative, and a speaker and consultant. This post originally appeared on The Accidental Creative website.

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