Four Modes of Coaching Magic: Respond Mode - How to Encourage Thinking by Initiating Conversations

Oct 11, 2022

Last time, we talked about how to engage in a Coaching Conversation when someone comes to you. The second way to engage in this Coaching Conversation step is when you initiate the conversation.

When you go to them

What happens when they don’t come to you for coaching when it could be helpful? First, let’s examine what’s going on in the brain of this person. Just as some people come to you as the path of least resistance, not coming to you may be the path of least resistance for other people. For this type of person, coming to you could be painful for their ego or pride (the brain prioritizes ego protection over productivity). The little brother of being too proud to go to the boss is simply hesitancy, and when we dig into it, shame that they can’t solve the problem on their own. People are paralyzed by that. They really want to figure it out on their own, but are struggling. Ideally, through building trust and by living in an open and honest culture, your people will come to rely on you as a trusted coach. 


Before we dive into how to “go to them,” let’s address a few barriers to the “go to them” method that may be on your mind:

  • This takes so much time! In practice, more time is spent worrying about the conversation than on the conversation itself. I’ve also witnessed bosses spending more time on documenting infractions than it would have taken to just have a conversation. Other bosses like to gather all the data points they’ll need before having a conversation. How much time could you save yourself if you just had the conversation without all the extreme preparation or sleepless worry?
  • I’ll give the person or the situation the benefit of the doubt; it will work itself out: This happens when bosses don’t address issues right away. As time goes by, the issue becomes less and less important in the short term and we find ourselves assuming it won’t happen again. We are disappointed when it does.
  • I don’t want to be a micromanager; I give my people a task and get out of their way: Micromanager is a term used to describe a boss who over-directs her team, someone who is sure that there is only one way to reach a result. However, I’ve noticed that employees use the term even when there is humble interest or coaching being offered. There is a big difference. Don’t miss out on a growth opportunity for you or your team by being fearful of micromanaging. Coaching is not managing at all. 

Here are some ways that you can overcome these barriers by going to your employees to initiate a coaching conversation: 

  • Decide how you’ll open by memorizing your first sentence. When I was a teenager in high school, I had two after-school jobs. Right after school each day, I’d drive about a mile from the school to our family business for my shift as a childcare worker, where I wrangled, played with and nurtured eight two-year-olds. When my shift was over, I’d speed about three miles south to either rehearse or perform at a small theatre in whichever production was playing at the time. In each job, I learned the power of a memorized line. In working with two-year-olds, when it was time to clean up the toys, I had a catchy phrase (with an accompanying catchy tune) that I’d sing that indicated it was time to clean up. I didn’t need to explain to them each day why we were cleaning up, the memorized line did it for me. In my roles at the theatre, I used memorized lines in a different way. I noticed that if I could just remind myself of the first line of the scene, the rest of the scene would come easily to me (after rehearsal, of course!). Even when I was in a long-running play, just before I’d go on for a scene, I’d remind myself of my first line. You can also use this concept to help you have the confidence to open up a coaching conversation. When used often, your people will know that a coaching conversation has been started. It’s a cue to them that this is important and full presence of mind is requested.


A few years ago, I hired a marketing company to manage my website, direct me in social media and put together media kits for potential speaking engagements. After a few months of working with the account manager they assigned me, I experienced poor results. During that time, I had made the excuse that, “It takes a while to get to know my voice; they’ll get it soon,” and, “They know way more about marketing than I do, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that we’ll soon see results. I’ll just wait and see.” However, too many issues were piling up and although I would make comments about the issues here and there, I knew I needed to have a direct conversation. In worrying and preparing for this conversation, I decided that my opening line would be, “Tasha, this is going to be a difficult conversation.” I chose that sentence because it wouldn’t let me wimp out on not having the conversation! I also chose that line because Tasha and I are both “glass half-full people” and I needed to let her know, very clearly, that the water was muddy! You may choose to have a handful of lines available to use in different situations. Some of my favorites are:

  • We had a miss here.
  • I’d like your thoughts about ___________. Do you have a minute to think it through with me?
  • I’m concerned about _________. Can you help me understand the issues?
  • I feel disconnected. Can we get on the same page about __________?
  • I’m sensing/feeling (excited, nervous, anxious). Are you feeling that too? (This comes from you observing your own feelings in Step One!)
  • And a favorite from Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, “I’m going to tell you something, because if I were in your shoes, I’d want to know so I could fix it.”

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