Example of a Coaching Conversation

Sections of this topic

    First, What is Coaching?

    Simply put, the purpose of coaching is to guide and support oneself or another to:

    1. Clarify a current, important priority that the person wants to work on;
    2. Identify relevant and realistic actions to address that priority;
    3. Take the actions in the person’s work or life; and
    4. Learn by reflecting on the coaching and the actions.

    Coaching can be done in one conversation or as part of an overall coaching program. One of the clearest ways to distinguish the power of coaching is by comparing it to a typical conversation. In the following, let’s assume that Tom’s current priority is to improve his time management.

    Example of a Short, Typical “Helpful” Conversation

    Tom: Bob, can I talk to you for a couple of minutes? We’ve worked together for years. I have a time management problem. I just don’t get enough done in a day. What do you think?

    Bob: Yeah, me, too. That’s hard for all of us. I know your boss. It’s time someone made him take control. Make him fix your problem. What’s with that guy anyway?

    Tom: I’ve asked him for help, but he said everything on my todo list is important and that I need to get it all done. He makes me feel even worse. What do you do?

    Bob: Wow, your boss can be a real jerk! I’m glad I don’t work for him. Maybe you should take a time management course. That’s an idea!

    Tom: I’m already so busy. How am I going to find time to take a course?

    Bob: I don’t know. I’m just giving you some ideas. Maybe you need to work more hours.

    Tom: I’m already working 50 hours a week. If I work any more, I’ll just be taking time from my family. What do you do?

    Bob: I don’t know. We all have a time management problem. Maybe you just forget about it for a while.

    Tom: I suppose I just live with it like everyone else.

    Bob: You’ve got about 10-12 people working for you, right?

    Tom: I’ve got 12.

    Bob: Dump some of your work on your people. Maybe they need to work harder. This place never hires enough people.

    Tom: They’re already as busy as I am. I guess I just live with this.

    Bob: How big is your budget – about one million?

    Tom: Yeah, about one million?

    Bob: Tell you what, go hire another employee – someone who’ll work even harder for you, OK? We need to get rid of the dead wood around here. Just do it.

    Tom: I suppose. Whatever.

    Example of a Short, Coaching Conversation

    Tom: Jack, can I talk to you for a couple of minutes? We’ve worked together for years. I have a time management problem. I just don’t get enough done in a day. What do you think?

    Jack: Tell me more. How did you conclude that you have that problem?

    Tom: I never get everything done on my todo list. The more I get done, the more I end up adding to the list. I talked to my boss and he just said, “You need to get it all done.”

    Jack: What would successful time management look like to you?

    Tom: Well, I’d get everything done on my list.

    Jack: How is that realistic?

    Tom: It’s not, but what else am I going to do?

    Jack: How do you like to solve problems like this? For example, do you like to talk to someone, make a list of pro’s and con’s, or read books about the subject?

    Tom: Well, I do like to talk to a few people and to make a list of pro’s and con’s.

    Jack: Who are some people you could talk to for help?

    Tom: Well, I really think my boss owes me some advice – after all, that’s his job. Also, I have two co-workers who seem to feel good about how they manage time.

    Jack: How would you approach them? Sounds like you already tried to talk to your boss, and that didn’t work out so well.

    Tom: I’ll start first with my co-workers – and I’ll ask them for advice about approaching our boss, too.

    Jack: When will you realistically be able to talk to them? You seem so busy.

    Tom: This is really important to me. I’ll talk to my co-workers today to schedule time with them.

    Jack: How will you fit them into your schedule, since you’re so busy already?

    Tom: Jack, this conversation is helping me to realize that I’ve got to do something. I’ll make time to talk to them.

    Jack: Sounds like you’re getting more perspective on this time management problem?

    Tom: Yeah, maybe one of my problems is that I’m hoping some kind of fix will come along without my having to make time for it.

    Jack: That’s a good insight, Tom.

    Tom: Jack, this conversation was really helpful! You’re really smart!

    Jack: Tom, the answers seemed to come from you, not from me.

    Jack: What was helpful about this conversation?

    Tom: I guess I really like the way that you just asked me good questions. It really made me think – and I realized that I’m smarter than I thought!

    Jack: I’m glad to hear that! Thanks for being so honest in this conversation.

    Jack: Know what you could do for me? After you’ve talked to your co-workers, tell me what you learned, not just about time management, but about yourself. Maybe I can use some of that learning for myself, too!

    Tom: It’s a deal.

    Summary – Notice How Coaching is Different?

    In the coaching conversation:

    1. Jack mostly just asked questions.
    2. Jack’s questions were made to make Tom think – they weren’t merely questions that could be answered with “yes” or “no.”
    3. Jack didn’t have to know much about Tom at all, in order to be really helpful.
    4. The ideas and the actions came from Tom, not from Jack – that helps Tom to take ownership in his situation and to ensure his actions are realistic.
    5. Jack affirmed Tom’s participation in the conversation – Tom was honest.
    6. Jack helped Tom to learn from the conversation – he asked Tom to share his learning with jack.

    For many related, free online resources, see the following Free Management Library’s topics:


    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 763-971-8890
    Read my blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, and Strategic Planning.