The 3 Worst Phrases a Leader Can Utter When Trying to Coach the Team

Coaching is an inherent aspect of leadership that, done well, is of immense benefit but, done poorly, can turn problems into crisis. Whether you are managing a large organization with hundreds of employees or an the CEO of startup trying to inspire a small team, you must never underestimate the power of the words we use during “coaching” opportunities.

The last thing leaders can afford to do is disconnect themselves from their team-members when there is an opportunity for improvement. To gain the most benefit from coaching opportunities usually requires little more than adding simple re-phrasing techniques to your “conversation toolbox.” Here are three default phrases that can become relationship dis-connectors and alternative approaches that inspire your team.

“Why didn’t you…?”

Nobody wants to listen to a leader who kicks off a meeting with “why didn’t you…”. Many managers and leaders will use this phrase without considering the effect on the team members or realizing it will cause a disconnection of focus.

Starting with “why didn’t you?” puts the focus on the excuse or rationalization of the past situation and what the present consequences are going to be when the better focus is improving the employee’s condition and self-realization for future success. Plus, these conversations become redundant for the leader, since encouraging excuses instead of improvement means you will have them frequently!

Instead of being the broken record of saying, “Why didn’t you…?” use the phrase “What will help you better achieve this next time?” After they state whatever they need to happen, make sure you get a confirmation statement by asking, “So if you had _____________, then this result will happen?” That will allow everyone to understand the root cause of the issue.

If this situation reoccurs after checking in, (or if the request in the previous question doesn’t carry any weight), then you want to test the priority level of the result for this employee. Test the importance of the result to the person by simply asking, “How important is this result to you and your career?” By phrasing it this way, the employee will realize they need to make some changes. If they don’t, it will become evident that you need to make some changes in either connecting the results to the big picture or, unhappily, to your personnel!

Related: Leadership Playbook: 3 Ways to Coach, NotCriticize, Employees

“You should have…”

Another sentence that will have your team members check out from listening to you is the “time machine” approach where the leader says “you should have.” We are addressing mistakes, so that they don’t happen again and the team member learns from them. Instead of going for the “you should have approach” use a crystal ball.

Coaching the person through how they would approach the situation differently in the future is the better device. The key is to not give them the answer. Many leaders know enough to substitute “you should have” with “next time you should…” This is a step better but not the best answer for helping your team members change their behavior.

Instead ask, “if this situation happens again, how would you handle it differently?” This way they are engaged in the dialogue and need to think. If they state the correct way to handle it in the future, they are going to feel more confident and likely to do it because it was “their idea.” If their response is still wrong, then it allows you to educate them on other options. Regardless, they are thinking and learning versus checking out of the conversation because it started with “you should have.”

Related: Seven Steps to Coaching Your Employees to Success

“Do you understand?”

People don’t want to admit when they don’t understand. They don’t want you to think they aren’t capable or smart enough to comprehend what’s going on. This is especially true with an employee speaking to a manager who they are trying to impress. They might not have the confidence to say they do not understand or to ask you to re-explain it. This may also be the case if you are a sales professional explaining a service to a potential client.

A more altruistic stance is to simply check in with your clients or employees by taking a ”time out” after important presentations or task initiations to make sure you are both on the same page. This is a good opportunity for the leader to offer up another way to educate the employee or client.

“Am I making sense or would it be helpful if I lay it out in another way?”

“Am I explaining this clearly or do you want me to review a few sections again?”

Don’t assume your team members understand the task or why the task is important the first time they hear it.

These simple changes in your leadership conversations can help you to better connect and grow your team members or relationships with your clients.