Performance Coaching: Part 2

Performance Coaching graphic

In an earlier blog, we discussed the importance of Performance Coaching as a talent development strategy, demonstrating commitment to develop and support individuals. Performance Coaching harnesses the value of internal employee resources to develop others, which in turn saves time, money and increases overall employee engagement and retention.

We defined Performance Coaching as an ongoing process designed to help the Person Being Coached (PBC) gain greater competence and overcome barriers to improving performance. The most important outcome is self-sufficient employees that are focused on performance as it’s linked to organizational goals.

There are many established and successful Coaching Models-Whitmore’s GROW and Hawkins’s CLEAR, to name a couple. The following model identifies the performance coaching skills that can be integrated into most coaching models.

Performance Coaching Skills

Observing and Creating Rapport

graphic of hand with description of performance coaching skillsPerformance Coaching, like learning and development programs, requires a safe and comfortable environment, that encourages open, two-way communication. Building rapport is probably the most important skill to develop in Performance Coaching. Building rapport is the foundation for a sustainable and productive coaching relationship. Without rapport between the coach and the PBC, there is no genuine relationship. Without a genuine relationship, the coach will never be able to help the PCB reach their full potential….the ultimate goal of Performance Coaching.

Building rapport and creating a comfortable coaching environment means that the coach has to put themselves in the seat of the PCB, just as we put ourselves in the seat of the learner when facilitating a learning program. You will know that rapport has been achieved when the coaching conversations flow. Conversation flow is also when the PBC freely discusses their feelings and emotions as well as facts and information.

Rapport building skills include the use of:

  • Effective body language (facial expression, head movement, eye contact, hand and arm gestures, mirroring and matching the PCB’s body language)
  • Observation and the use of words and jargon familiar to the PCB
  • Shared feelings concerning the value of the coaching conversations
  • Supporting verbal behaviors

These skills need to be practiced so that in combination, they send out an appropriate and congruent message.

The more the performance coach can observe the PBC’ s performance and behavior, the more they will be able to influence it. Remember that behavior breeds behavior. Everything the performance coach does affects the PCB’s behavior and vice versa.

An effective performance coach should always use more supportive than directing verbal behaviors.

  • When the performance coach directs, they take the lead and determine what must be done. They convey the information and instruct the PCB.
  • When the performance coach supports, the performance coach does not provide solutions. Rather, they act as a guide or facilitator to help the PCB accomplish tasks or find their own solution.

The Difference Between Supporting and Directing

The following table illustrates the difference between the two:

Asking for ideasGiving ideas
Developing/supporting PBC’s ideasDisagreeing/objecting
Asking questionsGiving answers/explanations

Observing and creating rapport is collaborative work. The performance coach must set the stage and create the right climate since truly sustainable results will only come if true rapport is developed.


After setting the climate and creating rapport, an effective performance coach will employ active listening techniques to encourage the PBC to open up. Many performance coaches fail in their coaching efforts because they spend too much time telling or directing the PCB how to change behavior instead of asking questions and supporting and really listening to the PCB.

Listening is the process of taking information from the PCB without judging and then responding in a way that invites the communication to continue. Listening is one of the most important, yet most underused and least understood performance coaching skills. Part of the problem is that people confuse hearing (which is physical and passive and happens when our ears sense sound waves) with listening (which is an active mental activity that involves concentrating, interpreting, evaluating and reacting). Studies show that at best, we listen at only a 25% level of effectiveness.

If you’re wondering, “How can the performance coach be able to coach the PCB by listening?” consider how you feel when someone really listens to you. You probably feel respected and appreciated. When people sense that others are listening to them and trying to understand their viewpoints, they begin to open up and drop possible defensive behavior. The result is a coaching climate of trust, openness, and mutual respect that leads to greater cooperation and better performance coaching results.

Active Listening Consists of Two Important Skills

Active listening consists of two important skills that effective performance coaches use:

  • Confirming
  • Clarifying

Confirming is the skill used to check if they have understood what the PCB has said as well as the intent or why the PBC has said that.

Clarifying is when the performance coach can not confirm the PBC’s statement because they don’t clearly understand what the PBC is saying or why they are saying it. Clarifying is simply used to get more information.

There are two types of situations in which it is especially important for the performance coach to clarify and/or confirm their understanding of what the PBC is saying:

  1. When the performance coach will be making a decision on the information, opinion or suggestion offered by the PBC.
  2. When the performance coach’s immediate impulse is to ignore, reject or disagree with what the PBC has said.

The Types of Questioning


In last week’s blog, we referred to the Association for Talent Development’s definition of Performance Coaching as “an approach that relies more on asking questions than giving answers”. Questions are asked to elicit information. The answers given by the PBC indicate to the performance coach the line to follow with subsequent questions while at the same time enabling the coach to monitor whether the PCB is following a productive track.

Asking open-ended questions invites exploration and is a crucial skill for all performance coaches for several reasons they:

  • invite the PBC to participate and get involved which increase the likelihood of generating awareness and responsibility.
  • require a more expansive response than a “Yes” or “No” or a simple statement of fact.
  • create a conversational tone and avoid sounding like an interrogation.
  • provide the performance coach with answers and information on the line of thinking taken by the PBC.

The most effective questions for raising awareness and responsibility begin with the words that seek to quantify or gather facts: words like what, when, who, how much, how many. Why, except for trying to understand the PBC’s intent, is often discouraged since it may imply criticism and evokes defensiveness.

The following are examples of high value questions used by a sales performance coach with their sales representative (PBC) in preparation for a customer sales call.

  • “Let’s review the client account information. What do you know about your client? What do they know about you, our products and services?”
  • “What is your call objective?”
  • “Is the call objective reasonable and achievable?”
  • “How will you know that you obtained your objective? What will be the measure of success?”
  • “What can you tell me about your client’s needs/opportunities?”

Asking questions elevates the relationship between the performance coach and the PBC. Performance coaches use artful questions that challenge the PBC to evaluate their feelings and thoughts, and to come to conclusions on their own. This empowerment will boost the PCB’s confidence and give them extra reassurance to step out of their comfort zone and make the right decisions. It also creates buy-in and motivation for the PBC to implement solutions and action plans that they have come up with themselves. When the performance coach asks questions, they are challenging the PBC to take responsibility for themselves rather than relying on the coach for answers.

Our next blog on Performance Coaching will explore the last three components of our Performance Coaching Skills Model: Giving Feedback, Handling Challenges and Reaching Agreement.

For a more in-depth look at FKA’s high performance coaching Program click or call us at 1-800-FKA-5585 for a description of our customizable Mentoring Excellence program.

FKA President
Michael Nolan