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As you observe a peer struggling to respond to a request from a customer, you wonder what they’re doing and why they’re so confused. After a few minutes you turn away, because the longer you watch, the stronger your urge to rush over and jump in to fix what you think is a mess. You realize your internal dialogue is somewhat judgmental.

You resist your urge to jump in, but once the peer is done you go over and promptly tell them what they did wrong and what they need to do differently next time, because in your view the entire situation could have been avoided if they had handled it differently.

How often do you think this kind of situation happens between peers in the workplace? How helpful to the peer was it? The peer may have learned something, but at what cost?

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Developing basic coaching skills in employees, managers and human resources professionals can help move a culture from a reacting and blaming culture to a learning one, where mistakes aren’t viewed as failure but as opportunities to learn and improve.


It’s helpful to have some context for basic coaching in a workplace setting. To begin, coaching isn’t counselling, and it’s not about giving advice, telling others what to do or correcting behaviour.

Basic coaching is about asking questions. The focus is on supporting a person’s experience in the workplace, not helping them deal with a personal issue or solve a mental-health challenge.

However, helping someone solve a work-related challenge can reduce their stress load, which is good for their mental health. By using some basic coaching skills, in a relatively short time you can help them develop confidence, learn a new method, uncover opportunities, problem solve, make decisions, and formulate plans to achieve a targeted outcome.

One key tenet when coaching is to have patience to allow the person time to think, process and form a point of view.


It’s important to accept the notion that it’s not your job to fix, trick or pressure a person into an action. Your role is to facilitate a conversation that helps them start to think about questions and options, and to plan what they’ll do.

To be viewed by others as a potential coach, you must earn the right to coach, such as by demonstrating that you’re caring, collaborative, psychologically safe and trusted.

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The wonderful thing about basic coaching is you can do it on the fly. You don’t need a lot of time or preparation. Basic coaching is about facilitating a conversation that creates safe and proactive action where the person being coached feels empowered and encouraged.

Steps for conducting basic coaching:

  1. Notice coaching opportunities – Having a person trust you often creates the pull where they feel safe and will naturally share their concerns, thoughts or questions with you. When you notice an opportunity to coach and help a person grow or solve a problem, the first step is to not assume, but to get permission to support. Try, “I’d be happy to help out if you’d like to chat a bit more.” If they provide an opening, then you can begin coaching.
  2. Use adviceless listening – This means listening and avoiding giving advice and telling them what to do. Ask short, simple, open-ended questions like, “What are you most worried about?” As quickly as you can without rushing, discover their core issue and desired outcome.
  3. Focus on the real want and action – One calming factor is being clear on what we want and having a plan to get it. Most of us know there’s no magic solution, though we’d like to have one. Using a question like, “What do you really want and why?” can help a person reframe their focus and intentions. Once clear on what they want and why, and if it appears safe and logical, move questions to action: “What’s one thing you can do to get you on track to your goal?” Once they have clarity and action, give them space to act.
  4. Check in – Circle back with the person later in the day to see if they’ve made any progress. This shows you care and may create an opportunity for a bit more coaching if needed. Keep in mind that the best coaching requires patience. Demonstrate interest, focus on asking questions to spark ideas, and avoid giving advice.

The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2019 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

You can find other stories like these at

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Download our e-books: Inch by Inch, Make Life a Cinch; Little Steps to Big Change; Staying Afloat.

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