How to Coach on a Touchy Personal Subject

Once you have prepared them to hear it, be gentle but direct.

How to Coach on a Touchy Personal Subject

By Jim Gulian May 7, 2014

"We need to talk...," is not what you want to hear from your boss or someone you are dating.  The message that follows that opening phrase is never good news. 

It is true, "Bad news never has good timing," but delivering bad news and starting awkward conversations is sometimes part of your job as a manager.  There is no way to make it easy, but there are a few things you can do to make it slightly less awkward and a bit less painful for the person you are addressing.

  1. Give them a chance to prepare themselves.  If you suspect that their reaction will be an emotional one, your goal is to let them save face.  The opening , "We need to talk..." is a little too brief in my opinion.  The gap between that opening phrase and the actual subject could seem like a painful eternity to them.  I prefer something like, "We need to talk about something that I think you'll find very awkward/difficult, because I know I do."   Something to that effect will sound more empathetic without becoming an apology.
  2. Be direct.  Don't beat around the bush. The last thing they need is to chit chat pleasantly with you before you drop a bomb on them.  Don't preface your announcement or bury your lead.  Don't slowly "pull off the bandage," get to the point.  If you have reasons for your decision, be prepared to give them but wait until you are asked.
  3. Be gentle.  You can present your bad news more gently by avoiding personal (You) accusations  or sweeping universal (Always/Never) statements.  "You always smell bad," VS. "At times the odor of your body is too noticeable..."  Or, "You always look like you just got up." VS. "There are times when your clothing needs more attention."
  4. Get lost. No one wants you around after you have delivered bad news, so go away. If they need comfort they will find it elsewhere but it won't be and shouldn't be from you. So, go away.

Enjoy this week's clip, and come back next week for the conclusion of this scene from our new production of, The Practical Coach 2.

Jim Gulian is a co-founder Media Partners. He has been writing and directing award winning training programs for more than 35 years.