Improving sales coaching feedback – the importance of pronouns


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Because getting coaching right is important for building a superior sales team, we have written a number of blogs on the topic over the last year. However, because it is not only important but also difficult, we are always looking for additional best practices. Let’s take a look at an idea that relates to giving coaching feedback and begin with this premise.

When it comes to giving coaching feedback – most managers don’t do it enough, many times it is water off a duck’s back, and sometimes it makes matters worse.

There are a number of reasons why giving feedback often fails to make a difference. Some relate to the mind-set and attitude of the person receiving the coaching while others pertain to how the feedback is provided.

First, let’s look at the person being coached. One of the underlying reasons why feedback often doesn’t work, stems from the fact that most people struggle when attempting to construct an accurate self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, most people seek out evidence that confirms their positive opinions about themselves and often ignore contrary evidence. The result is many people hold onto a positive self-assessment even after their coach has provided them feedback that contradicts that assessment. So, receptivity is an issue.

Obviously a part of the receptivity issue relates to the content of the feedback. The other, and equally important part, is how the feedback is provided. A partial answer for the second part is giving more attention to the details of the language used – specifically the pronouns.

If receptivity is to be improved, it is important to distinguish between situations where you are providing feedback about a positive behavior or action versus a negative behavior or action. The positive piece is usually a non-problem. On the other hand, the negative piece can be much more difficult to handle effectively. So, let’s compare two different approaches for handling feedback about a negative.

  • Approach 1. “Lee, in the call yesterday the way you handle the objections didn’t go very well – that is something you need to work on.”
  • Approach 2. “Lee, in the call yesterday I couldn’t track the way you handle the objections – that is something we need to work on.

Now, if you are giving someone feedback only once every two months, than this subtlety of language will probably not make a difference. But if you are on your game and giving coaching feedback more frequently, than the I-We versus the Double-You configuration will make a difference – words matters – they can influence receptivity.

As a sidebar there is one old idea about this topic that is unlikely to carry the day when you are facing the constraints of sales coaching. The ideas is – solving this problem by always avoiding giving feedback about a negative action by simply waiting for a positive situation and then reinforce the positive behavior.

In this regard, it is a small but important difference that by using Approach 2 you are not giving “negative feedback” – you are giving feedback about a “negative action or behavior” – over time small differences can make a difference.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Janet Spirer
For more than 30 years Janet Spirer has worked with the Fortune 1000 to craft sales training programs that make a difference. Working with market leaders Janet has learned that today's great sales force significantly differs from yesterday. So, Sales Momentum offers firms effective sales training programs affordably priced. Janet is the co-author of Parlez-Vous Business, to help sales people have smart business conversations with customers and the Sales Training Connection.


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