Coaching vs. Directing.

  • "Make it more full."
  • "Could you put more data in it?"
  • "It's not on brand."

Ah... All of the wonderful vague stuff I have heard said to people I've worked with over the years. Usually, by people who are senior and talking to someone on their team.

What usually has happened is the junior person on the team (whom the vague feedback was given to) will come to me and relay the conversation. Why? Either I am in charge of the person they report into... Or I am on the same level as the person they report into, and they see me as a non-threatening person who can help them figure out what to do.

"Sounds like they're not 'coaching' you, but instead 'directing' you," I'll say first. "Are they usually more specific with their feedback and showing you what they need?"

If they say that it's usually more specific, I am not worried. But when they tell me it's the usual, then I make a note...

"Person in senior role only seems to know how to direct.  And not coach. Needs addressing."

Directing, in my experience, is just that... Assigning someone to do something, and then ensuring that they deliver on it. You don't have to give in-depth guidance on how to do it. And they need little hand-holding to get it done. 

Coaching is different. Obviously. Coaching requires more guidance. 

And not everyone who is in a senior role is good at coaching. They should be. But often, they are not.

I usually give the person my view on how to get done what has been asked but vaguely explained. Then I coach them on how to respond when they feel they need guidance but aren't getting it from someone directing them.

  • "Make it more full."  Respond with: "What exactly do you mean? What were you envisioning more of to make it look more full?"
  • "Could you put more data in it?" Respond with: "What exactly do you mean? Were you looking for deeper insights on the audience targeting? Did you want me to dig into which segments got more conversions?"
  • "It's not on brand."  Respond with: "What exactly do you mean? Explain what part of the brand I am missing out on with this? Explain to me an example of what you were thinking?"

I was coaching someone earlier this week on this type of thing. They were hesitant. 

"Isn't that disrespectful if I ask that?" they said.

I laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

"No."

I told that that it shows they are engaged and looking to understand the person's thinking. 

Some people - lots of people, in fact - are shitty communicators. Not always, but in certain situations. In fact, I would say we are all shitty communicators with certain things. But it is okay to ask questions. Especially if it is a one-off thing you are doing and haven't done before. Or if it is your first time doing something. 

Now, there are definitely times where I have seen (and I myself have) gotten frustrated for someone asking questions that I have answered before for them. I know the person has provided solid coaching (or I have personally coached someone) on something, and the person still comes asking questions.

When that happens, I take a step back and ask myself, "Have they (or I) not done a good job empowering and coaching the person?"

If the answer is, "No. This person has gotten in-depth and specific guidance on this thing before. They just aren't getting it," then it is an issue with the person asking the question. And I have to figure out how they need to be coached, or if they are lazy and simply don't want to learn it.

Then that's a different issue.