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The Three Sources of Coaching and Feedback

Kevin Eikenberry

All of us want to improve at something at some time in our life. And all of us find ourselves in the position to help others improve. One of the tools that aids in this improvement is coaching.

Author Ken Blanchard calls feedback the "breakfast of champions." The truth is that giving feedback is one key to successful coaching and being open to and receiving feedback is one of the most important skills we can learn if we want to maximize our productivity and success.

There are many useful techniques and guidelines for giving and receiving feedback. Since feedback is such a central skill, we need to understand more than just the "how to's" - we need to go underneath the techniques, and behind the guidelines and go to the source.

There are three sources of all coaching and feedback and one factor will dictate how successful any of it will be, regardless of the source. All the techniques and approaches we have read, learned and used come from these three pieces of information. When we understand feedback at its deepest roots, we can transcend the techniques, using them as truths rather than as fill-in-the-blank formulas.

The Three Sources

All coaching or feedback - whether requested (and received) or given (or offered) comes from one of or some combination of these sources.

Expertise/Experience. Often we are in a position to provide feedback or coaching to someone who isn't as expert or experienced in something as we are. Because of our experience and knowledge we are in a great position to give them wise counsel. And when you want to learn something, one of the things you will do is find an expert. When we can get coaching from a true expert we will be open to what they have to say because we value the information so dearly.

Relationship/Caring. Sometimes we provide coaching just because we care about the other person. And often we will seek out the perspectives, coaching and input of those that we know care about us. A strong relationship can make us more willing to give feedback, and that same strong relationship will make us much more open to receiving it.

Power/Position. At work, this is the position we typically think of coaching coming from. The position of power could be the boss, supervisor or manager. It could also be the priest, teacher, or parent. We have all received feedback from people in a position of power. And when we find ourselves in this position, we know that this is one of our jobs - to give coaching to those that work for us or are in our care.

Obviously some coaching stems from a combination of these factors. The stronger the connection to these sources, the more interested we typically are in giving feedback. And the more closely we see others in connection with one or more of these sources, the more likely we are to seek out and listen to the feedback they provide us.

The Master Key to Successful Feedback

If you want to be more successful in helping others succeed, regardless of the source or sources of your coaching, you need to clearly understand this master key.

If you want to take advantage of and be open to any coaching or feedback you receive, you must understand this key as well.

The master key to successful feedback is intent.

Stated simply, when our intent is clear and pure; when we really are giving feedback and coaching with the very best for the other person in mind, it will be more successful. And if our purposes are vindictive, punitive, meant to "fix" someone, or come from our frustration or anger it will be less successful.

In other words, coaching shouldn't be about us, but about the other person and their success.

Since we have all received much coaching and feedback in our lives, we know this is true. When we sense that the feedback we are receiving is valuable and comes from a perspective of truly wanting us to improve, we are more open to hearing and applying it.

How to Use This Knowledge

When you are in the role of coaching others, always get a clear goal or intention in your mind, and make sure that in your conversation you communicate this intent, both in your words and your non-verbal behavior. Recognize too the sources from which your feedback come. Help the other person see where the feedback is coming from and why it is important to them, as you see it.

When you start from this perspective, your coaching will be much more successful than if you follow a model or prescription perfectly. It won't matter if you muff up your words a little bit. The techniques are useful, because they are rooted in the sources. When you focus on a clear intent and a solid foundation on the sources though, the techniques and approaches will work much better.

If you are receiving feedback and truly want to improve, assume the other person's intent is pure. Take the feedback as a useful gift (even if it doesn't feel like it at the moment - remember that not everyone understands this as well as you do now.). If once you have received the feedback you determine that the intent wasn't clear or at worse, was even counter productive to your success, you can then decide what you will do with the advice and counsel you received.

The next time you are a giver or receiver of feedback, think of these sources and of the master key. When you use this knowledge you will be much more successful on both sides of any coaching conversation.

Kevin Eikenberry is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (, a learning consulting company that helps Clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services. To receive your free special report on Unleashing Your Potential go to or call 317-387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.

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