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Coaching the Less Coachable

Can you think of a friend, colleague or family member who is uncoachable? (don’t point if they are the in the same room with you!) 

It’s actually a trick question. The fact that you just labeled someone as uncoachable is probably a sign of a bias you are bringing. 

Almost 30 years ago, a mentor of mine tried to give me some feedback. To be clear, I hadn’t asked for any feedback, and I felt like my life was quite good at the moment. On top of that, he didn’t start with a positive. So when he gave me the unsolicited feedback, I became quite defensive and shut down.

That day, if he read the first paragraph of this article, he probably would have said, “Yeah, I can think of someone!” That would be a little unfair, because I wasn’t completely uncoachable. But I was far too sensitive to correction, and my expectations of others’ delivery was far too high. And by the way, that mentor is the founder of our company!

So what have I learned since that awkward experience?

Lesson number one is: Don’t label people as uncoachable, which is why I chose the “less coachable” wording in the title. 

Three other lessons I would encourage you to reflect on as you navigate the less coachable people in your life are:


1. Build a personal connection to foster safety and trust

On a coaching call last week with a leader named Sawako, I shared some of the ideas in this article BUT in a different order, and she suggested this point about safety and trust would be better if moved to #1. And no, I didn’t get defensive—I’ve matured in 30 years! 

I told her that I couldn’t agree more, and even though my lists like these might not be in rank order, if you don’t build safety and trust, then any other advice or attempts could easily fall flat. People don’t want correction without a connection. So, thanks to Sawako this lesson is now #1.


2. Think about if emotional tanks are emptier than normal

Maybe you recall my writing about this concept in previous articles. The reason is because I did. Whether it’s handling stress, persuading others, giving feedback, or dealing with difficult people, it’s wise to be in tune with the reality that many people are depleted. 

This doesn’t mean we let them off the hook and tolerate unacceptable behavior, it simply means that we try to be aware and extend some grace for other challenges they may be facing. 

I had a leader recently tell me, “But I wouldn’t know if my team member is struggling with something else.” I gently reminded that leader to see #1 above.


 3. Listen (and maybe even validate)

I don’t think I’m wrong very often. I hope I’m right about that. This also makes it hard to listen to someone when part of their opinion doesn’t align with mine. Why would I listen to someone who is being defensive or isn’t making complete sense?  

Maybe so they’ll feel heard. And maybe because I am not always right. Most people don’t move until they can feel understood or at least heard. One of my kids recently shared that they had a great lunch with a mentor of theirs; when I asked why it was great and they said, “Because the other person really listened to me.”

Oops. Great reminder to me that I need to make people feel heard more and talk less. On that note, I’ll stop talking (writing) and let you put one of these items into practice! 


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Coaching the Less Coachable

Can you think of a friend, colleague or family member who is uncoachable? (don’t point if they are the in the same room with you!) 

Read More