The Coaching Game

There is much written about coaching specifically how effective coaching benefits employees and in turn their employer.  If you ask any manager if they believe in coaching as a way to improve employee performance and behavior, the answer most likely uttered would be “yes.”  The more experienced, skillful managers will likely know how to go about it. These managers know that coaching can be an important tool used to manage subordinate performance and an effective method for “teaching” others effective performance skills.

But do you know what to do when employees refuse to participate in coaching or rather play games in an effort to get out of being coached?  I am not saying employees are devious by nature. But even when you as the manager approach a coaching session with constructive intent, some employees will feel they are being scolded, manipulated, or otherwise disrespected.  And the evasive actions begin.  Listed below are some common employee diversionary coaching tactics, along with suggestions for stopping them:

  1. Let the Accusations begin.  As a manager, it is not unheard of that we may have to coach an employee whose behavioral problems were reported by co-workers. And we have all seen the employee that is being coached begin to lash out at us: “Who said that about me? Somebody’s trying to get me in trouble and I have a right to know who”.  As managers, we know it does not matter who reported the behavior, as long as the reports are accurate.  Tactic:  Remember that as managers we have confidentiality on our side.  A good response can be: “I understand you wanting to know the source of this information. But I keep my discussions with others confidential, as I do my discussions with you. So let’s focus on the issue and not who said what.”
  2. Playing the Comparison Game.  Another common employee ploy is to point out others who supposedly have the same problem and sometimes they even make the other employee’s problem worse: “Employee Y has a higher error rate than me. Or Employee X does it too.  Are you talking to them too?”  Tactic:  A good way to get over this obstacle would be to say: “If there’s an issue with Employee X or Y, I’ll talk with them. But right now we need to stay focused on your error rate and what’s been causing it.”
  3. The Pre-emptive Strike.  Employees usually have a good idea what the coaching session is about, and try to pre-empt it by saying things such as “You don’t have to tell me. I already know what you’re going to say. I’ve made a few mistakes lately but I promise that’s going to stop.”  As the manager, you should not let that end the coaching session. There’s much more that needs to be said, and done.  Tactic:   Do not let the employee divert.  Acknowledge and agree and set your expectations such as:  “It’s great you realize there’s a problem, because that will make it easier to solve. But I need to make sure you’re very clear on my view of the situation and my expectations.”
  4. The Denial or Minimizing.  Even if employees know what they’ve done, be prepared for them to deny it hoping that you will back down: “It’s not true that I talk inappropriately.”  Or the employee may feel that the facts are too clear to deny and will try to minimize them: “Sure, I don’t follow standard procedures. But why does it matter? I always get the work done.”  Tactic:  A good response: “If you don’t talk inappropriately, we have no problem. But I’ve gotten some feedback that’s different, so we are here to talk about that.”  Also, “It is great that you get the work done but it is important to follow procedures because of x, y, and z.”
  5. Deflection:  The employee admits there’s a problem, but claims they are not to blame. “These issues we are talk about, I’m never the one who starts them. It’s usually Employee X or Y.”  Tactic:  A good tactic to stop this diversion is to remind the employee that you are less concerned about who started what and want to set expectations on how to help avoid repeating these situations in the future.

Do you agree or disagree?  Have you faced these or similar diversion tactics from your employees?  How have you handled the situation? 

photo credit


About Patricia Knight
Hello and welcome. My name is Patricia Knight. Thank you for taking the time to view my blog. I’m a Human Resources professional who is currently pursing an MBA at the University of Nevada-Reno. I am an analytical, detail-oriented professional who believes that collaboration and negotiation are critical for successful employee relations between leadership and employees.

5 Responses to The Coaching Game

  1. peterthorburn says:

    A good tactic to use as a coach is listen more than you talk. Let the employee speak. Direct the conversation but listening to the employee will get to the root of any problem.

    Nice post Patricia!

    • Thanks Peter! I agree that listening is very important and unfortunately not used very well. Good managers know that half the battle is allowing the employee to get out what they feel about problem to begin the process of fixing it. I hope you are doing well.


  2. peterthorburn says:

    I’m doing great, thanks!

    Even if we know we have to listen first, we have to remember that fact in the heat of the moment!

    • I could not agree with you more. Just the other day, during a coaching moment, I let the employee get to me & forgot to listen. Needless to say, it went downhill from there & took awhile to get focused again.

      • peterthorburn says:

        We are human and prone to mistakes. Taking responsibility is important so we don’t so readily repeat those mistakes again and again. I’m sure you learned from the situation and that is the take-away.

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