Constructive Criticism for Transformational Coaching

Constructive Criticism for Transformational Coaching, by Terry Lipovski BA, Certified Masteries Coach

Providing constructive criticism to a coaching client can be uncomfortable, however, it is one of the most important parts of the transformational coaching, particularly when a client isn’t living up to their commitments or when their actions appear to be incongruent with their stated intentions.

Constructive criticism can be even more challenging in the coach-coachee relationship where our clients do not have a reporting relationship with us like they would have with their boss, but rather we aim to become a “trusted partner” in their development. And yet it is for this very reason that coaches need to overcome the discomfort of providing constructive criticism.

It is worth noting that a recent survey by the Harvard Business Review found a majority of people actually prefer constructive criticism to positive feedback, believing criticism is more beneficial to their overall growth and job performance. But preferring constructive over positive feedback doesn’t make it easy to receive – or give.

When providing constructive feedback to a client, how can you ensure the conversation stays on track and proves to be transformational? Here are some tips and strategies that may help.

1. Give Advance Notice

Don’t just spring constructive criticism on your clients. Provide them with some advanced notice before a scheduled coaching session so they can identify what will be discussed. For example, say “In our next meeting I suggest that we explore this further”. This allows your client some time to reflect and prepare, and prevents them from getting defensive. This ultimately leads to more productive coaching sessions.

2. Identify the Problem

Remain factual, not judgemental. Make it clear that this conversation is related to your client’s actions, not a personal shortcoming. Also, be as specific as possible in defining the issue, and the impact it has created.


Consider using the B.E. formula for Feedback: Behaviour and Effect.

Provide detailed examples of these actions (Behaviours) such as specific missed meetings or committed deliverables. Then illustrate how those actions impact their developmental goals (Effect). You can also contrast their problematic past actions with examples of how they could act differently in the future, and how this would create a better impact.

You could also ask your client what they expected of themselves. Don’t assume that they have thought this through clearly.

Constructive Criticism should aim for clear understanding: What is the problem? Why is it a problem? What is the intention moving forward?

3. Facilitate Open Dialogue

You will both want this to be a two-way conversation. If you’re doing all the talking, your client may feel that they’re being talked down to, lectured or reprimanded. This makes people less receptive to feedback.

Give the employee an opportunity to explain their perspectives on the matter. There may be extenuating circumstances that you were unaware of, such as medical issues, that are affecting their performance or ability to follow through. A coach’s capacity for listening and showing respect for these circumstances opens the door for positive change.

4. Collaborate on a Transformational Solution

Once problematic actions (Behaviours) and the related impact (Effect) have been identified, expectations have been established, and the client has had a chance to provide their perspective, work together to brainstorm toward a positive transformation.

D x V + FS > R2C

After identifying Behaviours and Effects, our clients will often have either Dissatisfaction (D) or a Desire for a better outcome. Help your client to articulate their Vision (V) of the transformation they would like to see. Next, encourage your client to identify what First Steps (FS) they would need to take to create momentum toward this better outcome. This will help them overcome Resistance To Change (R2C). It can create positive and productive emotional expectation, and this is the fuel for inspiration and motivation.

Allow them to fully express themselves and consider how you can better support them. What would help them to succeed in the future?


A collaborative solution will endow your client with a sense of Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility (OAR) for making positive changes and recognise previous patterns of Blame, Excuses and Denial (BED). Write the solution down, give one copy to the employee and keep one for yourself.

5. Check In

After this coaching session, follow up with them at, or even before, your next scheduled session. This gives you the opportunity to check on progress, share positive feedback on small wins, or even provide additional perspective when necessary. This demonstrates an often overlooked component of a trusting relationship, care. It also positions you as an ally in their transformation.

Terry Lipovski BA, Certified Masteries Coach is an Executive Coach and Speaking Coach based in Ottawa, the National Capital of Canada. With over 15 years of coaching leaders and TEDx Speakers, Terry is the President of Ubiquity Leadership Coaching, Author of the eBook Quotes For Leaders and the Host of the Inspiring Leaders Podcast on iTunes.

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