Coaching vs Feedback: How to Choose the Right Approach for Your Client

coaching vs. feedback feature

Feedback is often used as a tool in coaching to facilitate the client’s growth. However, there are many other tools that coaching combines to do that; assessing your client is only one of them, and it’s only meant to be used in specific coaching styles and scenarios.

In this article, we’ll explain how feedback and coaching differ and how you can use feedback effectively to help your coaching clients gain deeper self-awareness.

What Is Coaching?

Coaching is the process of helping clients reach their goals and grow personally or professionally. It’s built on a supportive and collaborative partnership between the coach and the client.

As a coach, your role is to provide guidance that facilitates the client’s growth, and yes, feedback is a big part of that. Constructive feedback helps clients reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, informs their decisions, and helps them learn about themselves.

However, your primary job as a coach is to help clients find their own answers, which means you must only use feedback in specific coaching scenarios. Here are some other tools coaches use besides feedback to create a transformative experience for the client:

  • Active listening: Coaches listen attentively to more than just their clients’ words. They reflect their thoughts back to them to ensure they fully understand their experience.
  • Goal setting: Coaches set clear and achievable goals to keep the coaching process effective and measure the client’s progress.
  • Accountability: Ensuring clients are responsible for their actions and commitments and encouraging them to be more self-reliant.
  • Questioning: Asking thought-provoking inquiries to help clients explore their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives.
  • Assessments: Evaluating clients’ strengths, weaknesses, and progress to inform coaching strategies.
  • Encouragement: Positive reinforcement that supports and motivates clients to take action and achieve their objectives.

[ Read: The 17 Life Coaching Skills Every Top Coach Has Mastered ]

Now, let’s look at what feedback entails.

What Is Feedback?

Feedback is essential to the coaching process and can act as a catalyst for self-reflection. Here are the various types of feedback commonly used in coaching sessions:

  • Reflective feedback: Mirroring the client’s feelings, thoughts, and experiences back to them. Coaches use reflective statements and paraphrasing to demonstrate active listening and help clients face their inner dialogue.
  • Descriptive feedback: Describing specific behaviors, actions, or outcomes the coach observes. Instead of passing judgment or expressing opinions, coaches provide objective observations of the client’s behavior. This process helps them understand how their actions align with their goals and values so they can make informed decisions and adjustments.
  • Appreciative feedback: Highlighting and celebrating the client’s strengths, successes, and accomplishments. Acknowledging the client’s progress and efforts encourages them and boosts their confidence.
  • Constructive feedback: Identifying areas for improvement in a supportive and non-judgmental manner. Coaches can offer suggestions to help clients change their approach to their goals and challenges.
  • Empathetic feedback: Expressing compassion towards the client’s experiences. Coaches can validate clients’ emotions, acknowledge their struggles, and offer reassurance. This step creates a safe and nurturing space for clients to explore their vulnerabilities, process their emotions, and gain perspective on their challenges.
types of feedback

So, as you can see, feedback is manifold in coaching. It can push clients to grow and hold them in a safe space. Giving effective feedback has a lot to do with recognizing which type is required in a specific situation.

On the other hand, there are coaching scenarios when feedback is not the way to go at all. Let’s look at how the application of coaching and feedback differs.

What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Feedback?

Both coaching and feedback aim to help clients grow, but in different ways. Here are the key aspects that set them apart:

PurposeFacilitates personal and professional growthProvides specific information or evaluation
FocusMostly future-orientedPast or present-focused
ApproachGuiding and empoweringDirecting and corrective
TimingOngoing processGiven at specific moments
ContentExplores client’s goals and challengesOffers observations and suggestions
DeliveryCollaborative and non-directiveDirective or informative
EmphasisClient’s self-discovery and learningEvaluator’s perspective

Since coaching encompasses several tools, it can include feedback. However, it can’t be the only approach you use as a coach and shouldn’t dominate your conversations.

If you’re a manager coaching team members, always be clear on when you’re wearing your manager versus your coach hat. As a manager, you need to give clear feedback to your team and align the goals they work towards with organizational objectives. When you’re coaching, you need to allow them more space to reflect on their career goals in a non-judgmental environment.

A good coach also pays attention to how their clients best take feedback. Some may resist negative evaluation but respond well to objective assessment results or paraphrasing their thoughts. Others might need you to deliver feedback gently with empathy. The more you work with a client, the easier you’ll recognize what coaching style will be effective with them.

And speaking of coaching styles…

The Role of Feedback in Different Coaching Styles

Different coaching styles use feedback differently. You must recognize the coaching style and approach that best serves a particular client and adapt your process accordingly. Here are some coaching styles and their relationship with feedback:

Directive coaching

The coach takes a more authoritative role. They may provide specific guidance, advice, and solutions to the client. Feedback in this coaching style is often direct and instructional to reinforce the behavior that aligns with the client’s goals.

Directive coaching helps clients by offering concrete suggestions and action steps to improve. Feedback is essential because it ensures the client understands and implements the recommendations that support their objectives.

Client-centered coaching

Client-centered coaching styles like laissez-faire coaching or democratic coaching are non-directive. They emphasize the client’s autonomy and self-discovery process.

In this case, the coach serves as a facilitator, asking powerful questions, actively listening, and reflecting the client’s thoughts and feelings back to them. Feedback in this style tends to be more reflective and open-ended, leaving space for the coachee to discover new insights.

The client shapes the agenda of the coaching session, and feedback serves as a tool to deepen the client’s understanding and facilitate their decision-making process.

[ Read: The Five Go-To Coaching Models To Use with Your Clients ]

Transformational Coaching

A transformational coach works with clients to achieve profound shifts in their mindset, beliefs, and behaviors. Coaches with this style encourage clients to challenge their limiting beliefs, overcome their fears, and embrace change.

In this case, feedback is necessary to uncover hidden patterns the client is stuck in. The client can only reach breakthroughs and lasting growth if they understand how they’ve been operating and why it hasn’t supported their desired outcome.

Emotional change can be a delicate process, so the coach needs to create a supportive yet challenging environment where clients can take their feedback without resistance and feel empowered to act on it.

Performance Coaching

Performance coaching focuses on improving individual or team performance and is usually applied in an organizational setting. Coaches or managers who use coaching techniques set clear benchmarks for their coachees and track their progress regularly.

Feedback plays a crucial role in improving someone’s performance. Without it, the client or team member doesn’t know where to focus their efforts. It needs to be based on clear benchmarks presented to the coachee beforehand so they can set goals for their professional goals and work habits based on that.

It also needs to be frequent; professionals shouldn’t only receive feedback at their quarterly evaluation but, ideally, weekly. Frequent feedback lets them adjust their action steps to meet their requirements.

Beyond keeping the client accountable, coaches in this niche can identify areas for improvement and offer practical strategies to optimize performance.

Holistic Coaching

Holistic coaching, often used in life coaching, addresses the interconnected aspects of an individual’s life. For example, how they work affects their overall well-being or how their lifestyle affects their relationships. Coaches can work with clients to create balance and fulfillment across all domains of their lives.

In this case, feedback needs to consider the client’s whole being. Holistic change has many moving parts and is individual to each client, so assessments often provide the basis of feedback used in this coaching style. The coach must ensure that the client’s self-evaluation, priorities, and desires are considered and that it aligns with their values.

When to Use Coaching 

You should use coaching, not feedback, in the following situations:

  • Exploring goals: When the client needs to clarify what objectives and aspirations they want to work toward.
  • Navigating challenges: When there isn’t a single right solution to the client’s challenges, or discovering it themselves is more effective for them to learn self-reliance.
  • Encouraging self-reflection: When the client needs freedom to explore their thoughts and develop their own interpretation.
  • Enhancing awareness: When guiding questions are more effective than direct feedback to uncover underlying beliefs. Letting clients articulate their discoveries in their own words often creates more significant aha moments and resonates better with them.
  • Exploring possibilities: When the client needs to explore possibilities, options, and alternative perspectives to expand their thinking.
  • Self-responsibility: When you want to instill ownership in the client by asking them to evaluate themselves, for example.
  • Areas outside of your expertise: When the client needs feedback on an issue you don’t have expertise in. In these cases, it’s better to help them explore who they can turn to instead for feedback they can trust.

When to Use Feedback 

Here are some scenarios when feedback coaching is more effective than letting clients come to conclusions.

  • When a client requests evaluation or assessment on a completed task or project
  • When the client seeks input on their performance or behavior
  • When clients need clarification on a specific aspect of their work or actions
  • In situations requiring immediate corrective action
  • When the client is seeking validation or affirmation of their efforts
  • When you have personal or professional experience that may help the client

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By Annamaria Nagy
Annamaria Nagy is a Brand Identity Coach and Copywriter. She's been writing for over 10 years about topics like personal development, coaching, and business. She was previously the Head of SEO at the leading transformational education company, Mindvalley.
May 1, 2024

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