How to coach in 3 steps
March 2, 2023

How to coach in 3 steps

Coaching is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal as a manager. Here are three tips on how to master it.

Coaching is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal as a manager. Empowering your direct reports to figure things out for themselves helps them learn faster and builds their confidence. It also avoids the classic manager trap of becoming resident problem-solver in your team - the person every direct report resorts to,  to provide the answer whenever they encounter an issue or roadblock.

How to coach in 3 steps

Piper’s coaching formula can be used in many contexts, including 1:1s. Following each step will get both of you to an outcome you feel confident about.


The first step in coaching someone is to show them empathy. This builds psychological safety and trust in your relationship. It’s the key to breaking through with a direct report and being able to discuss real issues beyond tasks and work.

If they don’t feel safe or heard, your direct report is unlikely to be open and honest with you.

How to show empathy:

  • Listen actively. Remove all distractions so you can focus on what the person is saying - and not saying. Observe their body language and where comfortable, mirror how they are showing up to help create a safe space. Make and maintain eye contact, especially if in person.
  • Ask open-ended questions. The most effective questions follow a line of enquiry and come from a place of genuine curiosity. They encourage people to go deeper and share more with you. Avoid questions that start with “why”, as they put people on the defensive. Encourage reflection on how they feel in the situation:
  • What has this been like for you?
  • How does this make you feel?
  • What are you finding most challenging?
  • Tell me more about that


Once you’ve shown empathy, the second step in coaching someone is to bring perspective. This builds shared understanding of the problem or challenge that needs solving. It removes assumptions.

If you jump into problem-solving before getting perspective, you run the risk of making assumptions and addressing the wrong issue.

How to bring perspective:

  • Summarise what you’re hearing. Using their own words, describe the problem as they have articulated it. You can do this multiple times to build shared understanding and help both of you track where you are in the conversation.
  • “It sounds like [x] is what you are finding most difficult. Is that right?”
  • “I’m hearing that [x] sounds like it is your blocker. Is that right?”


With fresh perspective on what the real challenge is, the third step in coaching someone is to build their confidence to solve it. This empowers them to step up and navigate how they will move forward from the situation. It also gives them the responsibility to define a next step that they want to take, which takes the guesswork out of accountability.

If you spoon-feed them the solution or assign them a next step, you stop them from building the muscle to respond effectively to these types of situations in the future. It’s also less likely they’ll do what they say they’ll do, since they don’t own their next step.

How to build confidence:

  • Ask vision questions. Invite them to imagine what they would like to change to make things better. Great vision questions are open-ended, positive and future-facing:
  • What do you think needs to change?
  • How would you like this to feel?
  • What do you want to be different in this situation?
  • Get them to define one next step. Once they have a solution they feel confident about, encourage them to figure out where they’d like to get started. If their next step feels too big or too vague, ask follow-up questions to help them make it specific and actionable.
  • Where do you want to start?
  • What will make that step feel achievable?
  • What’s one thing you try this week to make progress on this?
  • When would you like to have this done?