Empathy: Non-directive coaching based on empathy brings out the best of teams

Use the GROW model: 

  1. Goal: Team member defines the goal to reach
  2. Reality: Use open-ended questions to understand the situations
  3. Options: Work on finding solutions together
  4. Will: Always commit for next steps to ensure follow through

Organizations have transformed over the past decades and constant change has become the norm with digitization. 

In order to adapt, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control managers and favoring managers who give guidance and support rather than instructions. 

The role of the manager, in short, is becoming that of a coach. With the right mindset, tools and support we believe almost anybody can become a better coach.


When coaching, adopting the right mindset is key, and it all comes down to one thing: empathy, your ability to understand and share the feelings of your team members. The best coaches are empathetic managers who don’t judge and are able to challenge their own viewpoint. 

Different styles of coaching exist but the best coaches are experts in non-directive coaching. Non-directive coaching is built on listening, questioning and withholding judgement: less direction from the manager is highly energizing for those being coached.

The GROW Model

One of the best ways to get better at non-directive coaching is to try using the GROW model, created in the 1980s by Sir John Whitmore. 

GROW involves four action steps, the first letters of which give the model its name. It’s easy to understand, but it’s harder to practice than it seems, because it requires training yourself to think in new ways about what your role and value as a leader.

The four action steps are the following:

G for Goal

When having a conversion, the first step to coaching a team member is to establish exactly what he or she wants to accomplish right now and even more specifically, what the outcome of this particular discussion should be. A good way to start is to ask questions such as: “What do you want when you walk out the door that you don’t have now?”

Even though it might sound strange at first, it will enable you to frame the conversation with the correct goal and set the tone for the rest of the session.

R for Reality

Next, the goal of the conversation having been established, ask your team member to describe his current reality. Often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point, and often they're missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively.

Your job here is to raise the right questions and then get out of the way. Ask open questions - what, when, where, and who - to force focus on specific facts. As your team member shares facts about his current reality, the solution may start to emerge.

Useful coaching questions at this step include:

What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this? Have you already taken any steps towards in the accomplishment of this task/project/goal ?

O for Options

Team members often come to managers for coaching when they feel stuck. Your role as a manager is to help them think more broadly and to identify new options. 

At the beginning of a coaching session, people being coached can feel there is nothing they can do to resolve the situation or feel they are stuck with only one real option.

At this point, you need to broaden the conversation - asking open and naive questions can be a great way to get people thinking in fresh and productive ways. 

For example, questions such as “If anything was possible, what would you do?” or “What would happen if you did nothing?” can bring surprising results. Once new options are brought to light, your job is to guide them to deep dive on the options to gauge benefits, downsides and risks.

W for Will

For this last step, managers will usually need to step in as most people will need guidance.

First, ask “What will you do?”

If the conversation was effective, it will enable you to review an action plan in phase with the goal, reality and options you discussed earlier. If some parts are still vague, do not hesitate to go back to earlier steps.

The next step is to get your team member to commit to specific actions in order to move forward towards his goal. In doing this, you will help him establish his will and boost his motivation.

Ask when you need to review progress: daily, weekly, monthly?

Finally, decide on a date when you'll both review progress. This will provide some accountability, and allow to change the approach if the original plan isn't working.

Of course, workplace coaching usually takes place outside of formal coaching sessions. Often, coaching sessions will be improvised and brief but always leverage these opportunities to ask open ended questions rather than show and tell.

Wrap up: No longer can managers simply command and control. Managers need to reinvent themselves as coaches whose job it is to draw energy, creativity and learning out of their team members. The best way to do so is by sticking to an empathetic and non-directive mindset.

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