10 Ways to Overcome Issues of “Face” in Coaching

Coaching can get very personal. In the process, you may even accidentally cause your coachee to lose “face.” Loss of face might be described as “being humiliated” or “disgraced.” Here’s how to overcome issues of face in coaching.

It’s easy to cause a person to lose face while coaching without even knowing it. If we are too direct, push for the person to take responsibility, or don’t show the respect that age and social status differences required, we could cause someone to lose face.

Face is our pride and social status. When something undermines these notions – such as being criticized publicly – we lose face. Saving face is about giving respect and not embarrassing someone.

Some people and cultures hold face as a high value. They find it difficult to admit weakness or professional problems. They don’t want to be seen as unfit for their position or social status.

Other cultures value leaders who are transparent with their weaknesses. Those who rebound from failure are admired. This tendency would be typical of the United States, for example.

Overcoming Issues of Face in Coaching

Here are 10 ways to avoid causing your coachee to lose face:

  1. Praise in public, correct in private. A public setting is the source of most loss of face.
  2. Don’t say it. Overlook the minor error, mistake, and indiscretion. He knows you noticed, and that you’re being discreet enough to not say anything.
  3. Allow him to have some “win” or to be right on some point. “You are right, she didn’t try very hard. What additional information does she need to do it better?”
  4. Avoid backing him into a corner. Leave him a way to save face.
  5. Don’t patronize. Use language and tone of voice that doesn’t patronize. Sarcasm or playing junior Psychologist can be seen as condescending.
  6. Don’t place blame. Instead, depersonalize what you say, “This approach isn’t as effective as you hoped. What could be tried now?”
  7. Be generous. “Just about every leader I know has done this [avoid naming the mistake] at least once.”
  8. Be complementary. “You are quite experienced in this area, what options do you see?”
  9. Avoid making him feel stupid or incapable. Don’t say, “Since you obviously don’t know how to do marketing, who on your team could do it?” Try, “Which team member do you think you could delegate your marketing efforts to?”
  10. Apologize. “Oh I’m sorry, I must have been mistaken.”

At one time or another, I’ve intentionally done the opposite of some of these points with clients in order to challenge them. The key is to know when to push and when not to push.

Relationship, respect, and timing are critical to challenging a leader. It should always be done privately and respectfully.

Coaching is relational process. Respect, in our words, attitude, and questions, is the key to overcoming issues of face in coaching.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    2 thoughts on “10 Ways to Overcome Issues of “Face” in Coaching

    1. Thanks for posting this Keith. I like your suggestions, These things are so important to remember especially when coaching cross-culturally.