Coach the distinction, not the problem


Following is a post from my business website, Business Writing Coach

Picture it. Your employee, John, has just drafted a document to an external audience, a government department who funds you, for example, or a first-time client, or twentieth-time client.

You read the document and your heart sinks. It’s just not up to scratch. It needs major rework yet the document has to go out tomorrow. What to do?

Most people will be tempted to fix it themselves. “We’re on a deadline,” you tell yourself, “I don’t have time to explain it to John.”

If you look closely, you may see another thought which goes something like this: “I don’t know how to explain it to John.” And maybe another: “If I say something, I’ll hurt his feelings and he’ll get defensive and then it’ll be difficult to work with him.”

Being unable to explain to another why a document doesn’t work, and what to do about it, is a common problem in business and it’s hardly talked about.

In our coaching sessions, we teach managers a set of distinctions that transforms this situation. The first and most important distinction is called Coaching from the distinctions.

Coaching from the distinctions

When coaching employees about their writing, do so from the distinctions.*

Remind the employee of the distinction (or explain it again or have them explain it), and then ask them to apply it to their work. Another way to say this is: explain the distinction, not the problem.

Doing this has the distinctions request the corrections, not you, and allows you to play the role of coach rather than judge and jury. It moves the relationship from one of superior knowledge vs inferior knowledge to one of partnership.

It allows the employee to be responsible for their writing and the source of their own correction. It also allows you to target specific issues rather than trying to fix everything at once.

Arrange a discovery session today

For this, and many other business writing distinctions, arrange a discovery session today. Phone 0412 616 076 or email

* To distinguish something means to bring it from the background to the foreground. A business writing distinction is a tool that allows a person to see what he or she is doing when writing.



5 thoughts on “Coach the distinction, not the problem

  1. It’s so true that not having enough time to fix a document is probably an easier problem than discussing it with the person who wrote it. I’ve been in that awkward situation a few times and it’s not easy. Thanks for the lovely comment on my blog. It was lovely to read your memories of Balmoral Beach. It’s a shame you’re not here today – it’s very beautiful and the water is 24C!


    • Thank goodness I can report the air is 24C in Melbourne :) If I were at BB today, I’d lay in the sun on the rock wall that runs around the natural pool and bake like a lizard. Are you going for a swim?

      Discussing someone’s writing with them is a deceptively big undertaking cos our language is precious to us, and then one adds in the other stuff that may be unsaid and incomplete between the two people … ugh. Happily, I’ve got some things that make a difference.


  2. Very interesting concept! This used to be a huge problem for me in the work place. So many times the feedback from on high was along the lines of “I don’t know what I want, but I know this isn’t it.”

    PS–(and just joking) ignoring his shortcomings as a writer, I’d also want to have a distinctions dialogue with John about (1) insufferable smirk, (2) 5 o’clock shadow and (3) crooked collar. And maybe hair too. :)


Your comment will be an adornment to this blog ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s