Dana has excellent technical skills. But her abrupt and aggressive communication style is getting her colleagues off-side. Dana has become known in the business as one of the difficult people others avoid dealing with. Liselle, the team’s HR business partner, hopes coaching in effective workplace communication will improve Dana’s performance. First she needs to get Dana’s buy-in to this idea. Then Liselle needs to address Dana’s difficult behaviour without triggering a defensive reaction. Here are four steps she can use to do this.

Raise awareness of the issue

Dana may be blissfully unaware of the impact her aggressive communication style is having on her colleagues. So the issue needs to be raised sensitively and objectively. Liselle needs to involve Dana’s manager, Luke, in providing concrete and specific feedback to Dana. Having given this feedback, Luke will then invite Dana to participate in effective workplace communication coaching. It will be important to frame the program as a developmental opportunity. Then Dana should be introduced to Liselle as an expert in communication skills coaching.


Provide a reason to change

During the first coaching session, Liselle should focus on building Dana’s desire to change and become a more assertive communicator. This means acknowledging Dana’s strengths and providing objective standards she can measure herself against. It also involves helping Dana identify situations in which her current, aggressive communication style is holding her back. Doing this will prompt Dana to identify the benefits to her of learning new skills.

Define the desired end-point

Once Dana wants to change, she needs to be clear about what she’s aiming for. To help her gain this clarity, Liselle can use the ‘Present to Desired State’ coaching process. This involves building a concrete description of how things will be different once Dana is communicating assertively. Essentially, it gives Dana a mental map which highlights the end-point she is travelling towards.

Liselle can use role models, videos, and stories to help Dana develop her mental map of what it will be like to communicate assertively in difficult situations. It will also be useful to ask Dana to imagine what she will look, sound and feel like when she’s more assertive. This technique is called ‘Future Pacing’ and it helps coaching clients build vivid and compelling mental maps of the future.

Build micro skills

Her mental map has defined WHAT communication habits Dana wants to change in order to communicate assertively. Now she needs to learn HOW to change them. This step of coaching involves providing information, role models and demonstrations, so Dana can see the skills of assertiveness in action.

Micro skilling also involves using role plays and problem solving discussions, in order to build Dana’s practical skills. The point of micro skills training is to develop new behavioural patterns, not theoretical understanding. Liselle will therefore focus on providing Dana with opportunities to try out assertiveness tools (such as I Statements) during her coaching sessions.

This article was originally published on Difficult People Made Easy.