Focus on Positive Language in a Group Coaching Environment

Think about every argument in which you’ve ever been. Spouse, boss, partner, friend, or family, chances are strong that nearly all of them were escalated because one or both of you used a very accusatory or abrasive tone.

While coaching corrections are not the same thing as a heated argument, the nature of the conversation is more similar than we might superficially imagine. You the coach need to get they, the client, to change their behavior. With that understanding, we must realize that positioning ourselves as a partner, not a dictator, is always going to be the superior form of relationship building.

POOR: “Don’t let your low back come off the ground on your hollow holds.”
BETTER: “I want you do drive your low back into the floor to make sure your obliques are engaged.”

POOR: “Don’t drop the bar at the top of your deadlift.”
BETTER: “Remember to bring the bar back down to the floor after the rep so that you take advantage of the eccentric portion of the movement.”

POOR: “I don’t want you doing split jerks yet because you haven’t mastered push press.”
BETTER: “Instead of prematurely working on a more complex movement, I want our focus this month to be on developing our overhead strength and positioning.”

Some of you are reading this and likely think that a positive language approach might not cut through as strong, or might position you to look weak. I would greatly caution you against that thought. Sure firm, negative language can get attention and get the job done (and it can be particularly effective when highlighting high risk scenarios), but at what cost? Do you want to be the drill sergeant who gets the entire room to listen in a transient manner, or do you want to be the coach who achieves the objective while also developing the relationship.

Negative language may work, but it will never lead to a relationship between you and the room.

Positive words improve communication everywhere, even in the harshest of environments.

ASSIGNMENT: See how many times you can replace the word “don’t” with “instead” this week when correcting your clients. Pay attention to their reaction, and just how much more receptive they are to engaging with you.

-Dave Thomas


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