Opening the doors to vulnerability: Tips on coaching employees who are not open to being helped

Coaching does wonders for high-performing teams and can help them improve their performance and potential. But not all your employees will be willing to learn and open themselves to your coaching.

Even if you do bring in a professional coach, some team members might feel attacked and close themselves off. It isn’t a matter of ego or a fear of being demotivated. It is simply a matter of mindset and accepting that one does not know anything.

Your employees need to be more vulnerable and open with you. This doesn’t exactly mean transparency — more of creating a bond with the team. You are letting them know that they can trust you and you are here to offer help without judgment.

“One of my employees hated the word help. Every time I offered to help her with her projects, she would get defensive or even offended. Only after I swapped the word with something like guidance or support did she break down her walls. It could be something as simple as a change of term to get your employees talking,” said a team leader from a reputed agency in Chennai.

What do I do to help my employees?

Here are four of the best ways you can help your employees improve to become a part of more high-performing teams. We will elaborate on a real-life example once we establish these methods. This way, we can find a solution that will enable you to become a leader as a mentor and coach based on your leadership style.

1. Build trust

Before you can give feedback or offer to coach anyone, it’s important to establish trust with the employee. This means being transparent and honest, and consistently following through on your commitments. Take the time to get to know the employee and understand their perspective, and be willing to listen to their concerns and ideas.

2. Use a strengths-based approach

Instead of focusing on the employee’s weaknesses, focus on their strengths and help them build on those. Highlighting what they’re doing well can give them confidence and motivation to continue working on the areas that need improvement.

3. Be a coach, not a critic

Avoid coming across as critical or judgmental. Instead, approach the situation as a coach who is there to support and guide the employee. Ask open-ended questions, listen actively, and give feedback in a non-threatening way. Remember that the goal is to help the employee improve, not to criticize or blame them.

Other approaches

Also, using the SBI (situation, behavior, impact) feedback technique can be helpful. Starting with the situation and the specific event that you want to discuss, then talk about the specific behavior you observed and explain how it impacted the team, work, or project. This can help the employee to understand and focus on the specific area that needs improvement without feeling attacked.

Another approach would be to share your mistakes and setbacks with your employees. But you mustn’t expect them to respond with issues of their own. Make it look like you are just here to talk and hear their feedback without expecting them to reciprocate. In many instances, this method has helped employees open up without too much pressure!

Let’s look at the experience of a manager named Jack who was responsible for a team of employees in a large corporation. Although this is based on a story from South India, we have altered the name and other details for the sake of anonymity.

One of his team members, Sarah, was a highly skilled and experienced professional. However, she tended to shut herself off from feedback and reject any suggestions for improvement. Every time Jack or someone from the team tried to approach her, she would lash out or mutely nod her head and discard the feedback.

Jack was frustrated with Sarah’s closed-off attitude and was determined to find a way to help her improve and reach her full potential. But every time he tried to give her feedback or offer her coaching, she would get defensive and shut down the conversation.

Jack couldn’t let this slide as the company was driven towards self-improvement and growth for its employees. In every instance, Jack was focused on improving team effectiveness and helping his employees grow personally. It got to such an extreme that Jack was contemplating whether to fire Sarah if she lacked a growth mindset!

After a few months of this approach, Jack decided to tackle the situation differently. Instead of trying to give Sarah advice or criticism, he asked her if he could simply observe her at work and offer his perspective afterward. Sarah, intrigued by this new approach, agreed to let Jack observe her.

As Jack watched Sarah work, he noticed that she tended to get bogged down by small mistakes and setbacks. He also noticed that she often worked alone and didn’t reach out to her team for support when she needed it. She wished to stand out from the crowd and get noticed for her efforts. But this was detaching her from the team and restricting her potential to work and grow.

After the observation, Jack talked to Sarah about what he had observed and asked her how she felt about the experience. To his surprise, Sarah was open to hearing his feedback and willing to consider ways to improve. She explained that she had always been afraid of being perceived as weak or incompetent if she asked for help or admitted to making mistakes.

Jack helped Sarah understand that being vulnerable and open to feedback and support was a sign of strength. He was a friend above being a leader as a mentor and coach. This encouraged her to reach out to her team for help and to view mistakes as opportunities for growth. With Jack’s guidance, Sarah began to make changes to her approach, and her performance at work improved significantly.

The moral of the story is that coaching employees who are not open to being helped requires sensitivity and a willingness to approach the situation in a new way. Sometimes, just listening, observing, and creating a safe space for vulnerability can make a big difference in helping employees open up and improve.

In conclusion, coaching employees who are not open to being helped requires a sensitive and strategic approach. By building trust and showing your employees that you are their friend, you can create a safe and supportive environment for employees to open up and improve. It helps them realize that you aren’t speaking to them just to offer help or for the best interests of the business.

Yes, all it takes is empathy and trust to get the message across sometimes. Remember that being vulnerable and open to feedback is a sign of strength and that everyone has room for growth and development. The goal of coaching is to help employees reach their full potential and perform at their best, and with the right approach, it’s possible to make that happen.

Learn more about helping your employees by improving team effectiveness through quality coaching. Speak to our experts and find an approach to coaching that works for you!

Here’s the key to becoming smarter, faster & better.
Grab the latest insights!

Research Lab


Are you ready to explore the Sacred Corridor of Leadership?

A powerful three-step framework that helps women leaders deeply reflect and practically devise strategies across Portals of Entry, Rituals of Passages and the Sanctum of Possibilities.

Growth Lab


Try our new course on Personal Branding for Leaders

Is it possible to mindfully and intentionally build a persona that impresses, achieves and inspires? The answer is yes. And this course is your How-to guide.