When coaching a team member, is it ever ok to give negative feedback, or is that against the whole idea of coaching?’
Constructive, developmental feedback given skilfully in the interests of learning and enhancing performance can be hugely beneficial. One of the important functions of coaching is to raise self-awareness and hold a mirror up to the individual and offering feedback is a great way of doing this.
It is important to be clear on your role – if you are a line manager using a coaching style, then constructive feedback absolutely has its place. Without feedback, a learner has no idea whether his or her performance is good or not and how it could improve. Focus on specifics of what you saw and experienced, describe the behaviour and the impact it had on you. As a line manager it is legitimate to then suggest what you would prefer to see and offer useful suggestions for preventing similar mistakes in future. Always give feedback in private and ask how the learner assesses him or herself.
If you are working in a non-directive way with a coaching client, do contract for feedback and offer it in a congruent and authentic way, in service of the client achieving their goal. The trick here too is to be non-judgemental – describe specific evidence of the behaviour, the impact it had on you and explore how this resonates with the client and their experience elsewhere. Explore underlying reasons for the behaviour and if appropriate challenge any faulty logic and assumptions.
Often the most senior clients rarely get honest feedback on the impact they have on others and if they are genuinely interested in developing their leadership style and presence, then describing the impact of their behaviour on you as their coach is an invaluable source of data.