Skills Converged Training Resources

Coaching Exercise: To Tell or Not to Tell

Coaching Exercise: To Tell or Not to Tell


This is an energizing exercise designed to show the difference between direct instructions and feedback. In other words, it shows that shaping seems to be a lot more effective than telling.


An instructor and a group compete with two different styles of communication to guide a volunteer to do a task.


  • Ask the delegates for two volunteers. One will be the Instructor and the other will be the performer.
  • Ask the performer to leave the room until you come and ask for him.
  • Ask the delegates to select a behaviour for the performer to perform. For example this can be placing hands in a certain configuration.
  • Tell the instructor to give instructions to the performer to move his legs to a particular configuration.
  • Now ask the performer to come back to the room. Explain that the performer should listen to the instructor and the audience.
  • Start the exercise. The instructor should instruct the performer to move his legs.
  • The rest of the audience should shout ‘Yes’ every time the hands move closer to the target configuration. Effectively, the performer might listen to the instructor to move his legs which may then move his hands at which point he may get a ‘Yes’ from the audience.
  • The instructor can then use stronger and more direct words to get the performer to move his legs while the audience may respond back accordingly.
  • Let this go for a while until the performer finds the target configuration and then follow this with a discussion. Otherwise stop the exercise after 10 minutes.


Explaining the Test: 5 minutes.

Activity: 15 minutes

Group Feedback: 10 minutes.


As you can imagine, this game can be quite entertaining and tense. It certainly produces a lot of laugher so it is great to soften the mood.

The performer will usually figure out that the responses are diverging and usually will go with the audience. The exercise shows that despite strong counter instructions, it is easy to get clues from a feedback and get closer to a goal.

Ask the delegates what they thought of this exercise and ask them the following questions:

  • Which one wins, instructions (telling) or feedback (shaping)?
  • Do you have any examples form work that demonstrates the power of feedback over instructions?
  • Is it good for a supervisor only to tell what should be done? What happens if feedback is missing?
  • How motivated will you feel when you receive feedback as opposed to direct telling instructions?
  • Can you provide examples of telling that have not worked in the past, but that you can easily see that giving feedback could have been more effective?