8 Tips on How to Conduct a Negative Counseling Session

If you’re in charge of others, there’s a good chance that you will need to conduct a negative counseling session at one point or another in your military career.  In order to do that effectively, I’d like to share some helpful tips with you that I learned during my 15 years in the Army and National Guard.

  1. Create a Game-Plan: Never “wing it.”  If you need to conduct a negative counseling session, make sure you develop a game plan ahead of time.  Identify what you will say, type up the counseling, find a witness and be prepared.  If you don’t have much experience with this, do a rehearsal ahead of time.
  2. Educate Yourself: Spend some time and educate yourself.  Research the regulations and rules.  Find out what the standard is, and identify how the person failed to meet the standard.  If needed, talk with JAG or your legal section to get additional advice.  Also, you can talk with your supervisor to gain some helpful tips or perspective.
  3. Conduct the Counseling Immediately: I truly believe that the longer you wait to conduct the counseling session, the less effective it will be.  Try to conduct the counseling session within 1 hour of the event and no more than 24 hours after the event.
  4. Address the Behavior, not the Person: During the counseling session, make sure you address the behavior, not the person.  Let them know that they are acceptable as a person, but their behavior is/was not acceptable.  That way they don’t construe things as a personal attack on them as a person.  Some people will get offended or upset anyway, but you should still follow this approach.
  5. Have a Witness: It would be very wise to bring in a witness.  This can protect you from any allegations.  Have your boss sit in on the meeting with you, or even a peer.
  6. Put Everything in Writing: Make sure that you put everything in writing.  You can type up the counseling statement ahead of time (most desired course of action) or you can do it after the counseling session.  When you put things in writing, the person will know you are serious and will take your advice much more seriously.
  7. Keep the Counseling Session Short: Don’t drag out the counseling session.  Try to keep it to 5-20 minutes.  Whatever you do, don’t make it a marathon meeting that drags on forever.  The shorter the better.  If you are prepared, this will be very easy to do.  It boils down to this.  Tell them what the standard is.  Tell them how they failed to meet the standard.  And issue your punishment.
  8. End on a Positive Note: If possible, try to end your counseling session on a positive note.  Let the person know that you believe in them and that you know they are capable of accomplishing much more.  This is very important to do.

These are my best tips on how to conduct a negative counseling session with a subordinate.  Whether you are a General or Corporal, you can follow this advice and do an effective job with your negative counseling session.  Your major key to success is preparation.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any added negative counseling tips? Post all comments and questions below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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5 thoughts on “8 Tips on How to Conduct a Negative Counseling Session”

  1. Negative counseling sessions are no fun. However, if you do have all of your evidence lined up and can just go straight through it in a matter-of-fact way, the ordeal can be a bit less painful for everyone. You should have everything in writing, and then have a counseling session summary for everyone to sign. And absolutely have a witness with you: your superior or your peer, but no one below your rank.

  2. I have always felt a little sick to my stomach doing negative counseling sessions. You are right though, being well prepared, address the issues, and never make it personal. Be as thorough as possible with your research and the issue at hand, make sure there isn’t a history of wrongdoing or similar errors, and get the conference done quickly. The longer you wait the greater the negative impact on you as their superior ‘Why did you wait so long to address this?’ Always make sure there is some sort of third party there – whether they are the ombudsman or a mediator so they can redirect if things get out of hand.

  3. Conducting a negative counseling session is never fun or easy to do. The bottom line is to be objective, not emotional. Don’t attack the person. Instead, focus on the behavior or situation that went wrong. Treat them with respect and do the counseling in private.

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