How to Conduct an Army Counseling the Right Way

I want to educate you on my top 10 tips about how to conduct an Army Counseling the right way.  Counseling your subordinates is one of the most important parts of your job.  It’s often an area that gets neglected, too.  Most military leaders understand the important of counseling, yet few leaders ever do it.

Most leaders claim they “simply don’t have the time to do counseling.”  I admit it does take time, lots of time, to prepare and conduct formal counseling with your subordinates.  But, it’s part of your job.  Failing to “make the time” to schedule this activity in your work calendar is nothing more than a poor excuse.

I hope you will “cowboy up” and counsel your subordinates like you are supposed to.  In order to do this effectively, I want to share my best tips on how to conduct Army Counseling the right way.  Let’s get started.

Tip # 1: Know Your Responsibilities as a Supervisor

The first and simplest thing you can do is know your responsibilities as a supervisor.  In most cases, you have to counsel your E-4s and below once each month in writing.  NCOs and Officers must be formally counseled every 90 days.  You also have to do initial counseling’s, event oriented counseling’s, promotion counseling’s and much more.

You should read several Army Regulations and Field Manuals to learn how to conduct the counseling, what must be done and tips for success.  Just conduct an Internet search for “Army Counseling” and you will be able to educate yourself in no time.

Tip # 2: Develop a Game Plan and Schedule to Follow

Your next step is to develop a game plan and schedule to follow.  You should use some kind of tracking sheet.  Add all of your subordinates to the counseling tracking sheet.  Determine when you must do the initial counseling and follow up counseling for each Soldier.  Set the dates in your calendar or day planner.  Schedule the time to get it done.  Make it a top priority or it will never get done.

Tip # 3: Always Meet Face-to-Face in Private

Whenever possible, you want to meet with your Soldiers face-to-face.  You want to be able to look them in the eye when you talk with them.  You want to avoid distractions and interruptions.  Turn off your cell phone and computer and go somewhere private.  Never do counseling over the phone or via email (unless you have no other option).

Tip # 4: Do the Verbal Counseling First and Then Write it Up

I’ve always found that it’s easiest to do the verbal counseling first and then do the formal, written counseling.  Let the person know what you are thinking and tell them that you will go back to your office and get everything typed up onto a DA Form 4856 for them to sign. This lets you address the issue immediately when you talk to them, and it gives you time to think through the problem and type everything up.  It also gives you time to collect any facts or information you might need concerning the issue.

I firmly believe that EVERY time you do a verbal counseling, you should also put it in writing.

Tip # 5: Learn the Other Person’s Side of the Story

When you do counseling, you don’t want to be the only person talking.  Get good at asking questions and listening.  Find out what the other person knows or is thinking about.  This gives you an additional perspective and lets your Soldier know that you care about what they think.  Even if you don’t want to know their side, make sure you aren’t the one doing all the talking.

Tip # 6: Focus on the Facts, not Your Emotions or Opinions

The best counseling sessions (especially negative counseling sessions) focus on the facts, not opinions.  Be specific and objective when you do counseling with a Soldier.  Summarize the facts and events, reference regulations if necessary, and try to keep your opinion to a minimum.

Tip # 7: If You Do a Negative Counseling, Have a Witness

Whenever you have to do a negative counseling session with someone, bring in a witness with you, preferably your boss or a trusted peer.  This keeps you from getting any false accusations against you.  This sounds like common sense, but many military leaders forget to do it.

Tip # 8: The Sooner the Better

The sooner you can conduct a counseling session the better.  The longer you delay it, the less effect it will have on a Soldier.  For instance, if a new Soldier arrives to your section starting today, get their initial counseling done on the first or second day.  This creates a positive first impression and lets the Soldier know you have your act together.

When you do a negative counseling, do it on the same day of the event.  If you wait a week or two, it won’t be very effective.

Tip # 9: Always Follow Up with the Soldier Afterwards

One of the most important parts of counseling is the follow up. As a leader, you need to follow up with your Soldier after the counseling session to make sure they are working through the plan of action.  Make sure they are making progress and fixing things.  Make sure you are available to answer the Soldier’s questions.  Be accessible.

Tip # 10: Never Put Anything in Writing That You Will Regret

When you are writing a counseling statement, never put anything in writing that you will regret.  If you are emotional or angry, wait a few minutes until you cool down.  Make sure your counseling statement is objective, and isn’t a personal attack on the person.  Have your boss or a trusted peer review the counseling ahead of time to make sure your counseling statement is accurate and to the point.  The last thing you want to do is get yourself in trouble because you wrote something you shouldn’t have.

Bonus Tip # 11: Don’t Worry About Perfection

My bonus tip is “don’t worry about perfection.”  Your counseling statement can be hand written.  It doesn’t have to be typed up or look fancy.  As long as it is accurate and objective, don’t fret.  If you are worried about making everything perfect, there’s a good chance you will NEVER finish the counseling statement.  The mere fact that you are actually conducting the counseling is what matters most.

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are my best tips on how to conduct an Army Counseling session the right way.  As an Army leader, make sure you schedule the time to conduct counseling with your subordinates.  It is one of your most important responsibilities.  Even if your boss doesn’t counsel you like they are supposed to, do the right thing, and make the time to develop your subordinates.  The payoff is huge!

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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7 thoughts on “How to Conduct an Army Counseling the Right Way”

  1. Every tip in this post is a good tip and this post shows experience, and I think tip #8 about the sooner the better is huge.

    It is too easy to put off saying things that need to be said.

  2. It would seem that the leaders who offer counseling sessions would have well-rounded, well-to-do, and more advanced Soldiers than others. Even when it seems that counseling is not needed or that the Soldiers are doing well, it is always a good idea to call them back into your office to sit down and see what is going on in their lives. You can always offer positive words and positive reinforcement – counseling should not be left just for the negatives or for consequence purposes.

    I like that you mentioned the #3 tip, “Always Meet Face-to-Face in Private”. For one, it shows that you care and want to be direct with the individual. Secondly, it shows your authority all the while instilling trust in the Soldier. With the privacy factor, shutting down all devices and modes of distractions is essential for getting across to the Soldier and making any points.

    1. You would be surprised at how seldom counseling actually happens in the Army. Most junior soldiers get counseled regularly, because their leaders demand it. But once you become a leader yourself, there’s a good chance you will never get formally counseled the rest of your career. Personally, I think that’s pretty sad. i always tell leaders they have the responsibility to coach and mentor their subordinate leaders as well, not just the soldiers.

  3. Regularly scheduled counseling is essential, whether you’re a leader in the military, or a leader in the civilian world. Touching base and following up with subordinates establishes a bond of trust and a culture of excellence within the organization which often results in a greater sense of unity and efficiency. Something as simple as seeing a leader set deadlines and meet them consistently leads to a similar attention to detail in subordinates.
    I especially liked that you suggest focusing on facts and taking the time to research all sides of the story in a fair, unbiased manner. It shows a willingness to confront a problem without inviting further conflict to the counseling session.

  4. Amy Skalicky

    Regular counseling, regardless of the issues at hand, is important for soldiers to grow, regardless of the nature of the issues. Positive reinforcement is just as important as dealing with problems. If there are problems, your suggestions are great, especially doing it in writing. Remember the adage, “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” that protects all parties involved in the session. An action plan is also important, for identifying the problem isn’t the end of the road. There has to be a plan for correcting the issue. If there are no problems, an action plan may consist of suggestions for additional knowledge or skills that are available, to provide the soldier for opportunities for continuous improvement. No problems does not mean no room for growth.

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