Top 10 Army Counseling Tips

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, a lot 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 counselings, event oriented counselings, promotion counselings 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 do 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 a 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 a 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 a 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 counseling done on the first or second day.  This creates a good first impressions and lets the Soldier know you have your act together.

When you do a negative counseling, do it on the same day.  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!

If you have any added counseling tips, or any questions, please post them below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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5 thoughts on “Top 10 Army Counseling Tips”

  1. I think #3 and #4 are probably the two most important points, and all of them are good points. # 7 comes in there too.

    A face to face talk in private if there are negative comments, putting everything in writing, and having a witness so that later there won’t be a potential problem as to what was said, are all huge factors that need to take place to keep things smooth.

  2. I love all of these tips, but especially the one to never put anything in writing that you might regret. Do not write something negative in the heat of the moment. Take a moment and think about how important or how bad the particular action was: is it enough to potentially ruin someone’s career or chances for advancement? Is this something that can be talked out?

    Actually, this is great advice for any sort of relationship, professional or personal.

  3. I always found counseling sessions to either be extremely productive or horrendously unproductive and useless. It always depends on who is giving the counseling of course, but I think there are good tips in this article that could help even good counselors get a better idea of how to talk to their soldiers.

    Counseling is something that’s unique in the Army that I find to be great. It’s a way for soldier’s to sit down with the people who are directly in charge of them every single day and talk about what can be improved and what the soldier is doing well. It’s a great learning tool.

    I also agree that having a higher ranking officer or NCO in the room for a counseling is a good way for them to view the counselor but I’m not so sure it’s great to have that all the time. As the article points out, it’s a good thing to have one on one time with your soldiers. It builds trust.

  4. As a witness for negative counselings, I suggest the next NCO in the chain (a team leader would have his or her squad leader present, a squad leader the PSG, etc.) or in particularly serious cases, the PL or the 1SG. Beyond having a witness, this gives the senior leader a chance to observe the subordinate’s counseling skills and provide feedback and training as necessary. (This takes place, obviously, completely separately from the counseling session itself.) Otherwise, as a leader you’ll never really know how good your subordinates are at counseling. You can obviously do the same thing with developmental or routine counselings as well if needed.

    1. Great points, Daniel. As leaders, we should sit in on some counseling sessions our subordinates conduct with their followers. Like you said, this lets us observe their counseling skills and shows us what we need to do to help them improve.

      Chuck Holmes

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