How do coaches relate to comparative adjectives used as (de)motivating “sliding words” during goal orientation dialogues?

How do coaches relate to comparative adjectives  used as (de)motivating “sliding words” during goal orientation dialogues?

- a mixed method study from a corpus of transcripts of coaching encounters, interviews and a survey, including a selection of coaching provider popular literature

Jan Georg Kristiansen



Sliding words are comparative adjectives or adjectival phrases as “more than”, “better than” that are used in goal-setting dialogues.
The hypothesis I examine in this thesis is that the use of such Sliding words may have a negative effect in goal-setting interactions between coaches and coachees/focus persons (FP’s).


After a strategic literature search, mixed methods, consisting of e-mailed interviews, an exploratory survey and thematic analysis of a corpus of 6 taped coaching sessions,
were used to examine the research questions.


I observed that Sliding words were frequently used in coaching sessions by both coaches and focus persons. In the survey, other coaches encouraged exploring the concept and consequences of Sliding words further.

In the thematic analysis, goal-setting sentences using Sliding words were perceived as less positive than sentences without Sliding words.
Coaching sessions where the focus person’s Sliding words were not followed up by the coach, seemed to have a less favourable outcome.

I observed a pattern where when the focus person used Sliding words, they were often connected to internal negatives, and the coach tended to backtrack the Sliding words.
After such exchanges, the FP frequently produced more negatives and coach moved towards a more mentoring style of coaching without following up on the important information “hidden” in the focus person’s Sliding words.


In goal-formulations and goal-setting theory, in particular Grant (2012) and Anseel et al (2011) seem to underpin my findings regarding the importance of positively formulated goals.
I aim to demonstrate with this thesis that the use of Sliding words more often than not moves a goal-setting session in a negative direction.

Anseel at al’s (2011, p706) concept of hybrid Performance Approach goals, which seem to mix Mastery Approach goals (MAp) and Performance Avoidance goals (PAv) are also useful;
as PAv when the focus person uses Sliding words in an associated state, and conceivably closer to MAp when the focus person uses Sliding words in a disassociated state.

The coach’s mode of responding to a Sliding word I regard as a delicate moment in the interaction,
because a Sliding word is a combination of value word(s) (positive and/or negative) and core goal elements, embedded in negative formulation, which I contend indicates ongoing inner negotiations within the focus person.


When Sliding words are used in goal-setting sentences by a focus person/coachee, the coach needs to handle the situation with care to avoid a sub-optimal outcome.

So far, the phenomenon seems to have slipped under the radar of both scientists research articles and practitioners popular literature;
I suggest it’s further researched for the benefit of the coaching field and for the communication professions in general.

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