The Coaching “Fire Triangle”™

Mastering the Three Skills Needed to Spark a Powerful Coaching Conversation at Work

In fire science, there’s a concept known as the “fire triangle.” It identifies the three things required in order to create and sustain fire: Oxygen, Heat, and Fuel. If you take any one of these three things away, fire cannot exist.

Similarly, there are three fundamental personal skills every manager, team leader, and supervisor needs to master in order to facilitate a powerful Coaching Conversation with their team members. If you take any of these qualities out of an interpersonal exchange, it won’t be a true Coaching Conversation.

It will still be a conversation, and it could still get some positive results, but that conversation won’t be nearly as powerful or productive as when you bring all three to the experience. Here are these three Coaching “Fire Triangle”™ skills:


We all understand that work is busy and fast-paced. You have deadlines on top of deadlines, you get pulled in lots of different directions all day long, and everyone needs your time – your team members, your own manager, your vendors and your customers. It’s easy to get distracted by everything coming at you.

It takes extra time, energy, and effort to effectively coach a team member, and it may not feel like there’s ever enough of any of those things. But being present is the place where every relationship-building, results-oriented Coaching Conversation begins.

The good news is that the goal for a Coaching Conversation is NOT to expect to be 100% present 100% of the time. Countless synapses are firing all the time in our brains, and our focus naturally bounces from thought to thought to thought. This is part of the human experience.

So the REAL GOAL is to be aware of when you’re distracted, and to return your focus to your team member — as often as necessary during any Coaching Conversation.

How do you know if you’re focused and present while talking with someone?

Well, you can tell you’re NOT present with your team member when you let yourself get distracted by texts, phone calls, thinking about your next appointment, or trying to remember if you included last quarter’s numbers in the report you turned in that morning.

Being present with your team member means that, when you notice your attention has wandered, you intentionally shift your focus back to what he/she is saying. Think of a radio dial that’s been turned away from the station you were listening to. When you notice the “static” you can readjust the dial to tune back in to your team member.

Being present is an important skill to practice with everyone — and everything! — in your life.


The second of the three skills of the Coaching “Fire Triangle”™ is one of the greatest gifts you can give to another human being: TO LISTEN. And not just hear what they’re saying, but to listen so they actually feel heard.

There’s a big difference between listening to the words someone is saying (while formulating your own response/comeback/argument at the same time), and really hearing the heart of what they’re saying, thinking, and feeling, with no need to jump in and respond. It’s like whole-body listening with all six senses — including your intuition.

When was the last time you felt really heard? It is indeed a rare gift, and a powerful Coaching Conversation gives that gift.

How do you know you’re listening so the other person really feels heard? Sometimes they’ll tell you outright: “Thanks for listening, you really get me!” Or you’ll know it by their response when you ask them a question: “That’s a great question, I have to think about that for a minute!” With time and practice, you’ll have a better sense of when you are truly present with a team member and listening to them so they really feel heard.


The third element of the Coaching “Fire Triangle”™ you must bring to all your Coaching Conversations is to respond co-creatively. At its heart, Coaching is a collaborative process: both you and your team member are co-creating the path to what they want to accomplish — because it’s what you want them to accomplish, too! When you respond to a team member in a collaborative and co-creative way, they know you’re on their side.

If you tell your team members what to do, how and when to do it, shut them down if they suggest a different way, and point the blame at them if they don’t do it your way, you’re on the fast track to a toxic work environment that squashes creativity and stifles high level critical thinking — and sends your team members to the online job boards.

On the other hand, knowing that you’re a willing advocate for their success builds trust quickly and goes a long way to ensure that your team members feel safe, valued, and connected, which will in turn motivate them to be more productive and engaged in their work.

Consider simple collaborative and validating phrases such as:

  • “Help me understand how you see this working out.” (this creates connection)
  • “I can tell you’re frustrated about this.” (this validates their emotions)
  • “Thank you for completing this on time.” (this acknowledges their contribution)

These simple — and effective! — co-creative responses can quickly build a bridge between you and your team member and fuel ongoing collaboration.


Without being present, it’s difficult to really listen to each team member.

Without listening deeply, it’s difficult to craft a truly co-creative response.

Without responding co-creatively, it’s difficult for your team members to feel safe, valued, and connected.

If you truly want to effectively coach your team members, it’s important for you to understand, practice, and embody all three of these qualities.


Contact Laurie to schedule your complimentary Coaching Needs Assessment session.

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