Giving feedback to an employee, whether a peer or a subordinate, is a regular task for someone whose primary responsibilities revolve around coaching his team members on their performance and sharing ways on how to improve it.
As a matter of fact, feedback-sharing falls in two major functions of leaders and managers according to the Allen Management Wheel, which are Planning (where it falls in the ‘Performance Correction’ task) and Leading (where it may be included in either or all the ‘Motivating’, ‘Communicating’, and/or ‘Developing People’ tasks).
This is how mandatory and significant giving feedback is.
Now, while the task is more than usual though, a lot of coaches still struggle to perfect it especially when they have to deal not only with the challenges of the coaching task itself but with the challenges presented by people with difficult personalities as well.
One of these personality types is an employee who has to be coached but who won’t acknowledge he needs one (not open to feedback) or worse, someone who doesn’t respect or at least acknowledge the one who is doing it.
How do we then give feedback to people who don’t like their areas for improvement being brought to their attention or who are in denial of their areas of opportunities to begin with?
Leverage Root Cause Analysis
I am a very strong supporter and implementer of root-cause analysis. Every time we encounter a person who doesn’t want to be given feedback, my first reminder is to put ourselves in that person’s shoes and find out where his tendency or behavior is coming from.
This is where our deep and validated knowledge and observations of our people become helpful. Before we coach that person who is notorious for this reputation or, if possible, during the coaching session itself, let us think of his upbringing, environment at home and at work, peer influence, relationship with other people, learning, working, and communication styles, and if known and applicable, past interactions with previous bosses.
References like these help us understand the individual’s personality more and the reasons for his belief or reception towards the feedback itself, being given that feedback, and being given feedback by people other than his own family, friends, or relatives.
Likewise, knowing these pieces of information help equip us with the right approach and word choice with which to communicate effectively to that person.
This is why as both a pre-work and a habit, people who coach or give feedback, whether they are leaders or not, should make an effort to observe and get to know better their team members. This will come handy when faced with scenarios like this.
We had talked about something similar to leveraging root-cause analysis. Read our previous article, To improve performance, understand non-performance
Ask to understand and not to judge
When the employee being coached shows opposition of our feedback and the feedback session or even verbally declares his resistance, one effective way for us to resort to is to ask the person why he doesn’t want to be coached or be given feedback, what his thoughts on feedback that lead to his resistance, and how else he wants to be helped on correcting, replacing, improving, or adding on to his current state of performance instead.
When the person is asked and asked in a way that we only seek understanding and delivered in a very professional manner, he feels that we are respecting him for his personality and his take on feedback and the act of coaching itself.
If we would impose something like ‘I’m only doing my job and this is for your own good’, ‘If you don’t want to be coached or you don’t want to acknowledge that you need one, how am I going to help you?’, or ‘I’m not going to give you feedback if I believe you don’t need it to begin with’, we’re only making it worse because for sure, the person would feel disrespected and misjudged.
By asking our coachee his thoughts in a courteous and non-judgmental way, we should discover other ways by which we can relay the coaching points alternatively without antagonizing the employee. It would be interesting to find out they don’t like feedback per se. They probably just hate our approach.
Show evidence of the needs for improvement
The best way to make a non-believer a believer, to cut short the denial, and to leave the person no choice but to acknowledge our feedback is to show factual, reliable, and undisputed pieces of evidence that prevent any opportunity for self-denial, refusal, and lack of respect.
If we can present evidence that they can see and listen to themselves, we will surely have an undeniable reference that the person in question will not be able to defend himself against.
Just make sure to introduce the point professionally by saying something like ‘I’ll show you something (I’ll have you listen to something) and please let me know what your thoughts are’. Although this may just open doors to their defensive rebuttal, we don’t need to worry as it is really our coachees’ right to be given the chance to answer for themselves during the key steps of coaching.
By showing evidence, we’re not only sending across the message, ‘I told you so…’ in a subtle and positive way but we’re also allowing our coachee to make realizations that will surely have him take a step back and mellow down with his close-mindedness and negative pride.
Be mindful of what you say, how you say it, and how you look
Some supervisors or managers think that because they’re already on their level that it’s tolerable for them to look and sound too authoritative to a fault, look and sound stiff or emotionless, or to rub in the fact that they are the boss of their employee.
There is a way to let humility and assertiveness meet halfway by being conscious and careful of how we deliver our message, how we come across when we deliver the feedback, and our facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures. There is also a way to prevent being taken for granted or disrespected without holding back what the our staff should know, realize, and learn.
In giving feedback, we are encouraged to use positive phrasing and power words, adapt our intonation or inflection so as not to sound forceful, and neutralize our body language in order to appear open-minded, assertive, and most important of all, fair and concerned.
It’s not like we are begging for respect by looking and sounding too humble or stooping to the level of the person. Apart from showing respect, sounding and looking assertive is sending a message that we are creating a congenial ambiance that is as welcoming of responses from the one being coached as much as we expect our feedback to be received just as well. It also makes the person feel that his participation is being solicited as much as the coach is showing just the same.
Unless the person is a hopeless case, anybody who still has any mark of conscience left in him, no matter how difficult his personality is, would realize he should cooperate and give in. Some people only become defensive and combative when they feel and experience it’s like they are being assaulted personally and their pride (knowledge and skills) are being questioned and undermined. They would like to see and appreciate themselves the desire to help them and not to decrease their value both as a person and as a competent and competitive employee (or so they think).
Remember. We coach to help and not to brag about how knowledgeable and skillful we are. We coach to develop people and not to remind our people who the boss is. We coach as a leader and as a manager and not as someone who is looking for trouble.
Would you like to know how to be assertive and what to say, how to say it, and how to look assertive, enjoy our article entitled The art of assertiveness
Stress how the coaching session and the feedback will actually benefit the coachee more than it will benefit yourself
In my experience as a coach, mentor, and training consultant to both rank-and-file employees and leaders/managers in the Philippines myself, nobody is by nature or born not open to feedback or automatically denies they need feedback. Root cause analysis would reveal that some people have just come to believe or the very same people they work with made them believe they’re already so good that they don’t need to learn anything new anymore. For all we know, it’s just a matter of setting expectations and introducing them to the right orientation about learning, training, and development.
Moreover, some people don’t appreciate feedback or the mere act of being given one because they’ve never recognized or can’t recognize their benefits or how feedback can actually help them achieve their goals and objectives in their career.
So when we are faced with people like this, let’s make it a knee-jerk response to explain to them why they need to receive feedback and how getting feedback will basically work to their advantage. We call this W.I.I.F.M. or What’s In It For Me. When they understand and appreciate this, there is no way their reception of feedback would not change for the better.
Be proactive. Establish, promote, and sustain a culture where people love feedback and not the other way around
Everywhere we go, we will always encounter people who are not open to feedback or who would deny they need to work on something. The best way to do is to help the management create, foster, and make consistent an environment where people, when they are called for feedback, will not be afraid to be coached and will instead crave to be given one.
When our corporate talents treat feedback as good, beneficial, positive, and empowering, they will start clamoring to get as much feedback and as many coaching opportunities as they want. We will worry less about having to deal with the very same topic of this article.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a working environment where we call someone so we can give him feedback and then he runs to us excited to know what interesting coaching points he’ll learn?
Wouldn’t it be a great experience letting someone know of his needs for improvement and he welcomes them with open arms?
Once again, we wouldn’t even need to learn how to give feedback to someone who isn’t open to it if the working environment and the people in it love feedback as much as they love giving it and vice versa.
What’s your takeaway?
There are more to giving feedback than just starting off with something positive, breaking the news gently, and ending on a positive note (Sandwich Feedback Technique). A great coach is matter of fact one who knows how to adjust to the learning, working, communication style and personality type of his coachee and one who can make the person cooperate no matter how challenging the attitude is.
I hope you learned a lot. Happy coaching!
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