How to deal with an employee who rejects feedback

No-one likes to either give or receive difficult feedback.  But people’s performance will never change unless you as a manager are able to tell it like it is – and your people are able to take it on board and respond to what’s needed.

So what can you do if there is someone in your team who throws a wobbly every time you try to give them less than positive feedback and refuses to recognise that what you are saying might just have a grain of truth in it?

In a new book ‘The Top 50 Management Dilemmas’, Ashridge’s Roger Delves and Sona Sherratt advise that the first step is to think about why the person in question might be rejecting your feedback.

Some key questions to ask are:

  • What kind of relationship do you have with the employee?  Do they respect you and have you been able to establish some kind of connection with them?
  • Does the individual have a high level of self awareness or are they generally unaware of (or disinterested in) their impact on others?
  • Do you need to hold a mirror up to yourself?  Are you self aware enough to understand and appreciate different people’s styles?
  • Do you know whether the person is used to being given feedback?  How much and what kind of feedback have they been given in the past and how do they like to receive it?
  • Is it possible your feedback is mistaken?

Once you have a clearer picture of what may be causing them to push back, you can think about how best to tackle it.

The following five tips may help:

Stand back before you launch in

It’s only natural for people to give feedback based on their own experiences, values and perspective on life.  It’s important to be aware, however, of your preferences and the way you like to do things and to be sure you are not criticising others simply because they have a different approach.  Remember that people differ widely in their feelings about feedback.  Some love it and can’t get enough, while others prefer to get their feedback in small doses and only from people they know very well and have a lot of respect for.

Help people build self awareness

Often when people struggle to receive feedback, it is because they lack self-awareness.  They may have poor listening skills and lack empathy or may come across as arrogant or defensive in their dealing with others.  As a manager, try to think of ways you can help individuals develop a better understanding of themselves.  You could arrange for people to complete a psychometric questionnaire with professional feedback from a coach, for example, or you might consider putting them forward for a personal development programme which would help them to build self awareness.

Bear context in mind

If it is to be well received, feedback has to be appropriate not just to the individual but also to the culture they are working in.  If performance management is given high priority in the business and systems are in place to support it, people will expect to receive regular feedback and will be ready and willing to act on any development needs.    If the culture is very direct, they won’t be surprised if you tell it like it is and will be prepared to take constructive criticism on the chin.  If, on the other hand, appraisals are something that happen once in a blue moon and difficult issues have always been brushed under the carpet, it will come as something of a shock to an employee if you suddenly start giving them direct or negative feedback.  The quality of the feedback you give and the likelihood of it being accepted will be higher if you bear the overall context in mind.

Flex your Style

Be prepared to flex your style depending on the preferences of the individual you are dealing with and the nature of the feedback you are giving.  Regular formal appraisals are important but sometimes an informal chat can work just as well – particularly if you want to avoid a minor issue escalating into a major drama.  There’s also nothing wrong with being spontaneous and inviting someone out for a coffee or lunch so that you can have a chat about what’s going well – and maybe what’s not going quite so well.  If you want to give feedback about a specific instance don’t leave it too long.  The impact will be lost if you are having the conversation weeks after the event in question.

Give people a BOOST

One way to lessen the chances of your feedback being rejected is to remember BOOST: Balanced, Observed, Objective, Specific, Timely.   Make sure you combine praise with constructive criticism and avoid passing on third party comments.  This  isn’t fair on the recipient and can also leave you in a vulnerable position if the information you’ve been given turns out to be incorrect.  If you think someone is likely to resist feedback, you could try starting with a question rather than a statement, which if you’re not careful could come across as accusatory.  Asking questions is good way to open the door and start a constructive dialogue, particularly if the person you are dealing with is defensive or clearly finds open conversations uncomfortable.

What are your tips for giving effective feedback?  What strategies have you used to deal with someone who regularly rejects feedback?  We’d like to hear your views.

Information drawn from ‘The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast solutions to everyday challenges, Sona Sherratt and Roger Delves, Pearson 2014.

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