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Giving Feedback to Someone Who’s Defensive or Angry

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

This can often be prevented by demonstrating that you “see” them and acknowledge the good things that they are doing. When they feel fully recognized and realize that you’re telling them the truth about the good things, they may be more willing to hear about areas needing improvement.

If you’ve avoided giving feedback to them, take it one step at a time You may be frustrated with a person like this because their poor performance has gone on a long time. But you’re both starting a new journey together. It’s important to take one step at a time, break the feedback down into workable improvement goals, and remain calm. Since this is the first time you are fully addressing the problems, it’s as if the behavior has occurred for the first time as well.

Pick out Goldilocks-sized chunks: Not too big or small For these folks, even more than for others, you should avoid global statements like “You aren’t service oriented when you’re dealing with customers.” That feels like a personal attack and they’re bound to be defensive. Find some specific examples of the behavior in question and be extra careful to pick out a Goldilocks-sized chunk that’s just right for them to work on.

Focus on behavior you want to see in the near future Focus on the behavior you want them to improve in the future. Direct them toward the goal that they will be working on over the next few weeks, and request that they spend more time developing a good relationship with customers and asking questions, rather than jumping in with comments that would irritate customers. Leave them with no more than one or two clear expectations and set a time to check in with them in a day or two.

Be calm and non-defensive yourself Make sure that you walk in with a calm state of mind and remain calm no matter how they react. Bringing it back to the goals of the team and how you would like them to develop reframes the conversation to the big picture and gets you out of the weeds of arguing with them over technicalities. If they act defensively, it’s essential that you not act defensively. Ask them questions about solutions they see: “How can you increase customer satisfaction?” The more defensive they are, the more questions you should ask, but it’s also important that you stay centered in your own concern for the performance of the whole team.

Learn More

Read The Feedback Imperative for more information on how to give great feedback!

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