Sometimes it’s hard to tell or to hear the truth. It is one of the biggest fears of human beings to be judged by others. I am sure you are aware of that and have an idea as to how people in your remit typically respond to feedback. Those common reactions to constructive feedback probably sound very familiar:

Source: Fotolia User: freshidea

Source: Fotolia User: freshidea

  • Hostility, resistance, or denial – Employees attack your credibility and the facts in the performance review. They do not acknowledge the issue, deny that the incidents took place, or downplay the impact of their actions.
  • Indifference – Employees react to the feedback in an apathetic manner, and do not fully commit to doing things differently.
  • Lack of confidence, or self-pity – Employees are uncertain in their abilities to succeed or are risk-averse.
  • Responsibility skirting – Employees may acknowledge the negative feedback but may play the ‘blame game’, indirectly implying that they will not change.
  • Shock, or anger – Employees become angry and say things impulsively or react in a highly emotional way.

Did you know that the fear of how an employee will respond is one of the key reasons managers avoid, delay, and often completely abandon performance conversations? Delivering performance feedback elicits a range of different employee responses. Understanding these reactions, and ways to handle them helps managers to be candid and timely in providing valuable feedback. You not only need to manage individuals’ resistance but also navigate cultural restrictions, adhere to processes and procedures in the organization, and manage your own internal blocks.

Understanding our own and other’s triggers and sorting out what sets them off are the keys to managing reactions and engaging in feedback conversations with skill. Feedback triggers are obstacles, yet they are also information that can help us locate the source of the trouble.

  1. Truth triggers: The feedback is wrong, unfair, unhelpful. There are lots of good reasons not to take feedback, and at the front of the line stands this one: it’s wrong. The advice is bad, the evaluation is unjust, the perception someone has of us is outdated or incomplete. We reject, defend, or counterattack, sometimes in the conversations but always in our minds.
  1. Relationship triggers: I can’t hear this feedback from you. Our perception of feedback is inevitably influenced (and sometimes tainted) by who is giving it to us. We can be triggered by something about the giver – their (lack of) credibility, (un)trustworthiness, or (questionable) motives. We can likewise be triggered by how we feel treated by that person. Do they appreciate us? Are they delivering the feedback in a respectful manner? Are they blaming us when the real problem is them?
  1. Identity triggers: The feedback is threatening and I’m off balance. Identity is the story we tell ourselves about who we are and what the future holds for us, and when critical feedback is incoming, that story is under attack. Our security alarm sounds, the brain’s defense mechanisms kick in, and before the giver gets out their second sentence we’re gearing up to counterattacks or pass out. Our response can range from a minor adrenaline jolt to profound destabilization.

Make your feedback have the impact it deserves by the manner and approach you use to provide it. Your feedback can make a difference to people if you can avoid provoking a defensive response. These guidelines will help you reap the benefits of effective feedback – transparency, fairness, and development:

  • Keep the end in mind.Focus on where the person is now, what the expectations are, and how you can help the person develop. Focus only on WIGs (wildly important goals) and PIGs (pretty important goals).
  • Give direct feedback. Managers must use the D-I-S formula with their employees — providing Direct, Immediate and Specific coaching throughout the year. That way, the annual review becomes a summary with no surprises.
  • Make everyone go through the review process.If you want to build trust among employees around the review process, there can be no opt-outs — everyone gets reviewed, even HR and the C-suite. Successful CEOs read as many reviews as they can — not to see how their employees are doing, but how their managers are doing.
  • Make it a two-way street.Providing feedback should create the opportunity for two-way communication. Managers should be trained to ask the same amount of questions as statements they make. “This is what I see; now what do you see?” or “How can I help you succeed?”
  • Focus on the future. If managers stay focused on what should happen in the future, the employee can feel more fulfilled in his job. Plus, looking forward tends to minimize employee defensiveness about any past mistakes. People are much less likely to be argumentative this way. For successful performance reviews, the front windshield is a much more useful tool than the rearview mirror.

Did you do your best to share your feedback and help others grow and thrive? Contact me if helping people become who they can be is a concern of yours.

Wishing you the vision, wisdom and courage to provide feedback with impact, Annette.