Responding to defensive employees

Feedback is more complex than it first appears. Not only is there a process for giving feedback, but there is also a bit of art to responding to defensiveness.

Most employees do not relish constructive criticism, despite its value, so listen calmly to what your employee has to say and be understanding.

You may not agree, but still say you “understand” the points he or she is making. Receptiveness to feedback (or something akin to it) is then more likely to follow, helped by your noninterference with the venting process.

Do not equate defensiveness with total denial or complete rejection. After all, your feedback is truthful. What follows is likely to be your employee asking, “Well…can you explain more about what you mean?” This is an indication that acceptance is near.

Your goal is not immediate 100% agreement with your feedback but agreement that your feedback includes things to be considered. That’s a win.

Source: UTEAP FrontLine Supervisor (August 2014)

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