Giving Feedback to Someone Who Doesn't React Well

Tumblr_inline_o2r41bo7Pr1tr558w_500A new Harvard Business Review article offers tips for giving feedback to "people who cry, yell, or get defensive." No one likes to be on the receiving end of that behavior, but most managers will be at some point.

The author certainly doesn't suggest shying away from the feedback, which may be some managers' tendency. Instead, she asks managers to remind themselves to focus on the value of the feedback to the employee. Presumably the feedback will be useful to the employee's career. Being prepared also helps, as can staying calm in the moment and stopping the meeting to continue another time if things get too tense.

For emotional people, you might hold meetings at the end of the day and offer tissues. But hold your ground. If someone is yelling, you have every right to address it. The author suggests the following:

  • "I need to have a conversation with you. I need you to lower your voice."
  • "I need you to take a deep breath or we will have to reschedule this. This is not constructive."

More good advice in the article is for managers to, separately, address the employee's reaction, for example, "I notice every time we sit down to discuss feedback, you get [upset, angry, defensive]. I have your best interests at heart. What can I do to help you receive feedback with more openness? And here's what I need in these interactions." 

Emotions in the workplace aren't necessarily bad, and they are inevitable. Dealing with them in a humane, professional way may help build trust in an otherwise shaky relationship.

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • Have you tried to give feedback to someone who gets emotional? What strategies worked for you?
  • Have you been emotional when on the receiving end of feedback? What would help you maintain your composure?
  • The image is from an article about positive anger in the workplace. What's your view of the researcher's perspective?