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Coaching Difficult Feedback Recipients

Last updated on Jul 24, 2019

Quiet Types

Say very little, are not easily engaged in conversation. Some may fidget, avoid eye contact, or appear interested in only a part of the feedback. Others may “shut down” or want to leave.

  • Concentrate on the person’s nonverbal expressions (face, posture, gestures, etc.)
  • Ask open-ended questions (e.g., “What is your biggest job challenge this year?” or “Tell me about the last time you...”)
  • Ask questions that are focused and readily answered. “What are you proudest of?” or “What do you like most?” as well as “What troubles you the most?”
  • Listen to and reinforce the person’s comments (e.g., nodding or saying “That was certainly perceptive of you,” etc.)
  • If someone is disappointed in the feedback, acknowledge the difficulty in sometimes receiving feedback. Trying to talk them out of feeling bad may unintentionally discount their feelings or convey that their feelings are not okay.

Overly Talkative

Can take up the majority of discussion time with tangential points if left unchecked. Some may be interested in sharing a variety of anecdotes and incidents which may not directly relate to the topic at hand.

  • Structure the session clearly so that the person knows what areas you want to cover.
  • Indicate at the beginning of the meeting that you may need to interrupt them from time to time, in order cover the pertinent information during the meeting time.
  • Keep your questions highly focused.
  • Assure the person that the anecdotes are interesting, but ask the person to relate it to the concerns being discussed.
  • Interrupt if necessary (e.g., “Excuse me for interrupting, but I am concerned that if we don’t push on, we won't cover everything.”).

Defensive Types

Will argue, quibble, and generally disrupt the session. They may question, deny, or discount the feedback. They may blame others, offer excuses, or provide a rationale for their behavior. Some become visibly upset or angry.

  • Listen to and acknowledge any legitimate concerns, e.g.
    limited opportunity to observe the behaviors measured.
  • Encourage the person to think about alternate views, noting that the perceptions of internal stakeholders is important. Suggest ways the behavior could have been viewed by others.
  • Help them to focus their attention on the purpose of the feedback, which is to provide them with information for their development. Also share the importance of their ability to be receptive for the sake of improving.
  • Ask if the person has gotten feedback on this (behavior/problem) before, and how they handled a prior (relevant) situation. Share your observations and suggestions.

Impatient Types

Clearly impatient for the session to be over. Hostile people challenge and criticize. Perpetual arguers look for opportunities to disagree and show you up.

  • Emphasize the overall purpose is to support individual development; ask what they hope to get from the meeting and attempt to address
  • Be alert for signs of impatience (e.g., the person looking at his/her watch). Do a “process check”; ask if you are moving fast enough and/or spending enough time on the most important issues.
  • Acknowledge the person’s strong feelings. Remain calm. Rephrase the person’s comments or questions in unemotional, objective terms.
  • Avoid debate. If the person persists after a brief exchange of views, paraphrase/restate your understanding of his/her position, but stop the debate by suggesting that you will probably have to agree to disagree on the point. Suggest moving on.

Pessimistic Types

Consistently negative or pessimistic. They anticipate problems to any course of action or indicate that “it won’t work” because they have already tried it before. They may show no interest in putting a development plan together or reject specific action steps you suggest.

  • (Briefly) listen to person’s complaints and indicate an understanding of their predicament.
  • Encourage the person to find positives in the situation, such as possible advantages of addressing a particular skill development need.
  • Indicate that while the person may have a point, your role is to help them identify development objectives and come up with approaches for improvement.
  • Discuss the impact and consequences if the person doesn’t change or do anything differently.
  • Together agree upon possible courses of action.
  • If the person says “I don't have time for personal development planning,” suggest that the person could free up some time by delegating more to others.