Maya is your team’s top-performer. She actively celebrates her own, as well as everyone else’s success. But, every time you give her feedback about what she could do differently or better, she gets moody and tense. Maybe even argumentative. As her manager, how do you navigate through this wall?
Daniel Goleman, co-director at Rutgers University, says criticism triggers anxiety and negative emotions. When we’re told about what we’re doing wrong, it shuts us down. Amygdala, the portion of our brain that forms emotional memories, plays a big role here. It deciphers for us what we should fight for/against, and when we need to take flight. Since constructive feedback is about change, it immediately prompts us into getting defensive. Infact, according to a survey by PsychTests, employees who can’t handle constructive feedback, are more likely to be unhappy with their jobs and have lower performance ratings.
Yet, feedback is not something you can do without. No matter how positively constructive feedback is framed, you will have at least one person reacting like Maya. Thus, Liz Ryan, CEO of Human Workplace, has three effectual ideas that make it easier for employees to receive coaching/feedback.
Model the acceptance of feedback: If there is something you’d like your employees to do, then lead by example. Psychologist Albert Bandura calls this social learning, where individuals learn through observation and imitation. In the context of constructive feedback, start asking your team members, “What’s one thing I can do differently to be a better manager for you?” Listen carefully to their answers. Write them down. You welcoming feedback graciously is a potent learning moment for Maya.
Ask individuals who are resistant: Co-creating a learning process can be deeply empowering for someone who is defensive towards authority figures. Taking the example of Maya, ask her for help. Say, “I need your advice, Maya. From time to time I have suggestions and guidance for everyone on our team. I’d like to know how to share those suggestions with you in the way that will work best for you. How would you like to be coached?” This sends out the message that you value her, and are keen on creating a learning environment in which she feels safe.
Get your team members to become mentors: Initiate a buddy system at work, where current employees mentor new employees, helping them fit in to the culture and learn their jobs faster. Engage Maya by inviting her to keep a mentoring journal, and write about her interactions with the trainee. Ask for a day-by-day training plan and also prompt her to find out how her trainee would like to be coached. In all likelihood, Maya will realize the value of feedback, and how it’s not a war zone. She’ll ease into receiving it too.
Amidst our frustration, we may label someone like Maya as difficult. But the fact is that in off-loading our opinion on them, we may be creating rigid hierarchies. Instead, try to personalize learning moments based on learning styles of each individual. You’d be surprised how quickly difficult will turn into decorous!