Our workplace expert offers advice on ways to positively change a team member’s attitude to constructive criticism
Workplace Doctor: Effective feedback can make employees thrive
QI am a manager in a high-tech services solutions company and one of my team, when given feedback, almost always refuses to accept it and denies that it is valid. I think it is important to get this individual to see that the feedback is useful and I would like his behaviour to change because of the impact it is having on his performance and that of the other team members. What should I do? BZ, Dubai
AThe fact that you are providing constructive feedback is valuable as it is an essential and critical leadership skill, and when it is framed developmentally in service of professional growth, it is one of the best ways to help employees thrive. Equally, positive feedback which acknowledges accomplishments can be very motivating and makes for more engaged employees. Generation Y specifically craves feedback to perform at their best and remain focused and stimulated. So what is preventing this person from accepting your feedback as being valid and useful? From his side, he may lack the necessary self-awareness or he may find the feedback challenging to the point that he is not able to hear what is being said or offered. From your side, it is worth reflecting on your own feedback technique to ensure that you are as effective as possible in delivering it.
In the rich cultural diversity of the UAE, it is essential to consider how your feedback may be received by others. Some nationalities are more inclined and open to give and receive feedback, so it is important to have an appreciation of the accepted cultural code you are working within.
In cultures that are less accustomed to feedback, you may find it useful to seek permission first i.e. “I would like to give you some feedback; are you open to me sharing it with you?”. Give some thought to the setting itself: the privacy, the time and the place you choose to give the feedback in. Consider your communication style in the delivery of feedback – direct and to the point, or softer and more balanced – it is not only about the feedback message; it is also about how you convey it. For feedback to be received in the best possible way, provide the intention and enough context as to why you are giving it.
Share your observations in a neutral and non-judgmental way and be curious as to how the person sees their own behaviour – it may not be the same as your perception.
It seems that you are having to provide regular feedback to this person, so it is worth considering whether you are addressing the symptoms or the root cause of their behaviour.
Furthermore, is this person aware and recognises the issue/s you are giving the feedback on? If they are, what stops them from making progress and how can you support them? If not, you may need to be more challenging to increase their awareness of the potential negative effects their behaviour is having. Make a specific request for the behavioural change you would like to see in the future – the employee needs to understand the connection between what you are asking him to do and the impact the change will have on him, the rest of the team and the company.
Trying to change the behaviours of others can be difficult. We can tell, convince or challenge others to change the way they should do things, but these methods are not always effective and you are more likely to be met with resistance and defensiveness. Changes can often be short-lived before they revert back to their old behaviours. Changing a behaviour is a process rather than a single event, so it can take some time. Real behavioural change comes from within the employee and this happens when they recognise the issue, take ownership of it and then develop their own solution, with your guidance, by being asked appropriate, open-ended questions.
Feedback given in the right context and for the personal and professional development of the team member can be invaluable. Create a safe space for the conversation and focus on the observed behaviour, not the person. Be specific and ensure that you provide feedback regularly and as close to the observed behaviour as possible. Positively engage the team member and try to mutually agree on an action plan as well as a specific time to follow up on these actions.
Yolande Basson is an
executive coach and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education – Middle East