Ask Skip: How can I communicate when giving corrective feedback so that I don’t offend a staff member who always gets defensive and is resistant to criticism, no matter how “constructive?”

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Someone who is offended by constructive feedback and gets defensive when hearing it has extremely low self-esteem, which will get in the way of most any type of feedback. On the flip side they most likely will not take a compliment well, either. This really is not your problem, but theirs.

For situations like this I would recommend three approaches:

1) Make sure your feedback is delivered as a ‘feedback sandwich’ A ‘feedback sandwich’ is one that offers a specific positive statement at the open, followed by a suggestion for something you want to see improved, and closed with a reinforcement of the value the person brings to your organization.

An example of this would be:
“John, thank you for staying late yesterday to finish that report to go with my presentation I have to give this afternoon. Being able to add your information to my comments will really make a difference. As a reminder for future efforts like this I’d like to ask you to remember to submit it to me at least 48-hours before my presentation and meet the deadlines we had originally agreed on. This way we can all look good and have the best chance of success. I appreciate your extra effort and am pleased you decided to contribute to this presentation because the report was extremely well researched and written.”

2) Make sure that when you are communicating feedback that you are delivering it with the 4-core values of ‘champion communication,’ which are respect, empathy, specificity and genuineness:

  1. RESPECT: It is important to respect the individual by communicating in the appropriate tone with proper eye contact and attention.
  2. EMPATHY: Take into account the individual’s humanness by being empathetic and compassionate to their situation, their effort and contribution.
  3. SPECIFICITY: It is important to also offer specific commentary regarding both their contribution and ways they can improve so that the individual knows you are speaking about the nitty gritty of their effort and give them concrete ways to be better next time. This way they don’t have to guess and learn through trial and error.
  4. GENUINENESS: If you apply the first three you will be 75% of the way towards building a genuine feeling that you are care about the individual. The closing statement of reinforced support really brings it home and by following up with them and giving them another opportunity to follow through on your coaching will further build a more trusting relationship.

3) Be sure that you are providing feedback in timely manner and not allowing undesirable behaviors to go unchecked. Many leaders fall into the “avoid and tolerate” leadership style with which they avoid dealing with undesirable performance and behaviors, tolerate the poor performance or attitudes that come with it hoping it will get better or someone else will address it to self-police the environment. Then, after allowing the behavior to become more ingrained in the individual and culture, they try to address it with raised emotions.  As an old mentor of mine once said, “kill the monster when its a baby.”

Communication is the lifeblood of organizations. There are a lot of contexts that can cause problems with communications in organizations. I focus on communication between individual team members across all levels.

From the client work I’ve done in recent years I’ve identified the 7 most damaging types of communication that leaders and employees regularly engage in that everyone must learn to overcome. I call them “The 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication” and you can read about them by downloading my free report at this link.

Hope this helps?

To work specifically on this and other leadership strategies to improve overall performance on your team you are going to want to participate in the “Confident Leaders Training Camp” either the live TeleClass version or the home study version that will soon be available, learn more here.

If anyone would like further clarification on this please feel free to leave a comment below and start a discussion for all to learn from.

’til next time, make it a great day!


If you have an issue you are dealing with in leading your team and/or organization that you would like answered in my “Ask Skip” column, click here to submit your own “Leadership, Teamwork or Workplace Communication” question here and you might just see your question answered here in the coming weeks. I also promise to reply directly so that you get the help you need when you need it.