As managers and coaches, we've all had to confront subordinates at one time or another about performance or behavorial issues that need to be corrected. It's not always a pleasant task, but it is necessary, both for the employee's sake and for the organization's.
Many times, people put up a "wall of resistance" when a supervisor tries to talk to them about deficiencies they need to correct. They become silent, fold their arms and gaze back at you with a glassy-eyed stare that tells you they're not listening to a word that you say. Or else they try to change the subject, make light of it through humor, or become cynical or even argumentative.
How can you get past these defense mechanisms and begin the process of compassionately correcting the deficiency that is impairing the employee's effectiveness? The secret is to work with resistance in a way that the individual sees that he is only hurting himself by keeping his guard up. Here are some techniques for doing that:
Teach the facts; don't force them. When you see that the employee is not accepting what you are saying, stay centered and stick to the facts. State why they are the facts. Don't judge or criticize, because it will only make the individual more defensive. Avoid subjective comments that disparage the behavior. Keep restating the facts until the employee learns to accept them.
Affirm the employee's strengths. When people become emotional, they often lose perspective and read things into comments that just aren't there. With people who are sensitive or who have low self-esteem, you want to keep giving them a balanced picture -- the positive and the challenges. Try not to confuse one with the other. Most of us only hear the negatives. Stay with the positives and get them thinking about improving themselves.
Look for real-time demonstrations of behaviors. If the employee continues to deny that he or she behaves in a certain way, see if he/she demonstrates the behavior during your feedback session and point it out at that time. For example, if someone is not cooperative with others on the job, see if he or she talks over you or is close-minded while you are together. Then point out that these are just the types of behaviors that you want to change.
Reveal your own vulnerability. When people act defensively, they are usually afraid of the information that is being presented and of being judged harshly. If the employee you are addressing struggles with your comments, it may be a good idea to share your own experience at receiving negative feedback. You don't necessarily have to tell the employee what the issue was, but you can certainly explain how you felt and how you benefited from your supervisor's candor and honesty. Generally, the more open you are, the more open they will be.
These are just some approaches you can use to get past the barriers that employees may erect to avoid dealing with issues that affect their jobs. Once you get people to trust that your feedback is sincere and in their best interest, you will be on your way to building a better relationship for you both.