Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was open to feedback, thankful for the insight, and then acted on the information in an impactful way? Leadership certainly would be easier, but unfortunately, that’s not the reality that the majority of us face when giving feedback to teams.  People come with various levels of baggage and history that impact how they receive feedback. Some cry, some yell, and others try to avoid it altogether.

Before jumping into a feedback session, think about the person and how they likely will react to the information. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, latch on to your Why, and have the conversation in a neutral, distraction-free place. 

For those that have a tendency to cry

It can be easy to get frustrated or distracted when the other person consistently cries when they receive feedback. There are a number of reasons why someone reacts in this way ranging from low self-esteem to feeling like a personal failure when not meeting expectations. Regardless of the reasoning behind a crying reaction, your message still needs to be delivered, even when it makes you uncomfortable. 

  • Be prepared for a follow-up meeting if the person needs to calm down. Pushing through the conversation carries little value for either party. 

  • Assure the person that you have their best interest at heart. Just because a message may be hard, doesn’t mean that your delivery has to be. Approach with care and empathy while sticking to your standard. 

  • Acknowledge the emotion in the room. Leaders sometimes want to ignore the emotion and continue on in the conversation, because of their own annoyance or uncomfortably. Take a moment to acknowledge them, and frame up the why behind the conversation before carrying on. 

Be on the lookout for people that cry during feedback that don’t normally do so. It’s often a sign that something bigger is going on with the person either personally or professionally. 

For those that yell

Sometimes people respond to feedback by yelling and becoming aggressive verbally and even physically. These people can be hard to coach for a couple of reasons. Either A) You have lower managerial courage (PTB 81) and you tend to avoid these types of conversations or B) You aren’t intimidated and will volley back fire with fire. Both have major pitfalls when it comes to feedback; the first lets the problem continue to fester and the second one only validates the reason for the other person’s anger. 

Your winning approach here is to stay calm. Stay calm and collected even when your heart may be pounding out of your chest. Lower your voice as they raise theirs. They’ll have to lower theirs as well in order to hear you. 

  • Call out poor behavior as you see it. “I need you to lower the volume of your voice.”

  • Let the other person know your expectations and be willing to cut the conversation if they can’t control themselves. “This is not productive and we can’t continue the conversation like this. Take a moment for yourself here or we will need to reschedule this.” 

Hold to your standard without matching their level of anger. 

For those that are defensive

Have you noticed how those that are the most defensive are also the most critical of others? Often rooted in low self-esteem, these people may feel humiliated, degraded, embarrassed, or exposed by your feedback and constructive criticism.  The key here is to not let the person slip through the conversation without being accountable for the change needed. 

The person may very try to deflect the conversation in a different direction. “You don’t know everything that is going on”, or “This is X person’s fault.” Not only are they deflecting responsibility, but they also want to engage in their statements to change the focus of the conversation. 

  • Put a spotlight on accountability. “I see this as your responsibility.” Highlight their role in the situation. 

  • When they play the victim, ask them about what role they could have played to impact the outcome. 

Address the recurring behavior

Now that we know how to address these main blockers to constructive feedback, should we put these practices in place and move on? Of course not! If you have someone that consistently exhibits one of these reactions to feedback, have a session on that behavior itself.  “I notice every time that I give you feedback, you react in ______ way. I want the best for you, and I know that you do as well. How can we connect on feedback in a way that is more open?” Next, explain your expectations for how they need to do their part in accepting feedback.

Help the situation by providing feedback in smaller amounts instead of letting it build up and keeping the conversation as close to the occurrence as possible. 

Your people need feedback in order to improve and reach their fullest potential. Address the criers, yellers, and avoiders in a way that hits home for them so you can give feedback that is processed in a positive way. 

Make a better tomorrow.