Why staff don’t listen to negative feedback

In recent weeks, during various training sessions, discussions have turned to how to successfully give staff the feedback they won’t necessarily want to hear.

I’m sure that many of you know the ‘sandwich’ technique for giving feedback – some call it the ‘burger’ – anyway, in essence, its about giving some positive feedback at the start and end of your discussion, with the negative or ‘constructive’ feedback sandwiched in the middle to make it somewhat more palatable!

The sandwich technique is a great technique, but all too often its not enough when dealing with tough cookies, and we probably need to develop a ‘brick’ technique to follow it!!

After using the sandwich technique, what we tend to find is that whilst our treasured and dearly beloved employee has heard our positive feedback, their ears seem to have slammed shut during the bit that wasn’t so palatable. And if you probed them on this a few days later, it would appear they have genuinely convinced themselves they never actually heard it at all!! (Occasionally of course a totally different response emerges – that of the roaring lion who insists everyone else is to blame! But we’ll deal with them another day)

Sometimes I think I ought to have some training in psychology so I could do my job better! But I don’t, so I have to use my logic and common sense…

I think that what I increasingly see is that some (many?) staff are not at all accustomed to any negative feedback at all. Perhaps they went through school with ‘softly-softly’ teachers who praised up the good and skimmed over the not so good and then progressed through the first stages of their career with ‘softly-softly’ managers in ‘softly-softly’ organisations so, by the time they get to you, heaven forbid should you decide it is time to highlight a few areas of concern.

A cultural thing? Throughout the UK, we have largely become very soft and non confrontational in management style. Also, managers are often extraordinarily fearful of falling foul of employment legislation which doesn’t help when encouraging them to tackle issues. Added to which, and this is a ‘biggie’,  our society is not big on honest feedback, we prefer to tip toe around issues for fear of confrontation so, when you get to the point when honest feedback is essential due to performance being affected, you actually have an Everest to climb in terms of giving the person feedback and getting them to see that its not a personal attack and something akin to the end of the world.

No wonder their ears slam shut. Its a shock thing!!

You might say ‘softly-softly’ is a good thing. But from my perspective I see companies putting up with nuisance individuals for months or even years longer than they should because of ‘softly-softly’. Once I even came across someone who had been passed from department to department for 16 years until such point as their most recent manager asked me if I could help her tackle the issues that had been left untackled for so long! 16 years of living with someone who was rude and aggressive to others! Totally unnecessary.

I also see staff welfare (i.e. not upsetting said member of staff by giving essential feedback) being put ahead of customer needs and business quality issues. Are your staff more important than your customers? An interesting question and the phenomenal number of managers who answer ‘yes, staff are my primary responsibility’ just highlights to me how so few managers really understand essential commercial issues within the business. Not much incentive then to tackle the difficult stuff and upset team harmony!

But I digress……..as I often do!

In a nutshell, all I wanted to highlight today is that giving staff critical feedback that they won’t want to hear is a dying art. Managers aren’t accustomed to giving it and staff often elect not to hear it when in fact it is given. You might think ‘softly-softly’ works well for you in which case, that is fine with me! But if you feel that ‘softly-softly’ is at times hindering your organisation, then perhaps 2012 is the year to revisit your core values, as those relate to staff management, and rethink your organisational/management culture in respect of the people culture. Another activity might be to set performance objectives for each manager relating to appropriate and successful staff management of those in their team.

You might also, to support these activities, consider whether training is needed for your directors and managers in

1) Employment law – to raise their confidence to deal with issues,

2) Giving critical feedback – to improve their skills in this area and

3) Addressing tough and sensitive issues in performance reviews and ongoing performance management discussions – to ensure that after tough issues are raised initially, they are then progressed until such point as the necessary change in behaviour is achieved

Then the next time feedback is given and the ears have ‘slammed shut’ your managers will have greater confidence and know how to deal with the situation.

If any of this is of interest to you and you would like to discuss it more, or if you would like to find out about any Jaluch training or seminars, please do get in touch.

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