When Feedback Doesn’t Work

Eventually you’ll run into somebody who really doesn’t want feedback of any kind, ever. This is a serious problem. Somebody who is unwilling or unable to change and improve, or even meet standards, after consistent and repeated feedback about an issue is somebody who will soon have very few choices. Before we get drastic, however, we need to give them feedback.

Yes, more feedback.

They’re going to get feedback about their inability to accept feedback or change their behaviour. This is a much more serious talk. Mark Hortzman of Manager Tools calls this “systemic feedback”.

It looks pretty much like the feedback we’ve given until now. It’s specific (this is what I saw or heard), it matters (these are the consequences when you do that), future oriented & on them (what can you do differently next time?) Except this time it’s about their inability to accept feedback. It looks something like this:

“Sebastian, can I give you some feedback? [pause and wait for acceptance] We’ve talked a couple of times about you coming in late. You made a commitment to me that you’d be in and ready to work when your shift starts, but you’re still coming in late. So this is what’s happening: I’m wondering why you’re blowing me off, and I’m getting a little ticked. I’m also wondering if I can trust you to keep your word about this, or also about anything else. This needs to change before it becomes a serious problem. What are you going to do?”

You may be asked if they’re in trouble, or about to get fired. The answer, at least to begin with, isĀ  “No, you’re not in trouble, but this needs to get fixed.” You’re trying to help them not get fired. Resorting to positional authority is not the best way to influence people anyway. The motivation needs to come from them, not from you or a fear of getting fired or because you’re yelling at them.

Your feedback is still short and sweet, delivered in a low-key, calm way. There’s no need for drama. It will only come across as a farce, and there’s enough drama in the words. You’re also probably feeling a little tense already, especially if this is something you’re doing for the first time. They’ll pick it up, don’t worry.

Changing behaviours and habits is hard, and we’re there to support our people as they go through those changes. This means being patient and consistent, reminding them as needed about where they need to be and what they said they were going to do.

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