This site explores scenarios of corporate dysfunction that can derail your career. The Navigator provides guidance of how to advance your career despite these obstacles.

How to Give Feedback to Resistant Employees

Part II of the Feedback in the Workplace series

In our last topic, “When to Use or Ignore Workplace Feedback”, I provided a method for the employee to determine if feedback from a manager, client, or peer is genuine – and not based on bias or other ulterior motives.

We now shift our focus to the other side of the coin; the beleaguered manager who withholds feedback because of a resistant employee population that prefers gold stars to criticism.

Social Media Has Trained Us to Ignore Criticism

To appreciate the feedback challenge that managers now face, consider your own experience as a consumer where you may have been deputized as a marketing agent.  The setup will likely be familiar to you. A cashier, waiter, or hotel manager boldly asks you to post a glowing review on Google or TripAdvisor without asking you for direct feedback about their services.  If you comply, without offering candid constructive feedback to the provider of the service, then you are complicit in what I call a “skip-level endorsement”.  This increasingly common dynamic exists because society has cut out the middleman (or middleperson) on the way to advancement.  The narcissism of social media that only values what can be publicly curated, asks itself, “Why bother to ask for personal feedback when you can take a shortcut and lobby for an endorsement instead?”

Social media narcissism prompts the same question in the workplace as well, challenging managers in the form of these scenarios:

  • An employee who does not ask for feedback asks you for an endorsement or introduction to someone in your network on LinkedIn
  • Your employee wants you to advocate on their behalf for a promotion or raise despite the fact that they do not prompt you for thorough performance reviews or your candid observations
  • Your employee challenges your constructive feedback citing others who are happy with their performance

These expressions of entitlement are causing a growing number of managers to take the path of least resistance by avoiding candid feedback; a dangerous implication for employees who have no idea of their workplace strengths or hindrances. It is a slow and steady career killer.

If you are a manager who seeks a simple approach that you can use to take the fear and guesswork out of providing feedback, keep reading. 

the NavigatorHow to Give Feedback to Resistant Employees
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When to Use or Ignore Workplace Feedback

Reacting to Feedback Too Soon Can Hurt Your Career

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Never before in human history has the individual been so inundated with other people’s opinions (OPO). The social media palette of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram encourages us to provide instant thumbs up, thumbs down reactions.  We vilify and deify with lightning speed. We instantly receive our friends’ critique of a new pair of shoes, of color swatches, of sushi preparations.  We are submerged in a round-the-clock bath of shoot-from-the-hip feedback.  Accepting or ignoring OPO in your personal life has little consequence.  In fact, it’s desirable. There is something intrinsically American with giving the middle finger to convention; it feels empowering to defy OPO and pursue your own choices.

If you bring this approach to the workplace, however, you are headed for trouble.

But of course, you know that.

And yet despite this conventional wisdom, I have observed troubling extremes in how people process workplace feedback with the same knee-jerk reaction as a Twitter exchange.  Some reject constructive feedback because, as in a social media environment, there is no reason to take flak when you can simply engage with a group who loves you exactly as you are. Others may resent the feedback they receive because they have donned a cloak of victimhood and assume the criticism is based on bias, politics, jealousy, or incompetence of the feedback provider.  Those who adopt this mindset prematurely, before vetting the feedback, lose the opportunity to fix their career hindrances; an accomplishment that can only occur when you utilize uncomfortable feedback throughout your working life.  It is the hard work of making numerous adjustments to your performance based on explicit and implicit feedback that separates the mediocre from the exceptional.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who act on every suggestion without considering its source, like a nimble waiter anxious to please.  Their lack of personal conviction and insecurity contorts them into a pretzel by attempts at self-improvement in contradictory and futile ways.

How can you achieve the middle ground and discern between helpful and harmful feedback? What do you do when the feedback seems contradictory, or comes from an incompetent boss, or appears to be based on ulterior motives?

Continue reading to learn a how to discern useful feedback from nonsense.

the NavigatorWhen to Use or Ignore Workplace Feedback
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