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Managing Defensive Reactions

How do you manage someone who is upset, angry or emotional? What do you need to do to understand and respond to this situation confidently?

We even have a little quiz for you to have fun with…

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Feedback Styles Quiz

A quick and fun look at our feedback styles

Following on from our article on great feedback let’s have a little bit of fun with this.

We’ve had a few laughs followed by seriously helpful reflections at previous workshops, exploring some of the classic pitfalls we can fall into when giving feedback.  You can join in too by having a go at this quiz.


Again the point here is that we might not intend to do these things, but when it comes to uncomfortable conversation, we can slip into bad habits.

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Honesty. Responsibility.

It’s always great when research backs up what you intuitively know to be true!

Last week we heard about some research showing that the most important aspect that made a business a great place to work was honest and responsible conversations.

Frankly that’s exciting for a number of reasons, including:

Yet more evidence to challenge managers on the need for honesty

This is particularly challenging because the research showed honesty was required in all directions for a workplace to be rated highly and have good retention, so managers need to be as comfortable receiving those challenging comments as dishing them out.

This is a call to us all to be better at showing a bit of tough love and welcome the tough love that’s likely to come back at us.  The stories of managers being uncomfortable giving feedback are almost as prolific as the stories of staff who can’t tell their manager that things are not working as well as they could be.

Potential talent looking at your business wants to know that honesty is welcome

Not everyone is comfortable with honesty and seeking it from their next employer, but high-flyers who have grown up in a supportive work environment will expect it as the norm.  How can you attract the best talent if you cannot offer that same environment?

Some people need to know that they will be trusted to have honest conversations with their peers and manager.  Is that the case in your business?

Also, how much of your talent and potential for innovation is being wasted where people cannot have these great conversations?  There is a huge opportunity here to make things better – from engagement and retention to performance and results.

What can you do about it?

Creating a culture where feedback and honest conversations are welcome is a huge opportunity.  One of our clients is doing this with feedback workshops that cover both welcoming and responding to feedback and then giving effective feedback.

Another client is working on this by encouraging more regular team meetings, where managers are expected to ask “what is working well and what could be better?”

Another is introducing questions into their engagement survey on how welcome feedback and honest conversations are, then making sure this is broken down per manager.  Managers are then targeted on improving their engagement score on that particular question.

The shift towards fewer or no formal appraisal conversations is based on 2004 research showing that 4 in 10 people have an issue they feel they cannot raise with their manager. Recognising that formal appraisals were not the setting in which open and honest conversations felt natural, many firms are shifting to more frequent, less formal conversations – but is it working?  Or are 40% of your people still not speaking up?

The challenge is clear: how many people do you have in your business who are holding back from saying what they think? How many people have left your business out of frustration with their manager? And what will you do about it?

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Feedback.  The Constant Challenge.

How to get managers to have honest conversations, give feedback and coach their people?

How many L&D teams have spent many years trying to get line managers to give regular, high quality feedback to their people?

Every business we meet is facing this issue of encouraging people to have honest, quality conversations, so what can be done about it? Here we share the common pitfalls of the feedback skills workshops we have seen over the years and how change can be achieved….

Addressing the Fear

One challenge in many workshops is that the focus is on skills alone, rather than exploring the attitudes and beliefs people have. The trainer shows people how to give feedback without acknowledging that there may be a serial people pleaser in the room, two people afraid of being seen as too bossy and four people who hate receiving constructive feedback, so certainly don’t want to give feedback to others.

We need to understand what the specific barriers to giving good feedback are for each person, in order to help people overcome these obstacles.

Avoiding the Monologue

Many of the feedback models used in workshops encourage people to prepare in advance what they want to say. This is incredibly useful, particularly to help the manager stop over-thinking it, and just plan out what they want to say. The drawback to this approach is that it makes it all about what the manager wants to say, which can have the undesired effect of the manager simply giving a one-way speech.

We need to show managers how to make the conversation two-way, why this is so critical to success and how to overcome any more mental obstacles this may raise. It is fair to say that the defensive reaction to feedback causes many people to stop listening, how should you overcome this?

Focusing on a Useful Outcome

When we ask managers what they want to get out of honest conversations they often say things like, “I want him to know that what he did was wrong,” or “I want her to take the feedback on board.” For the conversation to be more useful, we need to go in with the end in mind – “I want him to provide better customer service,” or “I want her to be more organised and deliver projects on time.”

Starting with this end in mind can help keep us focused, so that if we end up caught in a conversation going nowhere, we can remind ourselves where we wanted to get to and re-focus.

Paying People to Think

Why is it that as managers we work on coming up with all the solutions? We pay our people to think so let’s get them doing the thinking. It is a challenge to teach managers to be concise in their feedback and then ask questions, which is why in some of our workshops we work on concise communication first.

Talking around the houses will not help the manager or the poor person on the receiving end of the ramble, so we make improvements here before focusing on questions that can be asked to facilitate the employee’s thinking.

Developing Habits

Finally a downside to many feedback or coaching workshops we see is that delegates naturally zone in on one or two specific challenges they are facing. This means that they sometimes end up walking away with a few ideas on how to challenge this person on poor time management and what to say to that person about their sloppy report writing.

We need to help managers take the higher level tools, attitudes and behaviours away so that they develop more long-term habits and lessons for healthy conversations.

Addressing each of these issues directly in workshops is having a very positive impact. Maybe there is power in simply acknowledging that training in the past has not been as helpful as it could have been, or maybe it is the exploration and overcoming of fears and unhelpful beliefs that makes the difference.

Whatever it is, we’ll keep monitoring the long-term behavioural change that follows from this approach and keep you posted on anything else we learn!

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Understanding Great Feedback

Totem-FeedbackAnd no, great feedback doesn’t come in a sandwich

Most of us have heard the classic idea of the feedback sandwich: Wedging what you really need to say between two compliments.  But why isn’t that helpful?

Is there anything else out there that can show us how to not only give great feedback but also to receive it well too?  Well this little download aims to do just that, we’ve collected an overview of some of the more interesting theories and models on giving and receiving feedback – specifically ones that you can apply in your day-to-day job with your direct reports and as a learning professional.

Click the image below and the magic will happen.


And if you fancy having a little bit of fun with this, we’ve created a little quiz for you to take that will show you your preferred feedback style here.

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