How can I give feedback to a defensive employee who lacks self awareness?

When giving feedback to a defensive employee who lacks self-awareness, it's crucial to approach the situation with sensitivity and a structured strategy to minimize the likelihood of triggering a defensive response and to maximize the opportunity for learning and growth. Here are steps based on Ed Batista's insights:

  1. Avoid Labeling Them as "Defensive": Refrain from using the word "defensive" or making any direct accusations. Such labels will likely be perceived as unjustified and amplify the negative emotions the employee is already struggling to manage. Instead, focus on de-escalating the situation. [1]

  2. De-escalate and Slow Down: In the moment, help the employee de-escalate their threat response. Choose your words carefully, make decisions judiciously, and be aware of how you might be contributing to their sense of threat. Encouraging the employee to discuss their feelings may help them regulate their emotions. [2][3][4]

  3. Create a Learning Opportunity: Once the immediate emotions have settled, use the situation as a learning opportunity. Offer behaviorally-specific feedback that allows the employee to gain a new perspective on their response and understand why it was counter-productive. [5]

  4. Reflect on Your Own Approach: Consider how the delivery of the bad news might have contributed to the employee's reaction. Reflect on whether there were signs of defensiveness during the hiring process or if there are ways you could have been more successful at de-escalating their defensiveness. [6]

  5. Normalize Feedback: Make feedback a regular part of your interactions with the employee. This helps reduce the stress associated with receiving feedback and models a non-defensive response. [Group Dynamics: The Leader's Toolkit]

  6. Use Supportive Confrontation: Employ the model of supportive confrontation, which involves escalating approaches to feedback conversations, starting with explaining the effect of the employee's behavior on you, then showing how their behavior does not meet their apparent goals, and finally discussing the broader costs of this behavior to them. [How to Deliver Critical Feedback]

  7. Stay on Your Side of the Net: Focus on disclosing your emotional response and avoid making assumptions about the employee's motives or intentions. Use specific, accurate, and up-to-date information about the behavior and its impact. [How to Deliver Critical Feedback]

  8. Invest in the Relationship: Show that you care about the employee's feelings and perspectives. This investment lays the groundwork for a more receptive response to feedback. [How to Deliver Critical Feedback]

  9. Consider the Context: Be mindful of the organizational culture and the employee's working relationships when providing feedback. Avoid creating a situation where the employee feels exposed or unsafe. [Group Dynamics: Very Loud (and Very Quiet) People]

By following these guidelines, you can provide constructive feedback to a defensive employee in a manner that is more likely to be received positively and lead to personal and professional growth.