As a manager, one of your most important responsibilities is to provide constructive and actionable feedback to your team. It’s an important part of your contribution to their professional development and your company’s success. No matter how constructive your remarks are, they will elicit a wide range of reactions, some of which will be more positive than others.
The way an employee responds to feedback can reveal their growth potential and help you decide how much to invest in their training and coaching.
There are nuances to how someone receives feedback that go beyond a simple one-word response.
Here are five common methods for giving feedback to employees, as well as what it means to a boss:
1. Attributing blame to circumstances outside of one’s control
This approach deflects blame and places it on anyone or anything within reach.
“Urgent personal issues were distracting me,” “I have too many conflicting priorities right now,” or “My teammate never told me this was urgent,” are examples of such responses.
This type of reception, known as’selfish bias’ by psychologists, indicates a lack of responsibility.
An external explanation can be accepted once, but it quickly becomes an excuse.
In the long run, this trait indicates that the person has limited advancement potential.
2. Denial and a defensive attitude
The defensive attitude manifests itself in a variety of ways, including downplaying a problem with the work’s outcome, acting as if the feedback surprised you, and treating the feedback as if it were a personal attack.
Employees in this category defend the quality of their work even after explaining why it isn’t possible, insisting that you simply don’t understand its worth.
Another option is for your employee to acknowledge that their performance is poor but to downplay or ignore the negative consequences of failure.
“It’s not great, but it’s not a big deal,” you might say. “The customer won’t be here until next week, so I’ll have plenty of time to fix it.”
These disabling reactions may indicate a troubling misalignment with the organization’s values at the macro level.
This type of employee may struggle with quality, clarity of thought, and the ability to follow directions on a more personal level.
These responses show that your employee is internalizing the feedback as a personal attack rather than a chance to improve performance.
3. Acceptance of the status quo
Even when someone appears to accept and accept responsibility for the problem, there may still be a problem.
You may not have their acceptance if they accept criticism passively with no follow-up questions or responses.
“This could have been better, but I really don’t know if I could have done anything,” people say when they get this kind of reception.
If you hear something like that, you’ll probably get the same reaction as those who dismiss the comments outright.
Just because someone isn’t combative doesn’t mean he won’t internalize the feedback.
You might be able to re-engage them, but if this is their usual response, you’re dealing with someone who is resistant to change.
4. Susceptibility to causality
Not to be confused with employees who blame external factors, these individuals provide a legitimate explanation for their poor job performance.
They do not offer excuses, but rather reasonable roadblocks.
This person accepts the problem without rejecting it and identifies the causes of the problem that were within their control or influence in the first place.
This response indicates that the employee is committed and wants to solve the problem, as well as a willingness to take responsibility.
Instead of making excuses, these employees work to find solutions.
The key differentiator here is whether or not an employee’s reasons are within their control.
5. Acceptance with a purpose
This is a positive form of acceptance, just like the previous answer.
This type of response to feedback differs from others in that it looks to the future rather than looking for causes.
Even if your employee doesn’t know what caused the problem, they still want to do better next time.
Acceptance motivated by feedback also indicates trainability and what Carol Dweck, a psychologist, refers to as a “growth mindset.”
This mindset implies that a person’s abilities are malleable, whereas a ‘fixed mindset’ implies that personal characteristics are immovable.
When a person sees room for improvement in their skills, they are more likely to view feedback as an opportunity to learn something new and improve their performance.
Recommended: Five (5) Things The Best Leaders Do Every Day
Assembling the components
The capacity for training is a fairly reliable indicator of potential for improvement.
If this is consistently lacking, you might want to reconsider investing in training, external courses, or time mentoring someone.
Rather, focus your resources on people who are eager to learn from others, who want to improve, and who enjoy taking on new challenges.