The other day a leader shared that he was working with a coach and his team, specifically on his team not taking things personally. When I hear this kind of comment, I get curious.

Here are a few of the questions that I immediately think about:

  • Why is the delivery of the feedback or discussion by the boss being done poorly?
  • Is the boss aware of and does he or she assume responsibility for creating the right discussion environment?
  • Does the other party take the boss’s words or intent out of context?
  • Are both parties communicating as effectively as they can with one another?
  • How well is the other party listening to the feedback? Why is he or she not listening?
  • Is the other person really that sensitive?

Why is Feedback Given?

The reason you give feedback is to reinforce or change a behavior. To be successful at communicating what you would like to change or reinforce, it is essential the other person wants to listen and is open your suggestions.

The Feedback Environment

While not a deal breaker, creating the right environment for delivering feedback will make it much easier to communicate your thoughts to someone else.

If possible, forgo doing it in your office with a desk between the two of you – it will create a physical barrier to overcome and the discussion is tough enough to tackle. Why complicate things more? Opt for a table or use a conference room for privacy.

Schedule the meeting when you are not in a rush and when you know you will not be interrupted. Turn off your cell phone.

The Feedback Giver’s Responsibilities

When you assume the responsibility of giving feedback to someone, you own how it is done. The tone and content of the conversation is controlled and initiated by the feedback giver.

One of the best ways to approach another person is in their preferred way of communicating or thinking. When you approach someone in their comfort zone rather than your own, the other person will be more receptive to your message.

Sometimes we do not know what the other person’s preferred communication style is, however, if you use a model or an assessment tool such as the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or DISC Profiling, you may be able to figure it out and develop your personal style and approach to the person and situation.

At a minimum, look at your own profile and review your strengths and potential blind spots to gain insight and identify triggers you may observe when you are having a conversation.

Understanding the Really Sensitive Employee

What do you do if you really have someone who is so sensitive that any conversation, even one where you adapt to their style is unsuccessful? It is impossible for you to know what has happened to that person in the past and those experiences may be affecting how they react to you or anyone else.

He or she may have a fear of dealing with their boss or someone in authority because of a past experience. If you believe this is the case, tread very lightly and enlist the help of a seasoned HR professional or consultant. It is clear sign that trust must be established before trying to move forward.

You may be asking – Is this worth it? It might be, especially if that person is someone who is talented and has critical skills for your organization.

How to Know You Are Successful

The feedback discussion outcome is something the boss must accept responsibility for and when he or she does not, inevitably, a productive conversation will fail.

You will know you were successful when the other person is receptive to having a discussion even if the news is not favorable. Another indicator is that the two of you will constructively problem solve or reach a decision that makes sense for the situation without passing any blame, making each other feel awkward or by putting anyone down.

The tone of the discussion will be calm and rational with everyone able to voice their opinion. Ideally, the person receiving the feedback will offer solution(s) and be committed to following through without pressure from the boss.

Do not fret if everything does not go perfectly – sometimes people react differently in conversations where they are stressed. You may make an assumption that they will react one way and all of a sudden they are reacting differently.

Reflect on your conversation and figure out what you can do differently the next time around – at least with that one person.