Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville

Giving and receiving feedback

When we give regular and constructive feedback, we are often able to ‘nip in the bud’ situations that could become difficult if left to fester.

Guidelines for giving feedback

Key tips

Avoid being judgmental; remember the aim of feedback is to develop the other person, and give any feedback as soon after the event as possible.

Try to sandwich any opportunities for improvement between positive statements.

  • Consider the needs of the individual and how the feedback will help him/her.
  • Describe the person’s behaviour, not their personality, and concentrate on behaviour that can be changed.
  • Be positive, not negative – emphasise what could be done differently.
  • Be specific – use examples and describe particular cases – avoid generalities.
  • Be descriptive and evaluative (say what you saw and liked or disliked), but do not be judgmental (this was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’).
  • Be wary of making assumptions about the person’s intentions.
  • Time feedback appropriately.
  • Focus on adopting a positive coaching style, rather than put-downs.
  • Allow the receiver to solve his or her own problems.

Guidelines for receiving feedback

Key tip

Remember that the person giving the feedback wants to help you, so don’t revert to a rebellious/resentful child!

  • Seek feedback when you can – it will help you enhance your performance.
  • Listen to what is being said (see Listening).
  • Check your understanding – ask for examples, if they would be helpful.
  • Try not to be defensive. Avoid the conditioned responses of:
  • Fight (deny it all and fight back by blaming others)
  • Flight (say nothing and sulk).
  • Equally, don’t be passive and accept that it is all true – get clarification and discuss.
  • Decide on the truth of the criticism – is it completely true, partly true or wholly untrue? Base your response on this and explain this to the other person.
  • Remember the feedback is to help you, not to get at you.
  • Thank the individual for giving you the feedback – remember that people often don’t find it easy to give feedback.
  • Make choices about what you will change in your behaviour, if anything.

Giving feedback to others

Giving feedback should be a part of your day-to-day job as a manager. Just make sure your feedback is genuinely helpful by doing the following:

  • Being clear and specific; avoid giving input that is vague or too general...
You are too aggressive.
People feel intimidated when you talk over others while they are trying to express their own views. You often cut them off.
  • Speak about your own experience...
You can be really stroppy.
You can sometimes come over as frustrated when I give you a new task that you don’t have all the answers for.
  • Use specific examples where possible...
You are a bit careless and slapdash.
Although your pace of work is fast, you have twice ordered the wrong part numbers. Please try and pay more attention to detail.
  • Give constructive criticism and try to suggest ways of improving...
You never listen.
You could be more effective if you were more alert to other people’s needs and views, as sometimes it appears you do not listen as carefully as you could. Perhaps listening skills are a development area to consider.
  • Keep comments work related; concentrate on behaviour, not personality...
You are too quiet; I would say you are a real introvert.
You have some good ideas. I would really like to hear more of them in a group situation.

There is more in the topic on Feedback.