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How to give feedback when someone gets defensive.

Have you ever given someone feedback and they reacted defensively?

Defensiveness is quite a common response to receiving constructive feedback.

What you need to do is reflect on the situation and ask yourself…

“Is it me, or is it them? 

Provide feedback to your team in a way that is objective and judgement free. This will minimize their defensiveness and accelerate their learning and growth!

It could even be a combination of both! As you know, it takes two to tango!

What role might you be playing in their defensiveness?

Well, sometimes people are defensive because you did a poor job giving feedback. Perhaps your tone was aggressive or “spicy.” Maybe they picked up on the disappointment in your voice and thus felt guilty or a little shameful.  

Their defensiveness could also be a reflection of your closed body language or disgruntled facial expression (as an expressive person, I can relate to this one!). If emotions are running high and you are in a stressful situation, it’s understandable that they are picking up on some intensity when you communicate with them.

What role might they be playing?

Well, receiving feedback is a skill that needs to be developed.

Perhaps they think that you are picking on them, rather than helping them to develop.

Perhaps your feedback makes them feel embarrassed.

Constructive feedback can also make someone feel despondent. Perhaps they are thinking, “I’ll never be as good as my boss wants me to be.”

Since you can’t control another person’s thoughts or behaviour, consider the following when giving feedback:

  • Your tone and body language: Approach the conversation with a neutral tone. Ensure that your body language is professional yet relaxed.

  • Your delivery: Plan what you are going to say in advance. Avoid words that are filled with judgment. Avoid language that might make them feel shameful or like a failure. Rather, choose words that address their specific behaviour and what they can do to be successful next time.

  • Your intention: Remind yourself that the purpose of giving constructive feedback is for development. Do not avoid giving feedback, or their behaviour will never change.

Remember, as a leader, it is your job to give feedback.

Provide it in a way that is objective and judgment free.

This will minimize their defensiveness and accelerate their learning and growth!

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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